After a fluid, ever-changing season, the high school football playoffs are finally here.
For Rock Bridge, this means a chance for redemption after a disappointing 2019 season that saw the Bruins lose in the district quarterfinals.
However, before Rock Bridge (5-3) can move ahead, the Bruins look to avoid another early exit as they host Troy Buchanan (3-6) on Friday in the Class 6 District 4 quarterfinals.
This is the first meeting between the schools since 2012, which Rock Bridge won 34-0. In a stroke of fortune for the No. 3-seeded Bruins, they won’t have to travel to No. 6 Troy as they previously thought.
Due to concerns about attendance limitations in Boone County, Rock Bridge playing on the road as the higher seed seemed likely. However, Boone County lifted restrictions to allow the Bruins to meet the necessary guidelines in order to host the game.
The change benefits coach Van Vanatta and his team as they are 4-1 at home this season — but only 1-2 on the road.
“I tried to fight for our kids,” Vanatta said. “I’m glad we don’t have to travel, and I’m happy that the people I work with got it done.”
The matchup bodes well for Rock Bridge as it has taken care of business against lesser competition all season. The five opponents the Bruins have defeated have a combined record of 11-28, while the three schools they’ve lost to combine for a 24-2 record.
The Trojans started the season on a roll, winning three of their first four games. However, they cooled off mightily, limping into the playoffs with a five-game losing streak.and averaging only 14.6 points per game during that span.
“They run some things a little differently from what we’re used to seeing,” Vanatta said. “They run a veer option, so they’re going to do a lot of read options. They’re going to try and pound it at us. We’re going to need to be ready for that.”
This favors a Rock Bridge defense that’s been inconsistent in its secondary. The Bruins fare much better stopping the run as they’ve struggled to defend the pass, drawing several pass interference calls throughout the year. With an explosive offense that’s averaged 35.1 points per game, all Rock Bridge needs is a strong defensive showing to put the game out of reach.
It helps that a few impact players are returning from injuries. Last week, the Bruins were decimated by injuries as starting linebacker Nate Norris was sidelined with a shoulder injury and slot receiver Mason Gortmaker was also out. However, both are good to go for Friday’s contest, giving Rock Bridge a boost on both sides of the ball.
Even with their returns, Vanatta realizes that the team is still healing from the bumps and bruises that come with the long football season.
“We’re banged up,” Vanatta said. “It’s Week 10, so I expect it. We just have to go out there and do what we do.”
If Vanatta can get his defense to feed off the energy of its high-scoring offense, then Rock Bridge might be poised for a long playoff run.
“It’s the playoffs, so no one wants to go home,” Vanatta said. “We have 48 minutes to fight and keep the season going.”
The Bruins take on the Trojans at 7 p.m. Friday.