As Aveion Bailey broke off a 76-yard touchdown run late in Blue Springs’ 23-10 victory over Raymore-Peculiar he couldn’t help but feel some relief.
The whole visiting sideline probably exhaled collectively after the score.
Up until that TD, the Wildcats found themselves locked into a battle with Panthers in the regular season finale.
In some ways, Bailey’s night was a microcosm for the team as a whole.
On the first play of the night, Bailey fumbled on the Ray-Pec 21.
The Panthers used that to jump out to a 7-0 lead when Noah Durham tossed a shovel pass to Cameron Staley for a five-yard score.
The following drive, the Wildcats gave the ball back to the Panthers, who jumped up 10-0 on a 31-yard field goal from Gabe Sappington, a lead Ray-Pec would take to halftime.
“They were all telling me to keep my head up and that every play was a new play. I just kept pounding the ball, and when I broke open that big run, I felt pretty well,” Bailey said.
For everything that went wrong in the first half, things went that much better for the Wildcats in the second half.
After recovering an onside kick to start the half, Blue Springs drove down to the Ray-Pec six before Bailey had his second fumble of the night.
With Ray-Pec pinned deep in their own territory, the Blue Springs defense came to life, recording a safety to get on the board.
“That safety falls on us,” Ray-Pec head coach Tom Kruse said. “As coaches we have to try and get the ball out of there and get a punt. Our defense played their tails off and gave us a chance all night.”
With the ball again, the Wildcats this time would score on a 1-yard run by Bailey. After the two-point conversion failed, they still trailed 10-8 going into the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats (7-2, 5-1 Suburban Big Seven) wouldn’t slow down, though.
On their next possession, the Wildcats scored on a 1-yard run from Caleb Marquez.
Ahead 16-10, though, the game wasn’t over.
The Panthers drove as deep as the Wildcat 21 with just more than four minutes left in the game.
They came up a yard short on their fourth-down conversion, however. That gave the ball back to Blue Springs, setting up Bailey’s 76-yard run.
“He’s done a good job holding on to the ball all year, so we weren’t really worried about it,” Blue Springs head coach Kelly Donohoe said of the early struggles. “We just told him to hold on to the next one. You are talking about a kid who had 160 yards rushing and had another 100 called back. He had a 250-yard night but he has to be careful with the football.”
Bailey finished with 164 yards on 22 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
It was a gut wrenching defeat for the Panthers who finished the regular season 2-7 and head into districts as the No. 7.
“They were in a football game tonight,” Kruse said. “We played hard together and to be honest with you it’s been awhile since we’ve seen that. Maybe we can take that and build off of it.”