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Grinding through to a winPhoto Credit: Nick Smith/PrepsKC

After a sluggish start offensively, Missouri scored a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters to pull away from Kansas for a 20-12 victory in the BeYOUnion.com Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association All-Star Game held on Thursday at North Kansas City High School.

The win snapped a two-year losing streak for the Missourians and two of the biggest plays in the second half came from Grain Valley’s Cole Keller – the Missouri MVP.

The Washburn signee threw a touchdown in the third quarter that gave Missouri the lead back and then had a long run that set up the only score in the fourth quarter.

Keller attended practice that started on June 1 but he didn’t take part in the first week of workouts because the baseball season wasn’t over.

“It was a lot of fun to play with a lot of talented kids and just playing football, just another game in a great city in front of a bunch of great fans,” said Keller, who passed for 90 yards and ran for another 21. “I love this stadium; we played here my sophomore year and it has been my favorite since. There are a ton of people here and it is always bumping and they are right on top of you. That atmosphere is great.”

Missouri faced a 9-6 deficit at halftime and gave up points on the first drive of the second half.

Kansas started at its own 27 and but quickly moved to midfield on a pair of carries by Tonganoxie’s Tyler Bowden. A 26-yard pass from quarterback Ty Black (Shawnee Mission Northwest) to Jimmy White (St. James Academy) moved the ball to the Missouri 19-yard line. White moved the ball to the 6-yard line on a carry, but the drive stalled out on an incomplete pass on third down. Olathe South’s Adam Young came in to kick a 24-yard field goal, which expanded the Kansas lead to 12-6 with 1:29 left in the third quarter.

“I think, when play calling, you have to have things you believe in when shit gets rocky,” Missouri coach Leon Douglas said, who doubled as the defensive coordinator. “I like to go bear front, cover up linemen and singles up front and bet on them to win and we did it twice. We held them to a field goal, and you have to take that; that is a win.”

Being down by one possession instead of two made a big difference in a short period.

Staley’s Rajon Hill took the ensuing kickoff 78 yards and was tackled at the 8-yard line. On second-and-goal, Keller hit Park Hill South’s Eric Avery for a touchdown with 15.9 seconds left. Liberty’s Alex Rottjakob kicked the point after attempt to make it 13-12.

Kansas moved the ball to midfield on the next drive after a 15-yard run by Bishop Miege quarterback Tim Dorsey, but he came up three yards shy of the first-down marker. Kansas coach Tom Radke chose to punt instead of going for it on 4th-and-3 from the 48-yard line.

Missouri took over at the 25-yard line with a little more than 10 minutes to play and engineered the scoring drive that boosted the lead.

Keller hit Anthony Wilson (Lee’s Summit) for a 12-yard gain, but then offensive coordinator Wayne Baskerville (Platte County) went to smash-mouth football, mixing in carries from running backs Belton’s Ayden Holt and Center’s Nosa Ohamanu. After an illegal substitution penalty, Keller called his own number and ran 28 yards down the Kansas sideline. He reached the 17-yard line before being pushed out of bounds.

The next play, Ohamanu got the carry and rumbled his way into the end zone, getting open on a block by Maryville’s Marc Gustafson, a 6-foot-7 tight end headed to Northwest Missouri State.

“Offenses are tough to learn in a week and there were things we needed to smooth out,” said Keller, who earned an all-state medal in track and field on Thursday, May 27 – just days before the June 1 practice for the all-star game. “We knew we would hit our stride in the second half.”

Kansas had one last chance to tie the game but came up empty, despite a promising start. St. James Academy’s Dakota Burritt completed a 43-yard pass to Lansing’s Malik Benson – who was the Kansas MVP.

A 21-yard pass to Olathe North’s Braden Cain followed, which moved the ball to the 16-yard line. The next three plays were two incomplete passes and a completion that lost three yards. A penalty on 4th-and-13 pushed Kansas back to the 24-yard line but an incomplete pass ended the drive. Twice during that drive, Missouri players came up with pass breakups – first by Ray-Pec’s Gunnar Griffin and North Kansas City’s Bawaan Hussain.

Missouri had 13 plays over the final 4:49 and ran out the clock. Most of the plays were on the ground but on both third-down attempts, Keller made completions to Wilson and Hill, respectively, to keep the drive going.

“We couldn’t get a stop defensively,” Radke said. “We dominated the first half and they had good schemes against us in the second half.”

The first half featured plenty of big plays but none from either offenses that turned into points.

Missouri scored on a 27-yard fumble return by Staley’s David Lewis – which would’ve been the first first down of the game – to make it 6-0 with 5:51 left in the first quarter. The PAT was blocked.

Kansas drove to the Missouri 12-yard line early in the second quarter, but Kansas City East’s Chris Thornton tipped the ball on a pass by Black and then hauled it into his arms for an interception in the end zone. He returned it but was tackled at the one-yard line.

That play turned into a big momentum swing but for Kansas.

On the next play, Holt was tackled in the end zone by Baldwin linebacker Adam Callahan. Benson fielded the free kick and ran it back 75 yards for a touchdown on the next play, which gave Kansas a 9-6 lead.

Nine points in an 8-second span gave Kansas the lead at the break.

“It was great,” Radke said. “Malik ran it back and we got the safety. We had things rolling. We just had opportunities in the second half, but we didn’t capitalize on.”

Each team had turnovers in the final two minutes of the first half – an interception by North Kansas City’s Malik Johnson and a fumble recovery by Mill Valley’s Ethan Kremer.

Kremer and Raytown’s Donald Brown were tabbed as the top linemen for each team.

“It was a lot of fun to get to know some of the players from rivalries like Aquinas,” said Radke, who was honored as the Dave Bassore Man of the Year winner for Kansas. “It was fun to coach the guys from Mill Valley and Bishop Miege. It was a lot of fun to be around them, and the coaching staff was awesome. I got to have sodas with those guys a couple of nights after practice and had a lot of fun and learned from them too.”