COLUMBIA — Redemption is what students at Rock Bridge High School hope for during tonight's district playoff football game against Hickman High School.
The 7 p.m. Class 6 District 3 semifinal game at Hickman doubles as a re-match between the Columbia rivals, and it will be the first time the two schools have played each other twice in the same season.
At the Providence Bowl on Sept. 21, a go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter secured Hickman's first win in the series against Rock Bridge since 2008.
Rock Bridge Athletic Director Jennifer Mast said students are particularly excited to see the rivals play each other again.
"They got fired up about the Providence Bowl, and now they get another opportunity," she said.
Because the game is in Columbia, she said, students are more involved.
"It's a home game, it's in town and it's against a school they know a lot about," Mast said. "The kids really want to win. The set-up is kind of perfect."
Kay Garnatz, Hickman's student activities director, said the rivalry had revived a lot of school spirit.
It was evident at the high school Friday afternoon where dozens of students in the Hickman atrium were decked in purple and gold.
Posters were plastered through the hallways, almost all in school colors with slogans ranging from "Let's Fire Up Kewpies" to "Beat the Bruins."
"It's an amazing difference from last year," Garnatz said. "There's so much school spirit. You can really see it."
"And the team is really doing well, so that helps," she added, laughing. The Kewpies are 7-1 and ranked 14th in the state by USA Today High School Sports.
At Rock Bridge, students were invited to gather after school for a Brew Crew Tailgate to promote excitement about the game.
Rock Bridge senior Mike Lewis, 18, described the feeling among fellow students as "anxious."
"It's anxious because it's a redemption game from the Providence Bowl," Lewis said. "We're backing our guys 100 percent."
Lewis forecast a score of 27-20 in Rock Bridge's favor. Senior Mike Nemec, 18, predicted a score of 21-17.
"I have a lot of emotions for my friends (who are players) in the game," Nemec said. "This is definitely the biggest game I've ever been a part of."
The Bearing News, Rock Bridge's newspaper, and the Purple and Gold Newspaper at Hickman are taking part in a competition through Twitter. The account with the fewest number of followers before the game will give $50 in the winning school's name, Lewis said.
Garnatz described a raffle that was under way at Hickman. One student would be selected at random, and if he or she was wearing purple, the prize was a wagon filled to the brim with candy.
The knee-high purple pushcart has been dubbed the "Swagger Wagon," and whether to share or hoard the load of chocolate was left to the discretion of the victorious individual, Garnatz said.
The September game at Faurot Field attracted 15,000 people. A smaller crowd will be on hand this evening at Hickman, though Columbia Parks and Recreation has loaned extra sets of bleachers to the school in anticipation of more than 5,000 fans — well over the 3,500 capacity.
By noon Friday, Garnatz said at least 2,000 tickets had been sold at Hickman.
Mast estimated that 1,300 tickets had been sold at Rock Bridge. She predicted the number would grow substantially by game time with more tickets sold than seats available.
Four hours before game time, Hickman free safety and wide receiver Roderick Beasley said he expected a packed stadium.
He and other players wore their purple jerseys with gold lettering to school today, as is custom on game days.
"Everybody's hyped," he said. "Everybody's ready to come out and watch the game."
Rock Bridge senior Ta'Yestaday Cross, 18, said the rivalry is what makes the students "hype."
"We want revenge from the Providence Bowl," she said. "It's just a rivalry; it's always been a competition."
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