COLUMBIA — As the Hickman football team flooded off its home field through a crowd of excited Kewpies fans after Friday night's district semifinal overtime win over Rock Bridge, only one question could distract them from the celebration.
Did Jefferson City win?
Jefferson City was playing against Francis Howell in a district semifinal game that would determine Hickman's opponent next week. Locked in a defensive struggle similar to Hickman's 10-7 victory, Francis Howell edged Jefferson City 7-0.
Francis Howell came into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the district, meaning Hickman won't get to play the district championship in front of its passionate home crowd. The Kewpies also won't get a chance to beat the rival Jays for the second time this season.
But after the game, running back Justise Keith's face lit up when he heard the news of Hickman's next opponent, and he said one simple word.
Francis Howell ended Hickman's season in a sectional game a year ago. The upstart Kewpies traveled to St. Charles and got blown out 31-0. Keith's older brother Alex Keith, who now plays for the Minnesota Gophers, was Hickman's star player at the time. Keith wants to finish what his brother started.
"I'm definitely excited," Keith said. "I get to continue from where my brother left off and take it to Howell."
Keith, who opened the season No. 3 on the running back depth chart, played a vital role in getting the Kewpies to the district championship after starting running back Deven Larry left with an injury.
In overtime of Friday night's game, Keith took over, slashing through Rock Bridge's defense with a determined and violent running style. With each run, Keith inched Hickman closer to the goal line, setting up Sam Smith for the eventual game-winning field goal. Keith and his teammates now have a chance to avenge the 2011 team.
While the 2011 Kewpies entered the playoffs as underdogs, the 2012 Hickman team is the No. 2 seed in the district playoffs. The Kewpies now hold a 9-1 record this season, but coach Arnel Monroe said he has to keep his team level-headed.
"The thing about young people is they have to learn how to handle success," Monroe said after Friday's win. "I'm going to run them at 8 o'clock in the morning."
Hickman and Francis Howell will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday in St. Charles.