Center Spencer Johnson, the three-year starter for the Blue Springs High School football team, walked right past the post-game spread following a 26-21 Suburban Big Seven loss to Raymore-Peculiar Friday night at Peve Stadium.
It was going to take more than a hot dog or patriotic-themed piece of cake on this Military Appreciation Night to wipe the taste of that loss in the regular-season finale out of his mouth.
“I have the worst taste in my mouth right now,” Spencer said, “and the only thing that’s going to get rid of it is a win next week. We lost this game as a team – we win as a team and we lose as a team – and tonight, after a bad week of practice, we got what we deserved.
“We looked at their record (5-4 after the upset victory) and lost our focus. We got what we deserved. But I can tell you this – there are 24 seniors in that locker room who have worked their butts off for four years and we’re not going to go out and have another game like that. I can promise you that the intensity of this week’s practice is going to be a lot higher than it was last week.”
Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe agreed with Johnson.
“We played like we practiced,” Donohoe said after his team wrapped up an 8-1 regular season and 5-1 Suburban Conference mark, that left them atop the Big Seven. “We lost our focus on the practice field, in the film room, in the locker room.
“We have to do a better job of getting them ready to play, especially against a good team like Raymore-Peculiar.”
For one quarter, the Wildcats looked unstoppable as they took a 14-0 lead after the first 12 minutes of play.
Michael Warmack, who is getting back into playing shape after missing the first four games of the season with a leg injury, scored on a 51-yard option pitch from quarterback Dylan Cowling and then scored on a 5-yard, with 2:35 left in the quarter.
But the rest of the night belonged to the Panthers, as quarterback Grant Ardito hit Spencer Haake for a 21-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-10 play to cut the deficit to 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Andrew Houston, who was the star of the game for the Panthers, then ran 36 yards for a first down on a fake punt, setting up a 13-yard touchdown run by Chris McKinzy to knot the score at 14-all.
Johnson then took off down the far sidelines for a 52-yard punt return, giving the Panthers first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, with Gardito diving into the end zone to make it 20-14 (the extra point was wide) at the half.
Johnson then sealed the victory as he grabbed a tipped pass off the hands of Caleb Marquez and returned it for a 28-yard touchdown, making the score 26-14 (the 2-point run failed) with 10:43 to play.
Cowling, who was playing his first game at quarterback in place of the injured Chase Donohoe, hit Tre Wheaton on a 59-yard scoring play in which Wheaton ripped the ball from the defender’s hands and managed to find his way into the end zone at the 8:46 mark.
“That pass play showed what type of quarterback Dylan Cowling is,” Johnson said. “Chase is hurt, and Dylan is our quarterback and we are going to support him 100 percent. He’s going to get better each week.”
That was the last scoring opportunity of the night for the Wildcats as the Panthers got the ball and managed to get three late first downs to secure the victory.
Cowling finished the night completing 5 of 14 passes for 75 yards, with the touchdown and interception.
“Dylan’s a little rusty, and now that he has this game under his belt he’s going to be fine,” said Coach Donohoe, whose son Chase suffered a broken bone in his foot in last week’s 31-17 win over Blue Springs South.
“We lost tonight in every phase of the game – special teams, offensively and defensively – and that hurts. We have to get better next week.”
It was just the second Panthers win over the Wildcats (who lead the all-time series 10-2), but the second in the past three years at Peve Stadium.
“This is a tough place to play,” Panthers coach Tom Kruse said. “We’re missing 11 starters and no one is feeling sorry for us. And no one is feeling sorry for Kelly’s team, because this is a tough conference.
“I thought our kids really rose to the occasion and Andrew had a great game.”
When asked about his performance, Houston just smiled and said, “I’m still mad I didn’t take that punt return all the way, but I guess the pick-six made up for it.”
Warmack finished the night with 24 carries for 137 yards and two scores.