COLUMBIA — If things had gone differently last week, the Rock Bridge High School football team would be in an entirely different position right now.
Last week, with one game left in the regular season, Rock Bridge and Troy Buchanan held identical 5-3 records. If the Trojans had won and the Bruins had lost, the Trojans could have found themselves seeded higher than the Bruins in the Class 6, District 3 tournament.
Rock Bridge (6-3) vs. Troy Buchanan (5-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
But they didn't.
Rock Bridge cruised easily past Jefferson City 28-18, Troy Buchanan fell to Quincy (Ill.) 23-21 and the third-seeded Bruins now find themselves hosting the sixth-seeded Trojans on Friday.
While the teams' records only differ by one loss, the marks might be misleading.
USA Today High School Sports has Rock Bridge ranked No. 11 in the state with the second-toughest strength of schedule. Troy, on the other hand, comes in as the No. 110 team in Missouri with a schedule strength of No. 100.
Furthermore, the Bruins defeated Fort Zumwalt West handily, 27-9 on Aug. 31. Six weeks later, the Jaguars trounced Troy 40-19.
But Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile is not willing to concede an edge.
"They're a winning team from a good conference in St. Louis," he said. "They look good on film, they're big, they're physical — a lot bigger than we are. Especially their defensive front versus our offensive front."
The Bruins will see the return of senior linebacker Matt Bush this week. Bush, who missed the past two games with mononucleosis, leads the team with five interceptions.
"He's kind of our defensive leader," Ofodile said. "He's probably, in our front seven, the guy that processes things the quickest, gets to the ball the fastest, the most veteran, most experienced guy we've got back there. He's a captain for us for good reason, so having him back is a big lift. "
While the defense will welcome the return of Bush, who has 52 assists on tackles, Rock Bridge will be missing a weapon on the other side of the ball. Senior tailback Freeman Simmons sprained his MCL against Jefferson City and is expected to miss a minimum of two games.
Backup Tarus Moore is out this week as well because of a violation of team rules. Ofodile said he is still in the process of choosing a starting tailback for Friday's game, but he doesn't think it will be necessary to ignore the run game.
"I don't think we'll change how we call things," Ofodile said. "Don't get me wrong, Freeman is special, but running the ball is a function of getting guys blocked up. The one thing Freeman gives us is when you don't get guys blocked up very well, he can still do some things. But how much we run the ball at the end of the day is still dictated by how well we're getting guys covered up up front."
If the Bruins defeat Troy at home, they will face either Hickman (No. 2) at Hickman or Timberland (No. 7) at Rock Bridge.
The other games in the tournament include Francis Howell Central (No. 8) at Francis Howell (No. 1) and Fort Zumwalt West (No. 5) at Jefferson City (No. 4). All games start at 7 p.m. Friday.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.