When things started to traject downward for Truman’s football team Friday, the Patriots couldn’t pull themselves back up against conference champion Park Hill South.
After Truman drove for a touchdown on its first possession, South clamped down on defense and didn’t allow another score until the final minute, completing a perfect 5-0 run through the Suburban Big Six Conference with a 35-14 win in the regular season finale.
Truman (3-6, 1-4 Big Six) likely hosts North Kansas City in a Class 5 District 7 first-round playoff game next week, with the winner possibly getting top-seeded Park Hill South (8-1, 5-0) in the next round.
The Patriots ran twice as many plays as the Panthers, 59-30, including a 32-14 advantage in the first half. But with starting quarterback Aaron Lehman hurt and no passing game – Truman’s only pass attempts came in the final minute – no margin for error existed, and coach Gregg Webb said his team hasn’t developed enough mental toughness.
“We did OK in the first half, even though we were down 14-7 – controlled the clock and kept our defense fresh,” he said. “And then we turned the ball over. We’ve had some down moments, and when things start going bad, it’s hard to bounce back. We’re not tough enough to stop the bleeding.”
Dave Rivera’s 5-yard jaunt capped a 12-play, 61-yard drive to give Truman a 7-0 lead with 4:37 left in the first.
After South went three-and-out on its first two possessions, Caeden Bowen rushed for 33 yards to end the first, setting up Zach Suchniak’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Tavin Severino three plays later. Emanuel Butler then busted free for a 53-yard TD run on the Panthers’ next snap, producing a 14-7 lead at halftime.
“Our kids’ heads weren’t really where they had to be,” South coach Mike Sharp said. “We had day off of school this week, but that’s on me for not making sure they were ready. They came out in the second half ready to play.
“We had two drives where we didn’t get much going, and then we finally started clicking. For us to be the team we want to be, we have to be good in all three phases.
Truman had the makings of a drive to start the second half but lost a fumble near midfield. Then, Jake Springer’s 35-yard run set up his own 13-yard touchdown catch for South.
A blown punt block assignment gave South possession at Truman’s 20, leading to Butler’s 7-yard scoring run for a 28-7 lead, and Suchniak tacked on a 4-yard TD pass to Sam Beuerlein early in the fourth.
Rivera ran 28 yards for touchdown in the final seconds, giving him 104 yards on 26 carries. Juan Flores and Donald Edmondson added 39 and 37 yards on the ground, respectively.
Butler had 67 rushing yards and Bowen 61 for the Panthers, who outgained the Patriots 260-203.
“We have to be perfect, and we are not,” said Webb, whose team had battled state power Columbia Battle into overtime two weeks ago before suffering a 51-7 loss last week to Liberty. “We have some nice players, but we just had way too many mistakes, and our kids tend to get down on themselves. We’ve got to step up and play next week.”