COLUMBIA — As the ball deflected off the head of the Rock Bridge midfielder Travis Ward and skipped off the post and into the goal, just past the outstretched arms of the Jefferson City goalie, the elation was also met with the realization of what awaits in the next round of the Class 3 District 10 tournament.
Rock Bridge will square off against No. 1 seed Hickman on Tuesday night in a game which has ramifications far more meaningful than any time the teams played earlier this season.
Hickman defeated Rock Bridge 2-1 Sept. 26 at Rock Bridge Field. Hickman scored twice in the first half and held Rock Bridge to a goal in the second half.
Rock Bridge coach Kirby Keth, who was absent from the first meeting because of his team’s yellow card accumulation over several games, said he sees another hard-fought game coming Tuesday.
“It, in many respects, will be the same type of game,” Keth said. “What got us in trouble against Hickman the first time was a couple of defensive breakdowns.”
Rock Bridge will work on fixing those breakdowns in its short preparation time to avoid ending its season.
“I don’t want to say that they (the Kewpies) weren’t dangerous,” Keth said. “They were dangerous, and we broke down a couple of times, and that gave them the opportunity to finish.”
Even though Rock Bridge outlasted a stingy Jefferson City defense, Keth said he knows he will be up against a different kind of animal when Hickman visits Tuesday night. While Jefferson City plays a more defensive-minded game, Hickman utilizes an offensive-minded 4-3-3 formation that will concede the counterattack in order to score as many goals as possible.
“I think they have more offense than what Jeff City does,” Keth said. “They have several dangerous players that we’ll have to marginalize. We’ll have to play good defense and not give them any opportunities. But otherwise, those two breakdowns (in the last game against Hickman) cost us, and we’re not going to be able to do that again.
“With Jeff City, they’re skimpy. They just don’t allow much. I was pretty sure it was going to be a 1-0 game one way or the other.”
Even with the offensive prowess that Hickman possesses, Keth said the Bruins play the right kind of game to thwart the Kewpies’ attack.
“We’ve had a little bit of a defensive/protect-mindedness all year,” Keth said. “We just know that they’re going to be dangerous and that they’ll attack our outside and we’ll just have to not allow them to get any dangerous balls.”
The Rock Bridge players also said they will be in for a challenge Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be a good game,” senior forward Brian Breeding said. “Intense.”
“I remember last time, our defense did all right, but we just had some breakdowns,” said junior defender Brian Jones, whose throw-in resulted in the winning goal for Rock Bridge against Jefferson City. “We just couldn’t get the ball in the net, so we’ll have to do better this time.”
Junior midfielder Travis Ward, who scored the winning goal against Jefferson City to send the Bruins to the next round, had a more positive outlook.
“It should be a good game, and I know they’re a good team,” junior midfielder Ward said, “but I think we’ve been playing well lately, so I think we can win.”
“I remember they outplayed us in the midfield,” Ward said. “They were more intense than us, but I think we’ve started to pick that up throughout the year, and I think we can match them on it.
“We avenged our first loss (Jefferson City) from the three (regular season) losses we had (to district opponents) ... so Hickman’s the next one we need.”
The Rock Bridge coaches and staff are well aware of the kind of game they will have to play to keep their season going. Keth said that from here on out, they will have tough matchups no matter who they play.
“This is districts,” Keth said, “and it’s a physical, aggressive battle to the end, no matter which team you get. This is everybody’s last game, if you do not win.
“This is a great district. I think it’s very even. I think every team is going to bring whatever they got.
“The team who fights and finishes or gets that one break, the game could go their way.”