A state championship had been the goal for Hickman since the beginning of the football season and some would say since the Kewpies’ last title 30 years ago.
But time was running out, and opportunities had been squandered.
Even though Hickman had finally been able to put points up on the board, only seven minutes remained in the game, and its offense had totaled just 74 yards and three points.
Ahead by four points to the No. 1-ranked team in Class 6 and picturing their fourth trip to the state championship game in the six years, Rockhurst fans were more than willing to see the Kewpies kick the ball off to their offense again after Nick Timberlake’s
35-yard field goal at the 7:07 mark in the fourth quarter.
It would just be another chance to wind down what little clock was left in this defensively dominated semifinal game. The Hawklets milked a seven-point lead the entire second half with run after run and no first downs, relying on a defense that had stuffed the Kewpies all night.
So far, Hickman’s defense had been almost as equally stingy, but that wasn’t quite enough. Something big needed to happen to jump-start a stalling offense.
Then it did.
Rockhurst’s Mike Pernice received the kickoff from the foot of Cedric Alvis at his own five-yard line. Running into a wall of defenders, Pernice got hit by a couple of Kewpies before Josh Christian-Young stripped the ball from his hands into Hickman’s possession at the 25-yard line.
“I asked them who was going to knock it out (on the kickoff),” Nesbitt said, “and they all said they would.”
The two wasted drives that each began inside Rockhurst’s
20-yard line because of muffed snaps by the Hawklets’ punter earlier in the game were suddenly forgotten. With ideal field position once again, the Kewpies took advantage this time.
Seven plays later, including a 16-yard completion on fourth-and 5, Hickman quarterback Andrew Perkins found the end zone from a yard out. With Timberlake’s extra point and the score 10-7, the Kewpies’ defense just had to make one more stand.
Making it as dramatic as possible, it took the outstretched arms of an airborne Reggie Hatton to prevent a game-tying 25-yard field goal from Rockhurst’s Jeff Herrera with 45 seconds left in the game, after the Hawklets had driven 67 yards in two and a half minutes.
Bring on the Dome and a chance for the first state championship since 1974.
Hickman’s final step to a Class 6 state championship is in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome on Friday night at 7:05.
The championship game will be a rematch between Hickman and Hazelwood East, who defeated Kirkwood 34-27 on Saturday in the other semifinal game.
Hickman (10-1) beat Hazelwood East (9-3) earlier in the regular season at home 23-8, but the Spartans have bounced back and head into Friday’s game in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
The scene outside the visiting locker room at Rockhurst’s football stadium was one of pure elation.
Daunte Smith was the first Hickman player to exit the locker room after coach Gregg Nesbitt’s post-game speech. Barreling through the double doors, Smith couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“Nobody thought we could do it, but we did it, baby,” Smith shouted at no one in particular.
His teammates and coaches followed him out to where dozens of family members and friends awaited the celebration