Despite suffering a disappointing end to the season at the hands of Troy Buchanan on Friday, the Kewpies had their most successful season since 2012, when Hickman finished the season 9-2.
A 4-6 record and another first round exit in the Class 4 District 8 playoffs doesn’t seem like much on paper. But while the Kewpies couldn’t inch past .500 in 2019, they improved in every aspect under the guidance of second-year coach Cedric Alvis.
Playing a complete game was the motto Alvis jammed into his player’s heads, and as the season progressed and Hickman figured out how to maximize its strengths, those complete games came naturally.
Fans got to see just what the team was capable of in Hickman’s games against Pattonville in Week 1 and Smith-Cotton in Week 4, but it wasn’t until a Week 6 matchup at Battle where the Kewpies’ true spirit.
One game-changing fumble in a quarter against a crosstown rival on the road is enough to bury a team. Imagine fumbling three times in a quarter, each leading to touchdowns for the opposing team, as Hickman did against the Spartans.
Those turnovers were crippling in the Kewpies’ 67-37 loss to Battle, but rather than break them, the mistakes instead inspired Hickman to go beyond.
Running back Felix Pippenger bounced back from a fumble with his longest touchdown of the season, a 66-yard run. Quarterback Jevean Brown finished with his most accurate performance of the season, completing 14 of 24 pass attempts. And kicker Hannah Larson was even able to get her first point as a football player.
In Hickman’s losses to Helias, Jefferson City and Rock Bridge earlier this season, the players became dejected and unmotivated once they fell behind. The team put up 16 points combined in those three losses, including a shutout loss to the Crusaders in Week 2. A strong sense of doubt and worry clouded their heads, causing more mistakes and turnovers.
Against Battle, the Kewpies fought back and made a statement in defeat.It would’ve been easy for Hickman to return to its old self after the turnovers, but it carried this newfound grit to close out the season strong.
The following week, the Kewpies almost completed an upset against North Kansas City on its Homecoming night in Week 7. They were fingertips away from scoring with 35 seconds to go against a team that was undefeated heading into the game.
The defense held the Hornets to just 10 points in the second half, a giant step forward compared to the 28 points allowed in the first half, with 21 of those coming in the first quarter.
Hickman was victorious in its last two games of the season and completed its victories in convincing fashion. A 48-10 victory against Truman followed by a 40-18 win over Oak Park. Out of nowhere, the Kewpies were one more win away from heading into the second round of the playoffs at an even 5-5 record.
The shift in Hickman started during practices. Players were fired up. Things were starting to click on the field. The team had officially taken the leap from being a low-tier threat to a team that can shock anyone at any time.
The only thing that was missing was a playoff victory and they Kewpies came oh so close to getting one. Who knows how the game would’ve turned out if the snap wasn’t low on the extra point attempt after LJ Williams scored from 18 yards out in the 13-6 to Troy-Buchanan.
As much as Hickman improved throughout the season, there’s work to be done if it wants to get better next season and it starts with next year’s senior class.
Hickman will be losing a lot of its leaders and playmakers on both sides of the ball to graduation this year and it’ll depend on this year’s juniors to lead the way.
Williams, Devin Turner, TJ Turner, Adison Barnett-Hill, Matt Caszatt, Edward Nelson Jr. and other returning players are going to have to step up and continue what this year’s team started.
It’s going to be hard to replace Talin Kemp, Max Neuhaus, Declan Irelan, Travis Weston and the rest of the senior class, but if there’s anyone that’s built to do it, it’s Cedric Alvis.