Cale Connors, the Blue Springs South backup quarterback, helped coach Greg Oder and the rest of the Jaguars scratch a seven-year itch Friday night at Peve Stadium.
His performance late in the fourth quarter helped down crosstown rival Blue Springs 27-24 in a Suburban Big Six battle that was played in front of an appreciative packed house at Blue Springs High School.
The win helped the Jaguars improve to 3-0 and end a seven-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Blue Springs fell to 0-3 – with losses to state powers Staley, Fort Osage and South, but more on that later from coach Kelly Donohoe.
When Jaguars starter Noah Nigro tweaked a shoulder injury on a jarring tackle at the line of scrimmage with 3:36 left in the game, Connors came off the bench and threw a first-down pass to Briley Moore-McKinney on a big third-down play and then hit wide receiver Rickey Nichols in stride on a 53-yard strike down the left sideline that gave the Jaguars the ball on the Wildcat 10-yard line.
When the drive stalled, Jake Roark came in to kick his second field goal of the night to give the Jaguars a 27-16 lead.
“Coach (Kelly) Groom (the South offensive coordinator) makes sure that Noah and I get plenty of reps in practice during the week,” said Connors, a junior who played quarterback last season until he broke his wrist at the midway point. “I came in and had the line block for me and Briley and Rickey made some great catches. It's just so exciting for Noah and the rest of the seniors to finally beat Blue Springs. We have so much respect for them. You could tell by the way they came back tonight they are a great team with great coaches – and we think we can be a great team and we have great coaches, too.
“Rivalry games like this are a lot of fun – especially when you win.”
While the Jags held onto that 11-point lead, the game was far from being decided.
The Wildcats came back and made it interesting when Dylan Cowling hit 6-foot-6 tight end Tanner Taula in the far corner of the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the game. Sophomore Michael Warmack – the younger brother of two-time state champion and two-time Simone Award winner Dalvin Warmack – carried the ball for a 2-point conversion and suddenly it was a three-point game.
“We put all our good hands people on the line, knowing they were going to try an onsides kick,” Nichols said. “We had to get that onsides kick.”
Samuel Knowlton's kick glanced off two Jaguars and out of bounds and the celebration began on the South sidelines.
“This is such a big win for our team,” Nichols said. “I'm so proud of what Noah did to get us the lead and how Cale came in and made the big plays in the fourth quarter. I'm just proud to be a Jaguar tonight.”
While his team has yet to win a game, Donohoe was excited following the annual “Cat Clash” game.
“We're 0-3, and I've never been as excited about Week 4 as I am right now,” Donohoe said after sophomore Jaylen Ivey carried the ball 20 times for a game-high 148 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown. “I saw a lot of sophomores grow up right before my eyes tonight and I can't tell you how excited we are to go to St. Joseph and play next week. Congratulations to Greg and his kids. Early on, we lost four in a row and I know how that feels. They played well tonight and deserve the win, but I think tonight is the start of something big for our team.”
So does senior defensive back Codie Bell, who led the Wildcats in tackles.
“We got so much better as the game went on,” said Bell, as the Wildcats trailed 21-9 at halftime. “I hate to lose. I hate to lose more than I enjoy winning. And I don't think we're going to lose many more games this season.”
On the other side of the field, Oder was quietly savoring the end of the seven-game skid.
“I've known Kelly since we were on the same (South) staff back in 1993 and I have a lot of respect for his teams,” Oder said. “But I think it might have been mentioned once or twice this week that we had lost seven in a row. I'm happy for our kids, especially the seniors. They worked hard for this win.”
South took an early 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Nigro to Jerome Hawkins.
The Wildcats tied the score at 7-all in the second quarter when Ivey scored on his 32-yard run.
South led 14-7 on a 33-yard touchdown run by Kaylob Hutsell. Adam Cofield extended the lead to 21-7 with a 12-yard scoring run.
Blue Springs cut it to 21-9 at halftime when South snapped a ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Roark kicked the first of his two field goals in the third period, splitting the uprights from 24 yards.
Blue Springs began its comeback on a 28-yard touchdown run by Warmack.