The preparations began last November, sparked by failure and motivated by the allure of one final opportunity. Days after a championship loss, a handful of Blue Springs underclassmen gathered on the football field. A few spoke of their disappointment. Others embarked on their offseason conditioning.
Twelve months later, the long-awaited second chance emerged.
Blue Springs defeated Park Hill 34-14 in the Missouri Class 6 state semifinals on Saturday at Blue Springs, earning another trip to the state championship game. One year after settling for a runner-up finish, the Wildcats will face Christian Brothers College at 7 p.m. on Nov. 18 at Plaster Stadium in Springfield.
“We were (ticked) off and not going to let what happened last year happen again,” said senior Daniel Parker, who had three sacks Saturday. “We were back on the field the next week doing whatever we could.”
The motivation was two-fold on Saturday. A second chance at the title. A second chance at Park Hill.
Park Hill upended Blue Springs (11-2) in the regular season and parlayed the victory into the Suburban Gold Conference championship.
The tone of the rematch was set on the opening play. Blue Springs running back Aveion Bailey took a handoff, lowered his shoulder and plowed over a would-be tackler before reaching the secondary.
Caleb Marquez did more of the same several plays later, capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Marquez finished with three touchdowns. Bailey neared the 200-yard rushing mark.
“I think any time we get after teams physically, it wears on them,” Marquez said. “When we’re running the ball like that, we’re going to be in good shape.”
The opening drive was vanilla. But it was effective.
It remained in place for four quarters, other than a back-breaking touchdown 21 seconds before halftime, when quarterback Chase Donohoe hit a wide open Tre Wheaton for a 48-yard score. With that, Blue Springs took a 27-6 lead into the break.
The offense won its proverbial battle up front. The defense did, too.
Blue Springs’ defensive line resided in the Park Hill backfield, harassing quarterback Billy Maples and disrupting the Trojans’ timing patterns. Blue Springs had six sacks. Maples still threw for a pair of touchdowns, but one came late in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand.
It was a much different plot than Sept. 8, when Park Hill escaped with a 28-25 victory. Park Hill finished the season 10-3, concluding it with its best playoff finish since joining Class 6.
“When you beat us and we get a chance to see you again, it does something for our kids,” Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe said. “You could sense that all week within our program.”
The end result is a spot in the championship game for the fourth time in six seasons. Blue Springs will aim for its sixth title in program history.
“I remember after losing state that when we got back to the hotel, we were already saying that we were going to find a way to get back here again,” Marquez said. “We’re ready to go back.”