COLUMBIA — The PA announcer must have repeated himself over five times.
"Students, please do not enter the field."
The students couldn't hear him. The ones that did ignored him. Many students bustled through the open gate while some took the faster, easier way of hopping the fence that surrounded the field.
They weren't worried about the PA announcer. They wanted to celebrate.
The students flooded the back of the end zone after Rock Bridge football's 36-33 win over Hazelwood Central in the state semifinals. The win advances Rock Bridge to the Class 6 State Championship game, the team's first state championship appearance since 1993. Rock Bridge will take on Blue Springs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
As the fans stormed the field, many players joined them in a group huddle to celebrate. Others decided to take in the experience alone.
Rock Bridge senior cornerback Sabien Cook stood outside the huddle, overwhelmed by the experience. He battled tears and had trouble finding his words.
"If you could see me right now...," Cook said. He stumbled with his words a bit and kept fighting tears. "All you do is thank God, everybody who supported us, all of our coaches that put us in position to make plays."
Some players, like senior receiver Zach Reuter, couldn't help but smile. Reuter was excited about the fact that his last high school football game will be at the state championship.
"Can't ask for any more than that," Reuter said. "Unbelievable."
Reuter stood out in the second half of the game, reeling in two touchdowns as well as a catch in the end zone for a successful two-point conversion. Reuter now has 23 touchdowns on the season.
Also standing out for Rock Bridge was senior running back Eli Stout. Stout ran for his eighth rushing touchdown of the season in the second half, and played a major part in two long fourth quarter drives that both set up Bruin touchdowns.
"He's a tough-minded kid," Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said. "We didn't know that we were going to put the ball in his hands that much. But when he was being productive running like he was, you gotta keep feeding him."
Ofodile also praised his seniors on the team, saying their performance was the difference maker in the game.
"Something about seniors," Ofodile said. "They're tough, they want it. You could see the level of all our seniors. The desperation, wanting to win, coming from behind. It's kind of a surreal scene right now for me."
The game was a nail-biter from start to finish. The Bruins and Hawks traded scores throughout the game, especially in the second half. The Bruins seemingly couldn't stop Hawks' junior running back Kevin Batt, who had three touchdowns of 46, 62, and 3, respectively.
With less than two minutes to go and Rock Bridge up by three points, Batt broke off another long run followed by a face mask penalty on Rock Bridge that put Hazelwood Central into Rock Bridge territory. It seemed like the same old story for the Bruins who kept giving up long runs all night.
On first down near the Bruins' goal line, Batt took a handoff at the five-yard line and the ball popped out of his hands and fell into the end zone. Rock Bridge junior Matt Troyer recovered it, sealing the semifinal win for his team.
"That fumble? I don't know how it came out," Ofodile said. "It's just one of those things where all you can say is it's meant to be."
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.