Rockhurst tops Wildcats in Kelly Donohoe's return

Former Blue Springs coach leads his new team past his former one with help of second-quarter surge

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

Kelly Donohoe did his best not to worry about the storyline tied to his Rockhurst squad playing at Blue Springs in the regular-season finale.

After all, this was Donohoe’s 33rd time coaching in the rivalry between two powerhouse programs. However this was the first for him on the opposite sideline and visitor’s locker room and also became the first against his former school, as the Hawklets won 42-20 at Peve Stadium.

Kelly Donohoe

“It was very weird,” Donohoe said of being in the visitor’s locker room after guiding the Blue Springs program for 20 years and 191 victories prior to switching schools earlier this year. “It was mixed emotions. I had a lot of emotions going into the game, but I tried to focus on us and getting better. I was worried about us playing a good game and not focusing too much on the storyline of it.

“It is a special place, the (Blue Springs) district has been so special to me and my family for a long, long time. I have close friends here and those kids are amazing kids.”

The three-touchdown final score was boosted by a pair of touchdowns by Class 5 No. 6-ranked Rockhurst in the fourth quarter.

However, the outcome was decided late in the second quarter in a quick series of plays that resulted in a lot of points.

Rockhurst’s Johnny Pascuzzi caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Luke Bailey – one of two quarterbacks in the Rockhurst rotation – to make it 19-7. Wilson Selzer ran in the two-point conversion with 6:31 left in the second quarter.

Lamana Tapusoa returned the kickoff 64 yards for a score to pull the Wildcats (4-5) within 21-13.

The Hawklets (5-3) then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Wildcats recovered at the Rockhurst 33-yard line with 6:10 to play.

The Wildcats had the ball with a chance to take the lead for the first time in the second quarter, but turned the ball over on downs at the 30-yard line.

“That was a critical moment for us to stop them,” Donohoe said. “That is a good football team and we didn’t want them to have momentum.”

Rockhurst took the drive and marched down the field, ending it with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Bailey to Pascuzzi with 25 seconds left in the half.

Blue Springs trailed 28-13 at halftime and never really recovered.

“That was the turning point,” Blue Springs coach David White said. “They have a good football team and they are coached well; that was a big play. We got the ball right close to their red zone and just didn’t do enough to get in.

“We couldn’t find our way after that. It was tough to pull ourselves out of it, so to speak. The hard part is knowing the kids can play and I know they are better than that. The coaches too, we’ve got to coach better than the other guys. They were better than us and they had a good plan. They were off for two weeks and had a chance to tee off on us.”

The Wildcats’ defense forced a punt on the opening drive of the third quarter, but Briggs Rader intercepted a Patrick Maloney pass at the Rockhurst 33-yard line to stop a Wildcats drive.

Blue Springs then forced a turnover on downs deep in its own territory, but the Wildcats offense went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line and came up short.

Rockhurst took advantage of the short field, as Bailey scored on a quarterback keeper from the 20-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Blue Springs started the next drive at the 42-yard line after another long return by Tapusoa and a late hit out of bounds. But a tipped pass ended up in the hands of Rockhurst’s Izak Easley at the 30-yard line. He returned it to the Blue Springs’ 46-yard line.

The turnover turned into points again as Jack O’Brien scored on a 1-yard run, with just less than 8 minutes left in the game. On the play prior to the score, he had a 47-yard run and came up just short of the end zone.

That touchdown was the final score for the Hawklets, who will play last year’s Class 6 runner-up Joplin in the first round of district play next week.

“We felt with their offensive firepower we needed to score a few more times,” Donohoe said.

The Wildcats closed the scoring late in the fourth when Kyle Bruce ran for a 48-yard touchdown with 3:23 to go. Their initial score came late in the first quarter when Maloney hit Xavier Loyd for a 19-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

That knotted the game at 7-7, but Rockhurst then took a lead early in the second quarter when Bobby Hummel – the other Rockhurst quarterback – hit Isaac Koch for a 13-yard score.

Blue Springs then threw an interception and Rockhurst turned that into points on the first Bailey to Pascuzzi touchdown, which made it 21-7.

The Wildcats will now turn their attention to Park Hill for the second time this season.

Park Hill upset Class 6 No. 2-ranked Ray-Pec 19-13 and finished with 30.87 points in the Class 6 District 4 rankings, ahead of Blue Springs’ 28.26.

Blue Springs won the regular season Suburban Big Eight matchup 24-21, earlier this season and will flip-flop spots and host the Trojans for the second time this year next Friday.

The Wildcats have won four of the six meetings against Park Hill since it moved up to the Suburban Conference's biggest division in 2016.

“They (Park Hill) are a good team and it was a good game last time we played them. They have gotten better and pulled off a couple big wins,” White said of Park Hill. “They are peaking at the right time. We were doing well and we hit a roadblock, so we will see what we are made of.

“It is 100 percent win or go home. They give you nine weeks to get an identity to see what you are made of. This time last week we were the heroes and things were going great, and fortunately we play a game that is unique and fun, but on a Friday night after a game like this, it makes you think you are not a good team and you can’t coach. The reality is it is just part of it. We have been on the other end where we had an exciting win. We’ve just got to get up tomorrow and be good leaders and the kids will have to rally when we meet on Sunday. It is all fixable stuff. Just a little bit of humble pie at the wrong time. Rockhurst is a good team and they just got after us.”