COLUMBIA — Something was different about the Rock Bridge boys soccer team Thursday night, but it didn't slow down the Bruins much in a 6-0 victory over visiting Waynesville.
Rock Bridge head coach Alex Nichols was nowhere to be found just minutes before the game was scheduled to start. Nichols was not allowed to coach or attend Thursday night’s game because of a Missouri State High School Activities Assocation rule that bans a coach for one game when a team accumulates 10 off-the-ball or unsportsmanlike yellow cards.
Rock Bridge is scheduled to play Oak Park at 3 p.m. Friday in the Bruins Shootout at Cosmopolitan Park.
If Rock Bridge gets five more yellow cards before the district tournament, Nichols could miss more games. Rock Bridge Athletics Director Jennifer Mast said Nichols would not miss another game.
Bruins assistant coach David Graham stepped in for Nichols on Thursday night, making his first appearance as a head coach in eight years. Graham said he thought he was done coaching soccer, but when Nichols was named head coach, Graham was asked to be on staff. Nichols had been a student teacher in Graham’s history classes at Rock Bridge.
On Thursday, Graham coached with a laid-back, positive energy compared to the feisty, demonstrative Nichols. The Bruins came out differently as well. Rock Bridge, a team that usually scores many goals in the first half, led only 1-0 at halftime.
Tarnue Tyler scored the first of his three goals in the game when he put his head on a Salim Gumati strike that ricocheted off the cross bar.
“I thought that it was going in, but I wasn’t sure, so I had to go back and finish it. So then I just sprinted in,” Tyler said.
The hat trick gives Tyler, a freshman, 23 goals this season to lead the team.
The Bruins (13-5-1) poured it on after the break.
“I feel like we just needed to stay positive,” Graham said. “I think we were doing a lot of really good things, and it’s easy to get frustrated when you face a team that you feel confident about, but at halftime I think they refocused.”
It also might have had something to do with Waynesville’s starting goalkeeper Lajos Zadravecz, who took a knee to the nose during the first half.
Before the start of the second half, Zadravecz tried to come back but said he felt too much pain in his head. Waynesville coach Mike Armstrong said he decided to keep him out as a precaution and sent in second-string goalkeeper Logan Long.
Rock Bridge took advantage, scoring five goals. Tyler scored his other two goals, and Tyler Bales, Eli Sherman and Tripp Sheehan each connected, making Graham a happy man.
“It was a ball, but I am ecstatic to turn this thing back over to Alex,” Graham said. “It’s his team.”