“It's Rock Week.”
That's all that needs to be said at Blue Springs High School, where the No. 1-ranked Class 6 team and reigning state champion Wildcats will meet longtime rival Rockhurst at 7 p.m. tonight at Peve Stadium.
While the Hawklets head to Blue Springs with a surprising 0-2 record, coach Kelly Donohoe's squad is not going to overlook the perennial metro area power.
Rockhurst is playing its third-consecutive No. 1-ranked team in three weeks. Coach Tony Severino's team opened with a loss at East St. Louis, which is No. 1 in Illinois, and then lost to Bentonville, the No. 1 team in Arkansas, at home last week.
“Yeah, we have a real cupcake schedule this year,” Severino joked, “and it just keeps getting tougher.”
Rockhurst hasn't started 0-2 since 1979 and has not been 0-3 since 1978. Blue Springs (2-0) will be seeking its third consecutive victory over the Hawklets, who lead the all-time series 23-22. Blue Springs has outscored its opponents, St. Joseph Central and Park Hill South, 90-20 in its first two games, but the Wildcats aren't expecting tonight's game to be a cakewalk.
“No one on our team is looking at their record and thinking all we have to do is show up to win,” said defensive end/receiver Elijah Lee, who moved to Blue Springs last season from St. Joseph, Mo. “This will be my second (regular-season) game against Rockhurst, and it's a different week. We have some great rivals, and they're one of them. It's just a whole different level when we get ready for a team like Rockhurst or Lee's Summit West or Blue Springs South or any of the other great teams in the area.”
Jordan Benson, the lone returning starting offensive lineman from last year's championship team, agrees.
“We pick it up at practice when we play Rockhurst,” Benson said. “We always work hard, stay focused and pay attention to details. If we don't do that when we play the Rock, we're in for a long game.”
The game certainly means a lot to junior quarterback Ian Brown, who wants to take a low-key approach to tonight because he transferred from Rockhurst to Blue Springs this season due to family health issues.
“I've made great new friends here in Blue Springs, and I have so many great friends at Rockhurst,” said Brown, who fired six touchdown passes last week in a victory at Park Hill South. “One of their linebackers is my best friend, so we'll be playing for a little bragging rights. And I know how hard Rockhurst prepares for Blue Springs, because I was part of it last year.”
Four of Brown's touchdown passes last week were caught by senior receiver Darrius Shepherd, who scored the Wildcats' two touchdowns in last season's 14-11 state quarterfinal win over the Hawklets.
“No one on this team is taking Rock lightly,” Shepherd said. “We have so much respect for that team, and I think they have a lot of respect for us, too. It should be a great game.”
Linebacker Gunnar Strickland believes the Hawklets' 0-2 record just makes them a more dangerous opponent.
“You look and see 0-2 and then you see that the losses have been to two state No. 1-ranked teams,” Strickland said. “In Blue Springs, all you have to say is 'The Rock,' and that gets everyone fired up. It's always a classic game, and we expect another one Friday.”