Happy 25th anniversary to arguably the most memorable high school football game ever played in the Kansas City area.
On Nov. 18, 1989, the Jefferson City Jays and Rockhurst Hawklets played deep into a late fall afternoon at Rockhurst’s Dasta Memorial Stadium, a stretch of time that remains fixed in many minds.
Rockhurst edged Jefferson City 34-31 in four overtimes in a Missouri Class 5A state semifinal. It’s a game that, in some ways, still resonates today.
Even Rockhurst Coach Tony Severino, who cherishes all nine state titles his teams have won at Rockhurst, says what occurred 25 years ago is hard to top for instant classic status.
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“That is kind of the consensus with everybody,” said Severino, who has referenced the 1989 game to his current Hawklets, who will face Christian Brothers College on Nov. 29 in the Missouri Class 6 state championship game in St. Louis. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
For 25 years, Tom Loeffler covered Jefferson City High School sports for the Jefferson City News Tribune. He vividly recalls the game.
“Of all the nearly 400 games that I covered, that was the best,” Loeffler said. “You had (Jefferson City coach) Pete Adkins. He was the Bear Bryant of high school coaches. Everything was on the line. Every snap of the ball was crucial.”
The overflow crowd at Rockhurst was estimated at 4,000. Some fans stood, ringed four-deep outside the fence that surrounds the field. Others were stationed on a rooftop on a nearby building. In anticipation of a sellout, then-Rockhurst athletic director Al Davis had inquired about moving the game to Arrowhead Stadium or Shawnee Mission South High School, where its district stadium was more than twice the size of Dasta Memorial Stadium.
These days, Blue Springs may be Rockhurst’s main rival. Back then, Jefferson City was the Hawklets’ No. 1 nemesis. The 1989 game was the fourth consecutive season they met in the state semifinals.
“It was a rivalry. A heated rivalry. How about that?” Severino said after being pressed to define the Jefferson City animosity.
Adkins won nine state titles at Jefferson City and had a 405-60-4 career record, including a 71-game winning streak. He’s 90 years old now, but he spoke last week by phone about the 1989 game before heading out to go hunting.
“That probably was one of the classics of all the years that I coached. I remember it because of the length of the thing. That was very unique,” said Adkins. “I’d tell my staff we’ll become better coaches when we play Rockhurst because we had to prepare that much better for them than any other opponent on our schedule. Tony (Severino) didn’t change much. We didn’t either. It was a case of who was going to survive.”
Jefferson City entered the 1989 game on a 21-game winning streak. One of those victories occurred earlier that season — Oct. 6, 1989 — when the Jays beat Rockhurst 10-7 in double overtime in Jefferson City.
The state semifinal was scoreless entering the second half as two heavyweights slugged it out, smashmouth football at its finest. Rockhurst got on the board with 7 minutes, 20 seconds left in the third quarter when quarterback Jamie Pendergast connected with Charlie Lee on a 10-yard scoring pass. Jefferson City responded a few minutes later with a 60-yard touchdown pass from Steve Aldridge to Eric Clemons.
That set the stage for a wild finish. The Hawklets had an opportunity to win at the end of regulation, but Vince Hodes missed a 23-yard field goal. As a sophomore in 1987, Hodes was the hero by booting a 40-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the semifinal that ousted Jefferson City 18-16 on its home field. Rockhurst went on to win the state title.
In the first overtime, Rockhurst tight end Tim Mauck’s first reception of the day was huge. Pendergast found him for a 9-yard touchdown, but the Jays answered on a 10-yard scoring run by Tim Benson.
Then, the drama really intensified.
In the second overtime, both teams scored touchdowns on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Hawklets tied it 21-all on Pendergast’s sneak.
Even penalties and a negative-yardage play contributed to the excitement. After an illegal procedure in the third overtime, Rockhurst went up 28-21 on Mauck’s 18-yard touchdown catch. Jefferson City tied it on Benson’s 2-yard run.
In the fourth overtime, Jefferson City got a 22-yard field goal by Aldridge to move in front. Rockhurst looked to be in great shape on its possession when fullback Chris Powell gained nine yards on a carry to the Jays’ 1. On second down, Pendergast got stuffed.
Again, Pendergast tried to lunge across the goal line, but he mishandled the snap on third-and-goal inside the 1. The football rolled into the end zone. Mauck, who outhustled a cluster of players from both squads to the ball for the game-winner, fills in the rest.
“I saw Jamie spinning, then could tell the ball went flying,” Mauck said by phone last week. “I jumped at the ball. One of their guys jumped on me, then another. I reached out with my left hand, got it quick.”
Severino, meanwhile, recalls that it took a while before anyone knew the result.
“It was crazy. It was like time stopped,” he said. “Finally, you see the official’s hands go up. Fans stormed out of the bleachers, climbed the fence, rushed the field.”
Mauck remained on the turf, buried in a mass of bodies.
“I was at the bottom of the dog pile. I couldn’t breathe,” said Mauck, currently a software engineer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Severino recalls sitting on a bench outside the Hawklets’ dressing room, long after everybody had departed, still somewhat stunned.
“I was overlooking the field, thinking ‘What just happened?’ For years, people said that was the state championship game,” Severino said.
Unfortunately for Rockhurst, it wasn’t. Hazelwood East beat the Hawklets a week later 28-14 for the state championship. Severino believes his team was flat following the Jefferson City semifinal marathon.
“I think we were still in a hangover. The Jeff City game was all everybody talked about,” he said.
For the last word, though, we’ll give it up to Mauck, who ended the 1989 thriller with a heads-up reaction in the end zone.
“I remember how competitive that game was, back and forth, nobody wanted to lose,” Mauck said. “We scored, they scored, like it might go on forever ... I remember Al Davis saying it might’ve been the greatest game ever. Twenty-five years later, it still might be.”
| Howard Richman covered high school sports at The Star from 1984-1999, including the 1989 Jefferson City at Rockhurst state semifinal football game.