SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As the closing minutes ticked off the Plaster Stadium scoreboard on the Missouri State University campus, Blue Springs defensive lineman Daniel Parker walked up and down the sidelines, consoling his teammates as they tried to come to grips with a 34-14 loss Saturday night in the Class 6 state championship game to Christian Brothers College High School.
“Those guys were down, and it was important to me to let them know how important they have been to me,” Parker said. “Our season was coming to an end, and it meant a lot to me to tell them what they meant to me.”
Tears flowed as players tried to grasp the reality of a second consecutive championship loss to a St. Louis school by an identical 31-14 score. Kirkwood defeated the Wildcats in the state championship game in 2016.
“Déjà vu,” Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe said, as CBC dominated all phases of the game. “We just did not play as well as we’ve been playing. That’s what’s so disappointing – to get to this game and make some mistakes.
“If this was a 10-game series, it probably would be about a 5-and-5 deal, but as we tell our guys all the time, sometimes the other guys have a better day.”
The Wildcats offense had trouble getting the ball in the end zone – although running back Aveion Bailey carried the ball 23 times for a game-high 175 yards and a touchdown. The defense allowed 17 points in the fourth quarter, Blue Springs missed two field goals and an extra point and a Wildcat offensive lineman was ejected for throwing a punch.
“My heart goes out to our kicker, he hadn’t missed a field goal all year, and the kid who got ejected is just the nicest kid on the team,” Donohoe said, as he sat next to his son Chase and defensive back Azaiah Bello in the postgame interview room.
“They go 10 for 14 on third down, and we go 1 for 10 – that says a lot. We knew their defense was good and it really showed up today. They made some big plays on defense and their offense was missing No. 4 (wide receiver Tyler Walton) and No. 8 (wide receiver Cameron Brown) and they still had the great game. That just shows the depth of their offense and the talent they have.
“(Quarterback Brett) Gabbert throws the ball as well as anyone in the state and No. 3 (Bryan Bradford) is a really good back. We knew he was a good back, but boy, he’s tough now.”
Bradford led CBC with 126 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 29 carries. Two of his touchdowns came in a CBC-dominated fourth quarter.
Two missed field goals (37, 25 yards) and other missed opportunities saw the Wildcats go into the half trailing 7-0.
A 34-yard touchdown run by Bailey cut the deficit to 7-6 at 10:41 of the third quarter. Caleb Marquez and Niko Manning sacked Gabbert on the Cadets’ next offensive series. But a trick play led to a 14-6 CBC lead as running back Carson Buddemey hit Julian Williams for 53-yard touchdown pass play to put momentum back on the side of the Cadets.
A Dylan McGraw field goal at 11:41 of the fourth quarter made it a 17-6 game, but Cade Musser scored on a 29-yard run and Bailey scored on a 2-point conversion to cut the Blue Springs deficit to 17-14.
“We were right back in the game at that point,” Donohoe said, “but we just couldn’t slow them down the rest of the game.”
Bradford answered with touchdown runs of 4 and 6 yards while the Blue Springs offense struggled.
“For those guys at CBC to be able to drive that ball down the field and score like that against our defense, hats off to those guys because that’s the drive of the game for them,” Donohoe said, referring to the 80-yard drive that was capped by Bradford’s 4-yard run.
“Last year, we saw a Kirkwood team that was just very special, so I walked off that field feeling like we tapped our guys out (seven starters missed the game, including his son Chase and Bailey, with injuries). This is a little different feeling this year where I felt like we had our guys and we didn’t play as well, and that’s the tough thing.”
The dream of sharing a state championship with his father never materialized for Chase, who was 13-of-23 with two interceptions and 94 yards.
“We came out hot on that first series in the second half,” Chase said, “but we just didn’t execute like we needed to do. Playing for my dad the past four years has been a blessing, it just didn’t end the way we wanted.”
It might not have ended the way the Wildcats had hoped, but that didn’t keep them from hugging their No. 1 fan following the heartbreaking loss.
Jeremy Wynne, 29, a Blue Springs High School grad who lives with generalized dystonia (a neurological condition similar to Parkinson's Disease), is on the sidelines of every Wildcats game. Following the game, the Blue Springs players made sure to give Wynne one last emotional hug.
“We love Jeremy,” Donohoe said, his voice soft with emotion, “and seeing him in that wheel chair puts it all in perspective. Every day is a fight Jeremy. He’s with us every game, and we’re going to keep fighting, keep going – we’re not going to let this get us down.”