Coach Kelly Donohoe’s 9-3 Blue Springs football team took time to prepare for a frigid Thursday afternoon practice session at Peve Stadium.
As a light snowfall covered the turf, the Wildcats emerged from the locker room wearing all the game gear they might need at 7 tonight (broadcast live on KCWJ 1030 AM) when they meet Columbia Rock Bridge in a Class 6 District 2 title game and state quarterfinal that will leave the winner one victory away from a state championship appearance.
“We have our walk-through today,” Donohoe said, “and we want the guys to be prepared for whatever the weather might be like in Columbia. We really feel like a really cold night will favor our team, but the coaching staff at Rock Bridge is probably telling their kids the same thing.”
Rock Bridge enters with a 10-2 record and features the running back many experts call the best in the state, senior Nate Peat, who has committed to play at Stanford.
“We keep hearing about that back going to Stanford, and he’s good, real good, but I think we have a real good defense,” senior nose tackle Simeon Sullivan said. “We want to play the best, because we think we’re one of the best teams in the state.”
It would be hard to disagree with that comment as the Wildcats have made it to the state championship the past two years. However, they have lost each of those big games.
“This is our year, the seniors’ year,” defensive end Nikko Manning said. “We were part of the two teams that went to state the past two years, but the seniors want to go again this year. And to do that, we have to win our next two games. We have a lot of respect for Rock Bridge. They’ve beaten some good teams this year, but so have we.”
The Bruins own victories over Rockhurst and downed Francis Howell 35-10 last Friday to earn a spot in tonight’s matchup against the Wildcats. However, they lost 28-7 to Lee’s Summit West, a team that beat Blue Springs 7-6 when the Wildcats attempted an unsuccessful two-point conversion to win it late.
“They’re good, real good and Peat is the real deal,” Donohoe said. “But I have so much faith and confidence in our defense, and Coach (Derek) Wilson has come up with some great defensive schemes this season.
“You know, defense is always overlooked, but it’s what wins games like this.”
The winner will win the district championship, and will play either Lee’s Summit North or Rockhurst in the state semifinals next week.
While Rock Bridge has Peat, the Wildcats have Aveion Bailey, who has rushed for 568 yards and eight touchdowns the past two weeks to give him 1,671 yards and 18 touchdowns for the season.
“We respect Aveion the way I know they respect their guy,” said Blue Springs senior offensive lineman Conrad Rowley, who has committed to Northwestern. “Aveion knows we’re going to do everything we can to open some big holes for him Friday night.”
Bailey said he can’t wait for the Rock Bridge game.
“These are the games you dream about,” Bailey said. “With my line, I have the confidence that we can have a big game. I love and trust them, and I know they feel the same about me.”