Columbia got its first taste of Friday Night Lights, as Rock Bridge hosted Hickman, Battle and Jefferson City for a series of quarter-long exhibitions Friday night.
The preseason jamboree ended with no real winners or losers, but it was a chance for coaches and players to see their teams in competitive play for the first time this season.
”The (position) groups just get a little nippy,” Battle head coach Atiyyah Ellison said. “It’s good for them to see somebody else and unify against somebody else.”
Below is a breakdown of how each Columbia school fared.
Battle still searching for a starting QB
The moment was quite literally picturesque.
Ellison held his phone up and snapped a photo. It was of the position group he used to coach – Battle’s defensive line – with their new position coach and former Missouri defensive end, Xzavie Jackson.
“I’m a little in my feelings about it,” Ellison said about no longer coaching the defensive line.
The former defensive line coach oversaw the group for the last six years, but Friday night’s jamboree was where he took the head coach mantle for the first time.
“It was fun,” Ellison said. “I can roam a little more and watch more of the game, so that’s good.”
Ellison’s promotion might have been the biggest offseason change for Battle. After former head coach Justin Conyers left the school in April to take the same position in Hallsville, Battle hired Ellison. Conyers led the program for the past six years, and Ellison’s hire makes him the second head coach in the school’s history.
Despite some anxiety about his separation from his defensive line, Ellison said the promotion is all for good and that it’s a chance for him to grow and learn some new things.
Battle’s jamboree performance had a lot of familiar moments from last year, with big runs from the running back duo of Darren Jordan and Daleshaun Coleman, as well as a team defensive performance that included multiple sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. It also saw a battle for the offense’s new shot-caller.
With Jaren Lewis — last year’s starting quarterback — now at Kansas State, senior Harrison Keller and junior Khaleel Dampier are vying for his old spot. Ellison said after the jamboree that he didn’t know who would be the program’s new starter just yet, but the decision’s been in the making all summer.
“It’s not a one-game thing,” Ellison said. “We try to let the kids know that everything they do is being watched, and so it all adds up.”
Ellison described Dampier as a smart, shifty quarterback who knows how to throw the ball, as well as how to make people miss. In describing Keller, he pointed to the senior’s night, specifically throwing a long touchdown pass and extended running and passing plays.
“They’ve had a good competition all summer,” Ellison said.
Battle will start its football season at home with a game against St. Louis University High School at 7 p.m. Friday.
Hickman’s Brown dazzles in limited action
Hickman head coach Cedric Alvis said before the game that he wanted to see his team’s energy and excitement during Friday’s jamboree.
He was not disappointed with what the Kewpies gave him.
Hickman’s defense allowed a big play and matched it with a big play of its own. The offense excited the crowd with deep passes, long runs and trick plays that resulted in touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Jevean Brown was involved in the Kewpies’ big plays, as he scored the team’s first touchdown for the night against Jefferson City: a 50-yard touchdown run after he eluded multiple Jays’ defenders in the backfield.
There is some concern for the Kewpies as they look ahead to next Friday’s season opener, as Brown left the jamboree early with a lower leg injury. Whether on offense or defense, Brown, who also starts at defensive back, was electric on the field, and his impact was felt even when he wasn’t involved with the play.
“If he’s healthy, he’ll rarely come off the field because he’s a difference maker for us,” Alvis said.
While Hickman’s defense managed to follow giving up a touchdown by making a huge stop or interception, it was also susceptible to giving up big plays, most notably on the ground.
Alvis noted that the “bend, but don’t break” mantra was great to see early on, but he also wants to see the team stay together after giving up a big play.
“We have to stick together and handle adversity,” Alvis said. “Being able to handle the bad things is what I want to see us improve upon between now and next week.”
Assistant coach Lionel Smith also said that the energy was great, but it needs to stay that way once adversity hits the Kewpies.
“We have to get better at staying strong when things don’t go our way,” Smith said. “That’s another thing we’re preaching. We just have to do better when things go bad.”
Hickman starts its season at home against Pattonville at 7 p.m. Friday.
No Peat, no problem
Rock Bridge’s biggest question heading into the 2019 season was always going to be about how the Bruins would replace running back Nate Peat, who racked up 2,065 rushing yards last season. On Friday, they showed their ground attack is still a strength.
In the jamboree’s exhibition scoring format, Rock Bridge drew with Battle 7-7, then defeated Jefferson City and Hickman by identical 14-0 scores. A majority of the Bruins’ offensive production, as well as three of their five touchdowns, came on the ground.
“It’s hard to replace a kid like (Peat),” Rock Bridge coach Van Vanatta said. “But I’ll tell you what, we’ve got three running backs that are going to do just fine. They can play.”
Senior Peyton Carr set the tone early with an 18-yard run down the right sideline against Battle and later broke multiple tackles to gain 30 yards against Hickman. He also got on the scoreboard with a nine-yard run against Jefferson City.
Junior Bryce Jackson was similarly effective with a 30-yard touchdown rush against the Jays, and quarterback Grant Hajicek also got in on the action with a seven-yard sneak for a touchdown of his own.
Rock Bridge’s defense came to play, forcing two fumbles, intercepting one pass and sacking opposing quarterbacks three times. Aside from Battle’s Darren Jordan breaking free for a 35-yard rushing touchdown in the opening drive of the night, the Bruins didn’t concede too many yards on defense, either.
But the passing game could use some work. Hajicek couldn’t seem to click with his receivers for most of the jamboree, and Rock Bridge didn’t start completing passes on a consistent basis until the final game. But once the Bruins got started, they couldn’t be stopped, and Hajicek threw two touchdowns in that game against the Kewpies. The first one was a 30-yard deep ball to Jackson, and the second was a well-placed fade route to Marquis McCaster on fourth down.
“We preach doing your job,” Vanatta said. “A lot of it’s down to technique, and that was our focus today. I loved the kids’ effort and intensity, and I’m going to walk out of here feeling pretty good. I will watch film, and we’re going to get ready for next week, but all in all, I think the kids did great.”
The Bruins will host Rockhurst at 7 p.m. next Friday to open the regular season.