O’FALLON — After watching the offense dominate games in district play, Hickman’s defense showed it could win games, too.
The Kewpies defeated the Fort Zumwalt West Jaguars 24-8 on Saturday at Hoekel Stadium in the quarterfinals of the Class 6 state playoffs.
The Kewpies (8-3) advance to play the Blue Springs Wildcats in a 1:30 p.m. semifinal game Saturday at Hickman. Blue Springs (11-0), the top-ranked team in Class 6, beat Rockhurst 24-7 on Saturday in Kansas City and will play a rematch against Hickman. Blue Springs defeated the Kewpies 43-27 on Sept. 19.
The Kewpies’ defense dominated the Jaguars (4-7) and allowed 156 yards of offense.
The big play for the Kewpies came in the second quarter. Junior Mike Roper intercepted Jaguars’ quarterback Ed Morelli and returned 42 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. Roper said he jumped in front of receiver Dom Salvatore to make the interception.
“At first I didn’t think he was going to throw it,” Roper said. “I just jumped over (the route), caught it and ran it in.”
Morelli, who made his second start of the season, said he failed to recognize the defense.
“I read the safeties on that play wrong,” Morelli said. “It got away from me when I let it loose. I tried to get up (to tackle Roper) but I slipped again.”
Entering the game, the Jaguars had committed 30 turnovers in 10 games. Morelli said turnovers were a problem all year.
“It was like their defense knew every single play,” Morelli said. “They dominated, but we gave it everything we had. They deserved to win because we couldn’t stop hurting ourselves with turnovers. ”
Roper and Jim McNeil intercepted Morelli and Steven Broadus blocked a punt. Defensive end Josh Sallee said the defense was well coached.
“We came out well prepared and did what our coaches told us to do,” Sallee said. “We just went out and executed. We did what needed to be done.”
Although Hickman’s defense continually gave the ball back to the offense with good field position, the Kewpies could not find a rhythm. Coach Gregg Nesbitt said his offense was not prepared for the Jaguars’ strength up front.
“From what I saw, I didn’t think our guys were ready to play,” Nesbitt said. “They believed (the press), their parents, the press clippings and forgot they needed to move guys out of the way to move the ball.
“Zumwalt West is a very strong football team, probably the strongest all year. I said it at the beginning of the week, said it all week and I don’t think anybody really believed me.”
In the first half, the Kewpies gained 66 yards, converted one first down and punted four times. Hickman also committed six penalties, totaling 40 yards.
“I thought it was a combination of nerves early and we made some key mistakes,” Nesbitt said. “I thought the officials also called a very tight ball game that made it look sloppy.”
The offense improved, though and managed to pull away from the Jaguars. With 4:42 left in the third quarter, Tekotte threw down the left sideline over a leaping defender to Cedric Alvis.
Alvis caught the ball and ran in for a 37-yard touchdown, making the score 17-0. Alvis finished with five catches for 104 yards.
A 69-yard touchdown pass from Morelli to Reggie Hicks with 4:04 left was the Jaguars’ lone highlight. The touchdown spoiled the Kewpies’ attempt for their first shutout.
In three district games and its quarterfinal win, the Kewpies’ defense has shut down opponents. The defense has given up 12 points per game. Stopping Blue Springs, though, will pose a challenge to the Kewpies. In the first game against the Wildcats, Blue Springs scored 23 straight points to open the game.
“They have a strong football team and they sent out a strong Rockhurst team,” Nesbitt said. “They are playing really good football and it’s going to be tough, but we know that.”