Kelly Donohoe sat in the Peve Stadium press box long before his Blue Springs Wildcats would play host to arch-rival Rockhurst on a balmy Friday night that didn't feel at all like football weather.
"The team that makes the fewest mistakes – and comes up with a big play or two – is going to win this game," said Donohoe, who seemed prophetic as Wildcats defensive back Azaiah Bello scored on a 92-yard interception return and Niko Manning picked up a late fumble to secure a hard-fought 21-14 win over the Hawklets.
The Wildcats went into the fourth quarter leading 21-0 – on Michael Warmack's 21-yard run, Chase Donohoe's 60-yard strike to Tre' Wheaton and Bello's pick-six – but saw that lead dwindle to 21-14 as Rockhurst scored on a 37-yard run by quarterback Derek Green and a 47-yard fumble return by Matt O'Keefe.
O'Keefe fought Wildcats quarterback Chase Donohoe for the ball after a low snap and rumbled into the end zone to make it a one-score game with 3:56 left.
The Wildcats then went three-and-out and Josh Dodge punted the ball to the Rockhurst 21.
Behind the savvy play of Green, the Hawklets marched to the Blue Springs 44-yard line. Green, though, fumbled the ball away on a handoff and Manning picked it up to secure the win with 41 seconds left.
"Man, I knew we were going to come up with another big defensive play," Manning said as he was swarmed by his teammates after the non-conference win, which gave the No. 4 state-ranked Wildcats a 4-2 overall record.
"We worked to hard to let them come back and win this game. The offense, the defense, the special teams – we all hung in there and got the big win."
The win helps take away the pain of back-to-back losses to the No. 1 ranked team from Arkansas, Fayetteville, in Week 3 and a tough loss to Park Hill, which was ranked No. 1 after beating the Wildcats in Week 4.
"It's like kids are coming up to me in the hall and asking what's wrong with us," Chase Donohoe said after completing 5 of 8 passes for 119 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I tell them, 'We're fine. We lost to two really good teams.' We've come back and won last week, and this week, we know how big the game is against Rockhurst and we got a big win.
"I think we're going to get stronger as the season goes on. Tonight, Azaiah's touchdown, Niko's fumble recovery – the play of the offensive and defensive lines – we got the job done tonight."
The Wildcats led 7-0 at 1:42 of the first quarter when Warmack ran off tackle for a 21-yard score.
At 11:14 of the second period Donohoe hooked up with Wheaton, who turned on his afterburners for a 60-yard touchdown to ignite the standing-room-only home crowd.
That's when Bello came up with the biggest play of the game. He battled the Rockhurst (4-2) receiver for the ball and took it 92 yards for what appeared to be a comfortable 21-0 lead.
"No lead is comfortable against Rockhurst," Kelly Donohoe said. "Every game against them is a battle. I think that's why we have such a great rivalry with them. We knew it was going to take some big plays to win this game, and the guys really delivered."
After the game ended, the Wildcats jogged to the stands to shake hands with their fans, and everyone wanted a piece of the grinning Bello.
"I knew I had the touchdown after I got the interception because I had all my guys blocking for me," Bello said. "Some of the blocks, man, they were something."
Everyone was talking about a block Nick Hessefort put on Green.
"It was a slobber-knocker!" Tim Crone, former Wildcats coach-turned-announcer for KCWJ 1030 AM, hollered into the microphone.
"I didn't see that block," Bello said, "but I heard about it from the guys. I know there were a lot of good ones."
One of the biggest defensive stands came at the start of the third quarter when Rockhurst started on the Wildcats’ 48.
Daniel Parker and Khristian Boyd each had tackles behind the line of scrimmage to force the Hawklets to punt.
"We take so much pride in our defense," Parker said. "It's 21-0 and we're playing like we're down 21, like we're hungry and mad and doing everything to stop them. I'm so proud of what our team did tonight. We held them at the end, we made the big plays when we needed to and we got a big win."