Rock Bridge was threatening to break a scoreless fourth-quarter tie. The Bruins broke their offensive huddle and lined up on Hickman’s 14-yard line. Junior Tom Satalowich’s fingers sank into the wet grass as the tight end crouched into his three-point stance.
The ball was snapped.
That night, November 11, 1981, a rivalry was born, and the loyalties of Columbia residents split along district borders when the Hickman and Rock Bridge football teams met each other for the first time in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
Portable metal bleachers were brought in from Faurot Field to help seat 5,000-plus fans who gathered at Rock Bridge Field that evening.
What they witnessed was an instant classic.
Satalowich sprinted up the field and into the end zone before making a sharp 90-degree cut and heading for the sideline. When he turned, his defender was behind him and the pass from quarterback Ken White was upon him.
Satalowich plucked the ball out of the air, and for a moment, shivering fans were stunned and silent.
“And then the place just erupted to the point I thought we were going to get a personal foul for players on the field,” Satalowich said. “And before you knew it, the game was over.”
Rock Bridge had won, 7-0. With just 71 yards of total offense, the Bruins had defeated the Kewpies.
Or as Satalowich put it, David had slain Goliath.
The Bruins were 9-0 during the regular season, but they were one of the smallest Class 4A teams in the state and had played weaker competition than Hickman, who brought a 7-2 record into the playoffs.
“We were undefeated and ranked in the top ten, but nobody gave us a chance,” Satalowich said. “Nobody thought little Columbia Rock Bridge could play the traditional powerhouse Columbia Hickman — let alone win.”
But the Bruins believed. As media coverage swirled and tension mounted in the days leading up to the game, Bruin coaches delivered motivational speeches about not being the team’s weakest link.
“We knew this would be bragging rights for years and years to come,” Satalowich said. “So none of us wanted to be on the losing end of that scoreboard.”
Most of his teammates understood that more than he did.
Three months before he made the biggest catch of his decorated high school football career, Satalowich had moved to Columbia from Colorado Springs, Col. The newcomer didn’t immediately grasp the magnitude of the Hickman/Rock Bridge rivalry.
“Me coming from Colorado, it was like, ‘Yeah, we beat Hickman,’” Satalowich said. “But for the other guys that had grown up here for so many years, it was enormous.”
Newcomer or not, Satalowich couldn’t have predicted that he would still be receiving attention for his touchdown more than 24 years after the game.
“I still go back for reunions when I go back home to Columbia,” said Satalowich, who lives in Denver but occasionally visits his parents in Columbia. “People still bring it up. They’ll always remember that. ‘You’re the guy that beat Hickman.’”
In 2002, former Rock Bridge football coach Barry Odom asked Satalowich to speak to his team the day before the Bruins’ state semifinal game.
“It was an honor to come back and speak to the troops,” Satalowich said.
If he didn’t’ realize it at the time, Satalowich knows now that his touchdown has forever enshrined him in Rock Bridge football lore.
“You always remember it, you always talk about it and you always brag about it,” he said. “And the story gets bigger and bigger.
“I think I’ll probably go to my grave, and on my tombstone, it’ll have ‘Rock Bridge 7, Hickman 0.’”