Rockhurst senior Jordan Willis is a gifted athlete whom teammates, coaches and opponents describe in a lot of ways. Patient isn’t usually one of them.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
But there he waited Friday night for one opportunity to put an end to thoughts of a Raymore-Peculiar upset in a Class 6 district semifinal.
His own mistake paved the way. Two plays after his roughing the kicker penalty extended a Raymore-Peculiar second-quarter drive, Willis forced Steve Brown to fumble inside the 10-yard line and promptly pounced on the loose ball.
From there, Rockhurst turned a nail-bitter into a 38-7 victory and set up a showdown next week with Blue Springs for the district championship.
“When they got that penalty, that put more fire under our belt that we weren’t going to allow them score,” Willis said.
The upset-minded Panthers went toe-to-toe with Rockhurst for the opening 22 minutes. But in the span of 1 minute, 33 seconds on the clock — and nearly 35 real-time minutes — a profusion of errors put the game out of reach.
Raymore-Peculiar, 7-4, pulled within a touchdown when Trae Hodges’ 35-yard field goal split the uprights with 1:20 remaining in the first half, but Willis was whistled for his penalty after bursting through the offensive line and bumping into Hodges. The Panthers elected to take the penalty rather than the points, setting up a first-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
Two plays later, Willis atoned. He stripped Raymore-Peculiar running back Steve Brown and recovered the fumble, preserving the Hawklets’ 17-7 lead.
“That was probably the turning point in the game,” Rockhurst coach Tony Severino said. “I actually thought they were just going to take the (points).”
With the Panthers trailing by 10, Raymore-Peculiar coach Tom Kruse said he thought his team needed a touchdown heading into halftime. Ray-Pec never cut the margin to single digits after the break.
Connor Kuhlmann wouldn’t allow it. Using a fake reverse, he returned the opening second-half kick 94 yards for a touchdown, the first of three unanswered scores for the Hawklets. Kuhlmann added a 12-yard run to close out the scoring in the third quarter.
With its tightly-packed double-wing offense, Raymore-Peculiar isn’t built for a comeback. The Panthers opened the game with 12 consecutive rushing plays and scored on Brown’s 25-yard run on fourth down to tie the game at 7.
Forced to air it out in the second half, Hodges completed 7 of 18 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions.
“We’re a running team, (so) anytime we get down 14 and it takes us out of running game, it becomes a little tougher for us,” Kruse said.
Rockhurst is set for a rematch with Blue Springs, which marched into the Hawklets’ home stadium on Sept. 7 and escaped with a 38-24 win.
Willis has other predictions for next week.
“We’re going to be a whole lot better than we were then,” Willis said. “As a team, we should be able to beat them, but it will be up to us showing up and playing right then and there.”