A crosstown, intrastate rivalry that has quickly become a hot ticket in the Kansas City metro lived up to the billing once again on Friday night, as Rockhurst and Bishop Miege went down to the wire.
Decided by one score in two of the four meetings since 2018, the 2022 version made it three of five after the offensively recognized Stags leaned on their defense to seal a 28-21 win in front of a raucous environment on the Kansas side. And to think, the undefeated season nearly slipped away from Jon Holmes’ squad after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
“The third down late, we thought we had a touchdown,” Holmes stated, referencing a pass that would’ve gone for six and put the Stags up two scores with under five minutes remaining were it not dropped. “I’m proud of how our guys responded because that’s the game [Rockhurst] wants.”
Sure enough, Rockhurst twice fed off the late miscue in the team’s dramatic final drive.
Facing a third and five from their own eight-yard line, quarterback Ethan Hansen kept hope alive with a magical pitch, somehow tossing the ball back to running back Aidan Ryan as a Miege defender was driving him to the ground. Ryan proceeded to take the lateral 41 yards and silence the home crowd. With just over a minute to go and facing a fourth and one, it was Ryan again who struck fear into Miege by carrying a handoff through a barrage of contact to near the 10-yard line with 1:05 to go. It was part of what finished as a 251-yard performance from the junior in a losing effort.
“Sometimes you get down and you get the deer in the headlights look and can’t come back from it,” Rockhurst head coach Kelly Donohoe described. “Our kids kept coming back and there’s something special about that. There’s some fight from our kids.”
In this fight of metro heavyweights, time ticking down in the final round, it would ultimately be a Stags junior, Jack Baird, who would deliver the knockout blow. Like a right-handed hook Rockhurst didn’t see coming, the linebacker swooped around the Hawklets front on a fourth-down blitz, corralled Ryan by his feet, and turned the ball over on downs just five yards from the goal line to bring an eruption into the air with only 21 seconds displayed on the scoreboard.
“Last year, we couldn’t make plays like that and this year we’re able to,” Holmes said in the middle of a joyous hoard of fans. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
“Losing just isn’t an option at Rockhurst,” Donohoe detailed as his roster dropped to 1-4 on the year. “Losing some close games, I’m just sick for our kids.”
“We’re a good football team but it’s just frustrating where we’ve had four weeks walking off the field feeling like this,” added the head coach, noting narrow defeats to the likes of Ray-Pec, Liberty North and now Bishop Miege. “It’s our jobs as coaches to fix it and I know I keep saying we’re so close, but we’re just not there.”
On the flip side, one area that is clicking is Mac Armstrong and the Stags offense. Racking up 348 yards passing on Friday to continue his streak of 315+ passing games this season, the senior signal caller continues to spread the ball around and be a menace for opposing secondaries. His coach is not surprised.
“Anyone who has seen Mac all summer and so far, these first four games knows he’s playing with ice water in his veins, and he had to do that again tonight,” Holmes said of his star quarterback. “He made some big-time throws, especially to Daegan Jensen on those third downs. But when you win a game like this you have to have a whole team effort which is exactly what we did.”
“Our defense was able to relax a little bit and make some plays too,” continued Holmes. “Dre Beasley and PJ McCallop, those guys played so well on the edge against some really good receivers that it allowed us to do some other things and move guys around.”
Perfect in the turnover category versus Rockhurst’s two lost fumbles, the Hawklets also must reflect on a costly personal foul penalty during an attempted field goal block in the second quarter. One of just three flags the visitors endured on the night, this one wound up leading to the lone rushing score for Miege courtesy of the aforementioned Beasley.
“The key is we’ve played so many good teams, that if we can just get everybody healthy, rally and keep our heads up we can make a run at this thing at the end,” Donohoe stated, as his team must now prepare for a visit from St. Thomas Aquinas. “There’s a lot of football left this year and we’re going to finish on a strong note.”
Meanwhile the unbeaten Stags gained a game advantage on those very Saints in the always competitive EKL race. Holmes and company take to the road next week for a test against 2-2 Blue Valley.