COLUMBIA — Justise Keith, a brace wrapped around his left knee, made his way to Bohannon Davidson. The senior running backs both were searching for willpower.
Earlier in Hickman's eventual 27-16 home-opening loss to Lee's Summit North, Keith limped his way back to the sideline. He gave an encouraging pat to Davidson, who was being watched by assistants as he did sprints from the 20-yard line, appearing to ignore the wrapped left ankle he had hobbled on before.
It was early in the fourth quarter. Battered from taking handoffs serving as linebackers, the two seniors walked in front of their teammates. They were given fives, slaps on the back.
The Kewpies' two-headed running plan watched the Broncos' one-man wrecking ball cause havoc.
The Broncos' Josh Caldwell barreled away for a 72-yard carry and score. It was his last touchdown, and it was just like his 72-yarder in the first quarter. He had other runs of 61 and 54 and broke a school record with 305 yards on 18 carries. The win was Caldwell's fourth playing varsity football.
"I just told (my line block for me), and we're gonna get money," Caldwell said. "That's what were gonna do. We're gonna money. I couldn't do it without them."
The Broncos were coming off of a 1-9 season, which started in a 40-20 loss to the Kewpies.
"It was overwhelming," Caldwell said. "I couldn't believe it."
The following drive started with Davidson taking a pitch for no yards. Keith followed up with a carry of no gain. He limped back to the sideline.
Hickman head coach Arnel Monroe didn't comment on the status of the two seniors.
"I haven't talked to the training yet," he said.
He said his team made too many mistakes and didn't have the depth to make up for it.
"They played a great football game," Monroe said. "You don't have all your bullets, you can't shoot. When you're in a war, you're out of bullets, you're gonna lose."
In for Keith and Davidson was Alazae Jackson, a junior playing in his first high school football game.
"I knew the team was down," he said. "I knew we had to keep pushing."
It was Hickman's first home loss since 2011, coming after a surprising 2012, which included a 9-2 record, a state ranking and a district championship loss.
"It's terrible," senior linebacker Christian Geen said after coming out of the quiet locker room. "You feel it. It hurts."
"We just came out thinking we were gonna win, thinking we were gonna win just because we had a good season last year," Geen said. "We can't do that."
Up next for Hickman is a three-game road trip starting against Wentzville Holt at 7 p.m. Sept. 6.