The annual Blue Springs High School-Rockhurst football battle never needs any added starpower as it has been an Eastern Jackson County marquee matchup since Kelly Donohoe took over the Wildcats’ program 20 years ago.
But tonight’s 7 p.m. contest between two of the most storied programs in the state has a bit of added luster as it could be the final time legendary Hawklets coach Tony Severino visits Peve Stadium.
Severino, who has been the Rockhurst head coach since 1983, announced before the start of the 2019 campaign that this would be his last season. During his 35 years on the Rockhurst sidelines he has won 339 games and seven state championships in 11 appearances.
“Tony is such an icon and such a great friend,” Donohoe said following Thursday’s practice and a post-practice team meeting about the passion that is associated with Blue Springs football. “Now, believe me, once the ball is kicked off tomorrow night, all any of us will be thinking about is winning that game. But it makes a real impact when you think that this might be the last time we play Tony’s kids.
“I don’t want to make this a lovefest, but I’m really going to miss the rivalry we had with Rockhurst the past 20 years. He is a gracious winner, and a gracious loser – on those occasions we were able to find a way to beat them.”
Because they faced each other so many times in postseason action – and that could happen again this year – Donohoe is 13-18 for his career against Severino and Rockhurst.
For two decades the road to a state championship has run through Rockhurst or Blue Springs, with either the Wildcats or the Jaguars from Blue Springs South.
“Listen, I have so much respect for Kelly and the football program over at South,” Severino said, as he managed to find a moment for a quick interview as Rockhurst returned to school Thursday following a water main break on State Line Road that forced the closing of the school Tuesday and Wednesday.
“You talk about rivalries, well, we have a rivalry with those two great teams from Blue Springs because they play us year in and year out,” Severino added. “Everyone wants to play us when they think they’re going to be loaded – Kelly and South play us every year and I believe that has made us a better program, and I hope they believe it has made their programs better, too.”
Donohoe wholeheartedly agrees with that statement.
“Oh my goodness, we are definitely a better program because we’ve played Rockhurst all these years,” Donohoe said. “When I became the head coach here 20 years ago, I told our players that we had to find a way to compete against Rockhurst and get some wins against that program year in and year out.”
Both teams enter Week 2 following victories to state the season, with the Hawklets traveling to Columbia Rock Bridge for a 16-14 win and the Wildcats winning 37-13 at William Chrisman.
“Now I know Kelly is going to feel so sorry for us, with the water main break and the fact that we’ve had to go over to Blue Valley North to practice this week,” Severino quipped. “He’s going to feel sorry for us, just like we’d feel sorry for him, if he was going through the same thing.
“We won at Rock Bridge and we’re going to work hard this week – wherever we practice – to go over to their place and find a way to win Friday.”
The Wildcats are going to do everything possible to make sure that does not happen.
“I got my first (varsity) start last week at Chrisman and I’m going to get my first home start Friday – and it’s against Rockhurst,” senior quarterback Dom Harkness said. “I hurt my knee against them last year (in a junior varsity game) and I know it’s going to be a lot different playing them on a Friday night instead of a Monday afternoon.
“There are going to be some nerves before the game, but once the ball is snapped, our coaches have us so well prepared we’re going to be ready for anything.”
Junior offensive lineman Beau Stephens was a starter on Wildcat teams that lost twice to the Hawklets last year, including a 14-13 decision in the Class 6 state semifinal.
“We’ve been working hard at practice this week and we’re ready and excited for Friday’s game,” Stephens said. “We’re two of the best programs in the state, and it’s always exciting to play your big rival.”