Blue Springs won the Class 6 District 7 championship and its eighth straight game with a 43-23 victory against Columbia Rock Bridge.
The uniforms, the plays and even the players look the same.
But the Blue Springs team that won the Class 6 District 7 championship and its eighth straight with a 43-23 victory against Columbia Rock Bridge, isn’t the same team that started the 2010 season 0-2.
“Two months ago we were in a bad place,” Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe said. “These kids have fought for two months, and we’ve run eight in a row off.
“I’m as proud as I’ve been in all the years I’ve been here with what we’ve done this year with these guys.”
Star running back Darrian Miller agreed. He said it wasn’t so much of a change on the field, but a drastic one off of it.
“In all honesty there might have been some egos, there might have been some people that maybe didn’t get along with other people,” Miller said. “We really just had to sit down after week two and say ‘This is what we’re trying to do. If you’re not part of the team, then you can leave.’”
Eight weeks later the Wildcats (8-2) showed how far they’d come with a dazzling display in the first half against the Bruins 4-6 as they cruised to a 27-0 lead.
On the opening possession, Blue Springs went on a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by D’Marco Smith. After a quick three-and-out by Rock Bridge, the Wildcats scored again when quarterback Kyle Brown connected with Deiondre Hall for a three-yard touchdown.
This was followed by another fruitless offensive drive by the Bruins. The Wildcats answered with another scoring drive. This one was capped with a two-yard run by Miller.
The Wildcats kept it rolling on their fourth possession scoring again when Miller scampered in from 17-yards out to put the team up 27-0 with 6:17 remaining in the first half after a blocked extra point.
Just when it looked like Blue Springs was going to put the game away, Rock Bridge decided it wasn’t going down without a fight.
Back-to-back Brown interceptions turned into 10 points for the Bruins with a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Pickerel to Sheldon Gerau and a 27-yard field goal by Ian Patterson. The scores narrowed the gap to a much more managable 17 points just before the half.
“I was thrilled with the first half until about five minutes left,” Donohoe said. “Then we made one bad read on that ball they tipped for an interception. I was disappointed at the end of the half.
“That other interception killed us there and gave them three points.”
Donohoe said it was no surprise the Bruins fought back in what many others would have given up as a hopeless cause.
“That’s too good of a football team to think you’re just going to come out and be up 35-0 at half,” Donohoe said.
A 20-yard Nick Waite field goal with 6:42 left in the third quarter gave Blue Springs a 30-10 lead.
However, Rock Bridge wouldn’t go away.
The Bruins shook off an Aaron Peola interception to stop the Wildcats on downs, and then marched 66-yards down the field scoring on a 15-yard pass from Pickerel to Jerome Fulcher with seconds left in the third.
The two teams traded scores once again with Brown connecting on a four-yard pass to Cole Jones and Pickerel hitting Fulcher for a 74-yard score.
That’s when Donohoe went to his star to grind clock and put the game away.
After an incomplete pass and a penalty, Donohoe called Miller’s number seven straight times as he drove his team down the field 56 yards. The impressive drive, which took nearly five minutes off the clock, was finished up with a 1-yard run by Miller.
It also finished the day for Miller who had 259 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. He added another 49 yards on three catches.
Donohoe said he knew he could count on Miller to get things done when things started to get tough.
“He’s a special kid,” Donohoe said. “He’s probably the best kid in Missouri. When times get a little bit tough, and you’re fighting adversity, you just give the ball to him and special things happen.”
Miller said getting that type of responsibility put on his shoulders shows him how much respect his coach has for his ability, and he just tries to do his best.
“He puts the ball in my hand. I try not to make him look bad,” Miller said.
At times the Wildcats made themselves look bad with a number of costly penalties. Blue Springs was flagged eight times for 76 yards.
“We played pretty sloppy tonight,” Donohoe said. “We had some penalties, some holding calls and some things that bother us.”
Pickerel bothered the Wildcats as well. He rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries and was 10 of 26 for 171 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. It’s not that impressive until you realize he was stopped or sacked in the backfield for a loss of 65 yards.
“To me he’s one of the top quarterbacks in Missouri,” Donohoe said of Pickerel.
Despite some ugly moments, Donohoe said the first 20 minutes of the game are a clinic on how he wants the Wildcats to play.
“We’ll stop the film after that and say ‘That’s Blue Springs.’” Donohoe said. “Then we’ll say ‘Now let’s look at the rest of this, and let’s correct this.’”
Miller had already learned at least one lesson – no lead is insurmountable.
“If you get an early lead on someone, you’ve got to hold up with it,” Miller said.
Blue Springs will get a second chance when it hosts Raymore-Peculiar in the Class 6 Sectional matchup at 7 p.m. Friday. Miller said he’s excited to play at home, but even if the Wildcats were on the road they’d be ready to give their all.
“We play the same everywhere,” Miller said. “We play hard every time we step on the field.