As James Bailey and his William Chrisman High School teammates drove south on Noland Road Friday night, to christen the new Truman High School Stadium, one thought kept running through his mind.
“One inch,” said Bailey, the senior quarterback, who was stopped an inch away from scoring the potential winning two-point conversion in last year’s 28-27 loss to the Patriots in the annual Wagon Wheel Trophy game at Independence All-School Stadium.
“I wasn’t going to let an inch keep us from winning tonight. We were going over to their place to spoil their first (home) game, because they spoiled our game last year.”
Bailey didn’t have to worry about inches Friday night as he was 6-of-12 for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the air and carried the ball 17 times for 188 yards and four more scores in a convincing 48-14 rout of the Patriots, who were playing their first game at the newly renovated and expanded Truman High School Stadium.
“I have never been this happy on a football field,” said Bailey, who is the reigning state champion in the discus in track and field. “I owe this all to God. It starts with him, then I want to thank my coaches and my teammates. My offensive line was amazing tonight – they opened some big holes for me to run through.”
As he spoke about the Bears’ effort, he was hugged, high-fived, asked to pose for selfies – all the while smiling from ear to ear.
“I have thought about that loss so many times, and now I can forget about it and enjoy tonight. I think we have the chance to be a very good team this season,” he said.
As activities director Greg McGhee scrambled to find an answer to the question – when was the last time a Chrisman football team started a season 3-0? – coach Scorpio Horn addressed his team at the 50-yard line.
“When I took this job, people asked me why,” Horn said. “They asked, “Why you going to that school? You can go anywhere you want.’ Well, you know why I came to this school?”
He then grabbed the Wagon Wheel Trophy, which is given to the winner of the annual Noland Road rivalry contest, and thrust it into the air.
“I came here because of you guys!”
His players erupted in celebration.
“What can I say?” asked Horn, who received the same adulation Bailey was still enjoying a few feet away. “We score four TDs off turnovers and our defense was great. (My brother) Willie (Horn) is doing a great job with the defense.
“We came to play tonight. We were ready, the kids were excited, the coaches were excited, and our fans, well, you can see our fans are excited.”
The Patriots coughed the ball up five times – three fumbles, a muffed punt and an interception – and the Bears turned four of those mistakes into touchdowns.
The two most costly came in the first half as the Patriots drove to the Bears’ 3 and fumbled the ball away on the opening drive.
Two plays later Bailey and Joshua Horn connected on a 93-yard scoring strike.
Late in the second quarter the Patriots fumbled the ball away at midfield and Bailey and Horn hooked up on a 55-yard touchdown play.
“You look at the final score and might not agree, but the game was close the first half,” Truman coach Gregg Webb said. “Turnovers absolutely killed us. We could have been leading 21-7 instead of trailing 21-7 at the half if you take away those turnovers.
“We get down inside their 5 and turn it over and then get stopped short of the goal line. They’re a very good team with a tremendous athlete at quarterback. That young man was a difference maker tonight.”
When asked if he was a quarterback or a great athlete playing quarterback, Bailey said, “A great athlete – to quote your words – playing quarterback. I am a good athlete, but I am still learning a lot about playing quarterback.
“But tonight, when you get great blocks and have great people to throw to, you can look like a great quarterback.”
Along with his two touchdown throws, Bailey scored on runs of 74, 11, 4 and 19 yards. Kyron Mason scored the Bears final touchdown on a 13-yard run.
Joshua Horn finished the night with 4 receptions for 166 yards and two scores.
Truman quarterback Aaron Lehman scored both Patriot touchdowns, scoring on runs of 42 and 6 yards.
• Jason Pritchett, who headlines the main stage at Santa-Cali-Gon at 9:30 Saturday night, sang the national anthem. He is a 1999 graduate of Truman High School who played football for coach Tom Kivett.
“All I want is one play, one series,” said Pritchett, who was given his familiar No. 21 football jersey by Truman activities director Eric Holm before the game. “Tonight, well, I can’t even tell you how special it is for me and my family. My heart’s still beating from singing the anthem. Now, if I could just get in on one play.”
• Former Truman head football coaches Kivett, Ed Russell, Laural Hobick, Jim Talbott and Roger Pauk attended the game along with first Truman principal, Leroy Brown.
• Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl introduced members of the Board of Education before the game, which was played before a standing-room-only crowd that was estimated to be more than 2,500 fans.
“We spread out the stadium funding through three different budget sessions so this stadium did not need any extra taxes from residents of Independence,” Herl said. “The people on the Board of Education were instrumental in getting this done.
“Can you picture a better night for football?”