Conrad Rowley, the all-state 6-foot-4, 290-pound Blue Springs offensive lineman, sat in the hallway outside of the Wildcats’ locker room and received a little star treatment.
A young member of trainer Steve Morrow’s staff cut the tap off Rowley’s shoes as he reveled in the simple fact that he did not have to bend over and do that simple task himself.
“I’m tired, and I’m fat,” quipped Rowley, one of unsung heroes of a dramatic 28-26 victory over a tougher-than-expected Liberty North Eagles team at Peve Stadium, “I’m happy — s-o-o-o-o-o! How about that last touchdown drive? It was pretty sweet.”
With offensive lineman like Rowley, Jack Johnson, Beau Stephens, Patrick Robinson and Jessup Leakey opening big holes, the Wildcats went on a seven-minute, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard Aveion Bailey touchdown run with 4:05 remaining.
The drive ate up the clock and gave Blue Springs a 28-19 lead.
And it proved even more important three minutes later when North quarterback Jake Van Dyne hooked up with Warren Bennett III for a touchdown pass to make it 28-26.
With the game on the line, Liberty North kicker Brady Pohl, who booted field goals of 45 and 58 yards, attempted an onside kick that bounced high and off the hands of an Eagles player and out of bounds.
The Wildcats (5-2) had won their fourth straight and survived a challenge that coach Kelly Donohoe fully expected.
“That was the first time we ever played that team, so there was no history,” Donohoe said, “and we’re dealing with 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids and we’re doing our best to convince them that this game was going to be a dogfight – and it was.
“But I am so proud of the way we got this win. And that 80-yard drive was so special. If it had come in a playoff game or a state championship game it would have been talked about forever.”
Donohoe added that the game plan for Blue Springs’ final scoring drive was predictable, but effective.
“Everyone in this stadium knew what we were going to do, and Koby (Mansfield) and Aveion ran behind those big studs on our offensive line and moved down the field and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
“We’ve overcome some injuries and some obstacles this season, and we’re getting better every game. I’m just so proud of our guys.”
Nick Wood, who left the game in the second period with an ankle sprain, scored the first Wildcat touchdown on a 9-yard run at 8:06 of the first period.
Pohl then kicked the 45-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Mansfield scored on a 7-yard bootleg run with 51 seconds left in the first quarter, giving Blue Springs a 14-3 advantage.
Pohl’s jaw-dropping 58-yard field goal was the lone score of the second period and it was a 14-6 game at halftime.
The Eagles’ Brennan Stervinou then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass and Pohl’s extra point made it 14-13.
That set the stage for the “ugliest and most beautiful” pass of Cooper Willich’s career.
Willich, a wide receiver playing with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, underthrew tight end Eli Stewart on a 32-yard pass that set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Mansfield making it a 21-13 game at 2:07 of the third period and setting the stage for the dramatic 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
“It was a little underthrown,” chuckled Stewart, with Willich close by, “but he got it to me, and I had to catch it. It was a huge play.”
Willich, nodding in agreement, added, “We worked on the play the past few weeks, but I thought Nick was going to throw it, but he got hurt. I did under throw it a little bit (chuckling), but it helped us score and that’s all that matters.”
Donohoe chuckled when asked about the pass play.
“The ugliest, most beautiful pass play you will ever see,” Donohoe said. “Cooper is a gamer. We knew he had the thumb issue, but we knew he could get the job done.”
Mansfield finished the game with 15 carries and 95 yards on the ground and Bailey added 29 carries for 139 yards.
“I’m not the best quarterback by any means, but Aveion is the best back and our offensive line is the best anywhere, and we found a way to win tonight,” said Mansfield, who was 6 of 11 for 67 yards passing.