Blue Springs continued its late-season surge.
Blue Springs used two second-half touchdowns to outlast the Raymore-Peculiar Panthers 14-12 for its fifth straight win and a berth to the Class 6 District 4 championship game.
“We just tried to keep everything positive all week,” Wildcat running back Tresten Spruell, who ended with 110 rushing yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, said. “We make sure every week we go out and do our job.”
Wildcat Head coach Kelly Donohoe credited his defense and big offensive plays for his team's comeback from a 6-0 deficit at halftime.
“We started running downhill a lot and had some big plays in the passing game,” he said. “Defensively we played great all night. We put our defense in some horrible positions and coming out of half down 6-0 was incredible.”
Ray-Pec started the game in good field position at the Blue Springs 44, but the drive stalled and the Panthers were forced to punt and pin back the Wildcats. But the first play from scrimmage resulted in a muffed option pitch, giving the ball right back to Ray-Pec at the 4-yard line. Despite the great field position, as was the theme of the first half, the Panthers hurt themselves with penalties and settled for a 32-yard field goal.
While the Panthers were plagued by penalties, the Wildcats made things difficult on themselves with bad snaps. As a result, Blue Springs managed just 83 yards of offense and coughed up two turnovers in the first half.
“My dumb butt, an old quarterback, I thought with the rain it'd be harder to get snaps. I thought if we could shotgun we'd be safe, and we weren't,” Donohoe said. “We felt like we were having success running at them, but we kept having bad snaps and bad penalties and kept putting ourselves in tough positions.”
Ray-Pec didn't fare much better with only 95 yards in the first half, but looked to extend its lead late in the first quarter when Bailey Custer picked off a tipped pass. The Panthers drove inside the Blue Springs 5-yard line, but couldn't punch it in and settled for a 23-yarder, making it 6-0 going into halftime.
The constant rain gave the defenses the advantage.
“We were pretty quiet,” Spruell said of the Wildcat locker room after two quarters. “But we were all focused. We just kept everything silent because we knew we were going to go out and do our job.”
After punting the ball away on their opening drive of the second half, Blue Springs got a fumble recovery at the Panther 20. The Cats were backed up to fourth-and-17 when Dylan Cowling lofted one up to the endzone and Caleb Marquez came down with it.
The Wildcat defense stifled Ray-Pec, and the offense would make it an eight-point game with a 17-play, 89-yard, clock-devouring drive, capped off by Spruell's 8-yard touchdown run.
“That's how you win this time of year is great defense and the running game,” Donohoe said. “We're just thrilled with our guys.”
Ray-Pec tried to tie it with a fourth-down conversion as quarterback Cory Linaweaver hit Custer over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the game. The two-point conversion, however, failed as a toss-pass back to Linaweaver fell incomplete.
From there, Spruell would follow his blockers and pick first downs while chewing up clock. The Panthers got the ball back with only five seconds left, and the Wildcat defense snuffed it out to claim the victory.
“It was all my offensive line,” Spruell said. “They were opening up the holes, and I just made sure I hit them to pick up yards and move the chains.”
For Ray-Pec, the loss snapped a three-game winning streak and ended the Panthers' season. Head coach Tom Kruse, however, saw a lot of positives to be taken.
“That turnover in the third quarter was the difference in the game,” he said. “The thing is, after we played Blue Springs the first time (a 21-14 loss), we did some soul searching, and we became a football team. I'm proud of our leadership and proud that the guys bought into one another. I hate that it ended this way, but I wish Blue Springs the best of luck. They're a confident team right now.”
After the postgame handshakes and thank yous to the crowd, Donohoe announced the Wildcats will travel to Springfield to take on undefeated Kickapoo. To that, he received raucous cheer and a “road trip” chant from his players.