In the words of Rock Bridge senior Aidan Dubbert, “Nobody really planned on (the Bruins) being this good” in 2022.
The Bruins bowed out of the playoffs after a 44-21 loss to De Smet in last week’s MSHSAA Class 6 District 2 final.
Rock Bridge was coming off a 2021 season in which it went 4-6 under former coach Van Vanatta.
Nevertheless, first-year coach Matt Perkins led the Bruins to a 9-3 season, including the program’s first Central Missouri Activities Conference championship and its longest playoff run since 2018, when the team also went 9-3.
Rock Bridge began the season with a 34-17 road loss to Park Hill South but bounced back to beat Smith-Cotton 49-0 in Sedalia the following week, kicking off a seven-game win streak.
Perkins said the Week 1 loss was a formative experience for his team.
“We didn’t belittle them for making mistakes the first week,” Perkins said. “There was some trust that was gained in that loss. And as we went through the success, I think we just bonded more each week.”
Quarterback Sam Kaiser led a surging offense that averaged just less than 35 points per game. Across 11 games, the junior completed 60% of his passes for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns.
First-year defensive coordinator Ethan Smith transformed a veteran defensive core led by a havoc-wreaking front seven. Allowing 19 points per game, Smith’s defense racked up 61 tackles for loss, 22 sacks, 14 interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Along with Smith, Perkins credited defensive line coach Jake Floyd for the unit’s successes.
“(Floyd) probably had the best unit on the field night in and night out,” Perkins said. “We have really quality assistants on both sides of the ball.”
The Bruins’ streak featured several marquee wins over Central Missouri Activities Conference opponents.
In Week 4, backup quarterback Brady Davidson led the offense to an overtime victory over then-undefeated Capital City after Kaiser exited with an injury in the fourth quarter. Rock Bridge handed Helias its first-ever CMAC loss the following week in a thrilling 31-20 road win, a victory in which the defense allowed six points after halftime.
Perkins said the Capital City game was important in that it was a reminder that football is a team sport.
“Whenever you lose a player to injury and you’re able to rally behind the next guy, it lights a fire in you,” he said.
The Bruins ended the regular season with a 59-21 defeat at Francis Howell, dropping to the No. 2 seed in the district behind Troy Buchanan.
Rock Bridge blanked Hickman 42-0 in the district quarterfinal, with Davidson again in at QB while Kaiser recovered from an ankle injury. The Bruins beat Hazelwood Central 24-6 before falling to De Smet.
Twelve Bruins received All-CMAC awards, and Perkins was named the conference’s coach of the year.
Rock Bridge graduates 26 seniors but returns key players such as Kaiser, running back Drevyn Seamon and defensive standouts Grayson Cutchlow and Cullen Snow.
Perkins said he expects his team to be even better next season.
“It starts with getting back in the weight room and making sure the kids are accountable,” he said. “The goal is to show up and have a better team next year, and I think that’s what we’re going to do.”