Ugly duckling wins the pagent

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 16, 2016 - 11:04 PM

If you were to hear Rockhurst head coach Tony Severino evaluate the three phases of the game from his team after Friday night’s thrilling 26-20 win over Shawnee Mission East - the first game between the two teams since 1982 - the Hawklets walking off the field still undefeated at 5-0 would have seemed impossible.

“We were terrible on offense. Our defense gave up a lot of yards. The kicking game wasn’t good,” Severino said. “You figure it out.”

So in what was a rocking atmosphere that was reminiscent of a state championship game, what did go right for the Hawklets? 

Oh, yeah, turnovers.

Six of them to be exact. The Hawklets forced six Lancer turnovers - four fumbles and two interceptions - propelling them to another win.

“That’s the name of the game,” Severino said of the turnovers. “We have to play great defense. We don’t have a breakaway running back. We don’t have a big line. We have to get after it, throw a lot of guys at the ball. Somehow we got it done.”

The Rockhurst offense only seven first downs and had scoring drives of 3, 16, 46 and 17 yards. The Lancers had 22 first downs, and their defense forced four three-and-outs and one possession of four plays that ended with a turnover on downs for the Hawklet offense.

But Rockhurst took advantage just enough of those turnovers, scoring 23 of its 26 points off those Lancer mistakes.

“You can’t turn the ball over six times and win. You just can’t,” East head coach Dustin Delaney said. “It was still a good football game. The kids played hard. We kept making mistake after mistake, but we kept coming back.”

Indeed, East didn’t go quietly despite constantly shooting themselves in the foot. In fact, of its first four plays from scrimmage, two were turnovers and Rockhurst scored off both. Quarterback Chance May scored from 2 yards out on the first and Eric Angrisano kicked a 26-yard field goal after the second turnover. With a missed extra point on the touchdown, it was 9-0 before East had a first down.

But East stormed right back, making it 9-7 on a 1-yard touchdown from Milton Brassch II. They appeared poised to take the lead on its next drive before quarterback Luke Kaiser was intercepted by Ross Elder who returned the pick 95 yards for a score and a 16-7 lead.

“That was big,” Rockhurst lineman Cameron Reller said. “It was all a team effort.”

But once again East responded and scored on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Kaiser to Trevor Thompson. Rockhurst would tack on another field goal before half to make it 19-14.

But the first four drives for East in the second half were more of the same - fumble, fumble, missed field goal, fumble. Those first two fumbles happened in Rockhurst territory, while the last one was deep in their own territory, which Rockhurst took advantage of. They needed to go just 17 yards in five plays and May snuck into the end zone from 2 yards out again for a 26-14 lead almost midway through the fourth quarter.

“They just kind of happened,” Reller said of the all the turnovers, saying the defense didn’t have any extra emphasis on trying to strip the ball free. “We had to play our keys. We know our defense is our strong suit. We had to play hard and play tough. We had to play with physicality.”

Added linebacker Ty Simsheuser, “We were flying to the ball.”

The Lancers made one last push. They got the ball with 3:32 left and scored in 19 seconds on a 34-yard pass to Zach Yeo. A blocked extra point made it 26-20. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Rockhurst, but the Lancers defense forced another three-and-out, getting the ball back with 1:34 left.

They got two quick first downs but the drive eventually stalled on a fourth-and-5. The Lancers’ (2-1) run-heavy, triple-option offense did plenty of damage, but the Rockhurst defense did enough and got too many turnovers for East to overcome.

“We knew going in they were going to have long drives and take a lot of time off the clock,” Reller said. “We knew if we didn’t let them get in the end zone we’d get the W. As long as we didn’t break.”

In the end, Severino put it best.

“We win ugly, “ he said. “We did what we had to do to win.”