ST. LOUIS – Just when Hickman thought it had possibly shut the door on its first state championship in 30 years, Hazelwood East managed to put its foot in the way.
With time running out in the second quarter, Spartans quarterback Carl Wood found Gerald Fulton streaking across the middle of the field around the Kewpies’ five-yard line.
When Fulton scampered into the end zone, a half that the Kewpies had dominated in every facet ended with a bitter taste in their mouths.
“I bit my tongue all the way into the locker room and tried to rationalize how to react,” coach Gregg Nesbitt said. “You don’t want it to be a downer in the locker room, but it was a downer.”
Hickman’s offense had scored touchdowns on all but one drive in the first half and looked to continue that success when it received the opening kickoff of the second half.
After five plays, though, the seemingly unstoppable offense stalled forcing Hickman to punt.
With a 14-point lead in jeopardy of shrinking even more, Hickman needed a big play to muffle a Spartans’ comeback.
Enter Aaron Cawlfield, playmaker extraordinaire.
In the top three of virtually every defensive category on the Kewpies’ season, Cawlfield had been kept relatively silent during the first half.
When Wood scrambled out of the pocket on first down, he saw daylight in the middle of Hickman’s defense.
What he didn’t see was Cawlfield stalking him from behind like an animal finally released from his cage.
A second later, Wood was on the ground, but the ball was no longer in his hands.
Cawlfield forced his seventh fumble of the season, and Mike Roper had possession, squashing any momentum the Spartans had left.
“We knew they had the momentum on their side, and we had to take it away,” Cawlfield said. “The first series after the half is always one of the bigger ones.”
After taking over at Hazelwood East’s 18-yard line, it took three plays before Hickman scored and was again up by three touchdowns.
Along with the stripped ball, Cawlfield finished the game with three sacks, a Class 6 state championship game record.