As Matt Klein walked off the field and up to the bleachers of Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium, he was stopped by a parent.
She was rolling up the banners of the football seniors and she told him how much better the team was looking.
A reaffirming statement despite a soul-crushing loss for the first-year head coach of Blue Springs South.
About 10 minutes earlier, the Jaguars held a lead against the Class 6 No. 5-ranked Park Hill, but two defensive turnovers in the final five minutes set the stage for a rally and a 21-20 Suburban Big Six victory for the Trojans.
“I’m proud our effort, but it didn’t come out on the right end,” Klein said. “Obviously a testament of our kids sticking together and fighting and fighting. Give all the credit in the world to Park Hill. They are a very good football team and obviously at the end of the day we got to finish. We just didn’t handle business down the stretch.”
The teams were tied at 14 at halftime and early in the third quarter, the Jaguars (1-6, 0-4) took the lead again. Quarterback Max Conard completed a 49-yard pass to Cortes Essex that moved the ball to the Park Hill 9-yard line. Nahshon Rick carried the ball to the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled from there but Shane Harper booted a short field goal to give the Jaguars the lead.
Later in the quarter, Blue Springs South turned an interception into points.
Jaylon Johnson got a deflection near midfield and ran it back to the Park Hill 23-yard line with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Jaguars got into the red zone but settled for another field goal by Harper, bumping the lead to 20-14.
The Park Hill defense, allowing just a tick over 10 points per game, forced three fumbles in the final quarter. It wasn’t until the second recovery did the Trojans (6-1, 4-0) take advantage of it.
Park Hill opened the door for Blue Springs South to seal the win with 5:42 to play. Grant Pella was back to punt and he put his knee down on accident.
That gave the Jaguars the ball at the Park Hill 22-yard line, but on the first play, Conard was stripped and Park Hill recovered the fumble. That drive resulted in a punt and the Jaguars got the ball back with 4 minutes to play.
Trying to kill the clock with a six-point lead the Jaguars ran the ball the first two plays on the next drive, but Chris Bizzle stripped the ball with 3:20 left to give the Trojans the ball back.
Three plays later, Peyton Sosna hauled in only his second catch of the year, this one from 16 yards out from Anthony Hall to tie the game. Pella, who downed the ball on the punt, booted the extra point for the game-deciding point.
“The guys played well with their backs against the wall and we had our backs against the wall several times the defense came out swinging,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “That is great mentality-wise and ultimately as we move forward.”
Blue Springs South tried to control the ball and did it for the most part. Rick carried the ball 30 times for 72 yards and had a touchdown in the first quarter that gave the Jaguars a 7-0 lead. Park Hill scored the next two touchdowns but a touchdown pass from Conard to Isaiah Frost with 24 seconds left in the first half knotted the game going into the break. Conard completed four out of five passes to close the drive and the one miss was a pass interference call on Park Hill that moved to the ball to the 8-yard line. The next play, Frost got the TD.
The win clinches at least a share of the league title for the Trojans, who only have a game with Blue Springs left on the schedule in league play.
For the Jaguars, it marked the fifth time this season they have played and lost to a Class 5 or 6 ranked team.
“We have played nothing but ranked teams and I hope this is a sign our kids are getting better and better with a couple weeks left in the regular season,” Klein said. “Hopefully it is a good sign for our kids and our program.”