BLUE SPRINGS - It had all the makings of a splendid late-summer soiree.
Purple and gold balloons, streamers and signs declaring “Make Those Kewpies Cry,” adorned Peve Stadium Friday night in honor of Blue Springs homecoming weekend. Hip-hop lyrics blared from loudspeakers. The band gave a 10-minute performance, and an elaborate fireworks display accompanied the Blue Springs football team’s on-field arrival.
In short, it was to be the perfect start to high school football on the Wildcats’ home field before a packed stadium.
The Hickman football team crashed the party.
The Kewpies, No. 3 in Class 6, defeated top-ranked Blue Springs 34-16.
With less than five minutes left in the fourth-quarter, Hickman held a 27-16 lead and appeared to have the game in hand when Blue Springs’ quarterback Luke Whitworth failed to convert on a fourth-and-two attempt from the Wildcats’ 34-yard line.
It took a game-breaking run by senior Brandon Kendrick, though, to convince Kewpies’ coach Gregg Nesbitt that his team was out of the woods.
Kendrick took a handoff on the first play of the next drive and spun his way between defenders before finding a hole and moving 66 yards down the right sideline for a score. After the extra point, Hickman took a 34-16 lead, and Nesbitt could relax.
“When Kendrick busted that long run,” Nesbitt said, “I knew it would be pretty tough for them to come back from that.”
The win moves Hickman to 3-1 and gives the team a huge burst of confidence two weeks after a 14-7 loss to No. 2 Rockhurst.
“No words can describe this win,” Hickman wide receiver Cedric Alvis said. “Coach always tells us to we have to be able to battle adversity, and that’s what we came out (in the second half) and did.”
After Friday’s emotional win, Nesbitt is ready for a little rest. He will get that next week as Hickman takes a week off before playing Hazelwood East at home on Oct. 8.
“I know our guys can use the rest,” Nesbitt said. “And we’ll take care of that. We’ll give the kids Monday off and then come back with some good practices throughout the rest of the week.”
When the new state poll is released later this week, it is a distinct possibility that Hickman will find itself atop the list. The state’s top three teams, Blue Springs, Rockhurst and Hickman are all 3-1, but the Kewpies’ convincing win against the top-ranked Wildcats could make the difference.
Perhaps weary of the newly heightened expectations, Nesbitt warned his players in a postgame meeting that they shouldn’t be contented.
“We ruined their homecoming,” he said, pointing to the huddle of players on the other end of the field. “And I don’t mean that as an insult. Remember, our homecoming is just a couple of weeks away and the same thing could just as easily happen to us.”
Indeed. Hazelwood East is 2-2 this season after Saturday’s 23-7 loss to McCluer North. After a 7-0 loss to Christian Brothers College to open the season, the Spartans outscored opponents 84-0 in their next two games.
Hazelwood East features an offensive tandem that could cause problems for the Kewpies’ secondary. Spartans quarterback Carl Word has amassed 409 yards passing and three touchdowns going into Saturday’s game.
Wide receiver Chris Brooks, an MU recruit, has become a favorite target, with 287 yards receiving in the Spartans first three games.
Despite a seemingly flawless second half, Hickman’s players and coach agreed that Friday’s win was anything but perfect.
In the first half, Hickman allowed 206 total yards and two touchdowns, including an 84-yard touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter that left Hickman trailing 16-13 at halftime.
“Tonight was one of the few times I raised my voice (at halftime),” Nesbitt said. “I wasn’t very happy at all. We squandered some major opportunities and we gave them some major opportunities, and that’s something we can’t let happen.”
Wide receiver Cedric Alvis, who scored on a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, agreed that a more balanced showing will be important for the rest of the season.
“We need to work on playing for a full game,” Alvis said. “The first half was really sloppy tonight. The second half we came out and kicked it in, but I think that’s been the case with us in all of our games thus far. We haven’t been able to put a full game together and we’re going to work on that in our bye week.”
For the moment, though, the Kewpies are happy to be basking in the glow of victory.
“It’s great going into our next couple of weeks with a victory like this,” Kendrick said as he walked off the field Friday. “We’re going to sit back and enjoy this for awhile.”