Rockhurst wasted no time making a statement.
On Blue Springs’ first play from scrimmage Friday night, Wildcats’ standout senior running back Aveion Bailey was met face-to-face by Hawklets’ senior defensive lineman Sawyer Crawford. The play netted only 2 yards. The effort, though, showed that Rockhurst had covered way more ground than that in one week.
After suffering a loss in its opener, Rockhurst recovered. Emphatically. The Hawklets blanked Blue Springs 17-0 at Vincent P. Dasta Memorial Stadium in a matchup of perennial heavyweights. Crawford helped set the tone, which he believes was initiated early in the week.
“It starts in the locker room. It was very intense. We decided we had to work harder than ever. That meant starting 0-2 wasn’t in the plan,” Crawford said.
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If that had happened, well, it would have been rare around the Hawklets’ camp. The triumph helped Rockhurst, 1-1, avoid something that last occurred when Jimmy Carter was president, cult classic “Animal House” was in theaters and actor Ashton Kutcher was born. It was 40 years ago, 1978, when the Hawklets started a season 0-2 (although it should be noted that Rockhurst recovered nicely that season after back-to-back losses to Raytown South and Shawnee Mission North by reeling off eight wins in a row under then-coach Jerry Culver).
Following a 33-21 home loss in this year’s season opener at home to Columbia Rock Bridge, Rockhurst’s stout defense rocked against Blue Springs. The Wildcats, 1-1 and coming off a 39-0 thrashing of William Chrisman in which they ran wild for 461 yards, did not record a first down until 1 minute, 31 seconds, remained in the first quarter. Blue Springs totaled 4 yards on offense in the period.
Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe saw this coming. “I’ve been telling our kids all week, they’re (Rockhurst) a whole lot tougher after a loss,” he said.
Rockhurst sophomore defensive end Bo Sprague showed no sympathy. His fumble recovery at the Wildcats’ 23 with 3:42 remaining in the third quarter was about to make Blue Springs’ life worse. The Hawklets, facing fourth-and-2, delivered. Senior tailback Michael Johnson raced 15 yards and dived into the right front corner of the end zone for a touchdown, increasing Rockhurst’s advantage to 17 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
The Hawklets’ defense was so good that it allowed their coach Tony Severino to go for it there. “Knowing our kids were playing good defense, it wasn’t a risky call,” Severino said.
Rockhurst grabbed the lead in the first series of the second quarter without highly-rated offensive senior tackle Danielson Ike. The 6-7, 340-pound standout suffered what appeared to be a lower leg injury (he managed to walk off the field on his own and did return) one play before the Hawklets scored on a 32-yard pass from senior quarterback Luke Boehm to senior slotback Joseph Coit.
Blue Springs responded on the next series by invading Rockhurst territory for the first time with 6:29 left in the half, but the drive stalled. The Hawklets made a late push to increase their lead, advancing to the Wildcats’ 19, but junior placekicker Owen Lawson’s 36-yard field goal attempt swerved wide left with five seconds to go before halftime.
Lawson would get another chance. After Blue Springs mishandled the second half kickoff and started the drive at its own 3 and went three-and-out, Rockhurst capitalized. The Hawklets began their series at the Wildcats’ 40, chewed up nearly six minutes, highlighted by a 9-yard completion on third-and-7 from Boehm to senior slotback Cooper Krezek, and eventually took a 10-point lead on Lawson’s 27-yard field goal.
Donohoe used the word “frustrating” more than once in his postgame interview. He did, though, credit Rockhurst for creating havoc. “They kept us behind the chains all night long,” he said. “We couldn’t spread the field and do some things in the passing game. This one stings. But it’s early.”
Severino, meanwhile, supported what Crawford said about taking it up a notch to prepare for Blue Springs, a team Rockhurst has beaten 29 times in 52 attempts. “We just had a good week,” Severino said.