When Pleasant Hill quarterback Bo Daniel’s pass sailed just out of the grasp of wide receiver Tyler Wise Friday night, it was as if someone sucked all the energy out of Eklund Field.
What had been a wild and wound-up crowd, cheering on a wild and wound up Pleasant Hill football team fighting tooth and nail to come back from a game-long deficit against Jefferson City, suddenly went dead silent. Time had run out on the Roosters, and their season.
Down two touchdowns from the start, Pleasant Hill rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter only to have Jeff City kicker Kendric Johnson make a 35-yard field goal with 2 minutes 45 seconds to play for a 37-34 victory in the Missouri Class 4 District 5 championship at Pleasant Hill.
Jeff City (8-4) led 34-20 in the third quarter and had been running roughshod over the Roosters (9-2) with a multiback option attack. But after stopping the Jays on downs late in the quarter, Pleasant Hill marched downfield and a scored on a 7-yard touchdown run by running back Brayden Bush, his third of the game, as the quarter expired.
Jeff City fumbled on its next play, and the Roosters’ Brady Roe pounced on the loose ball on the Jays’ 31-yard line. Two plays later, Garrison Hartsell sprinted 24 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 34-34 tie.
“Our kids feed off energy,” Pleasant Hill coach Justin Hamilton said. “When one thing turns the tide a little bit, it tends to turn everything else for us. After that fumble, I think it lit a little bit of a fire.”
And Pleasant Hill was in need of a spark, especially on defense. Six different Jays carried the ball including Zach Barnes, who scored four of the Jays’ touchdowns. Jeff City scored on its first five possessions and didn’t punt until the fourth quarter.
“We made a few adjustments at halftime,” Hamilton said. “But ultimately, we felt like needed to tackle better. We were diving at a lot of feet instead of running through tackles.”
Pleasant Hill moved the ball too, and the Roosters made enough plays to stay within striking distance. Grayson Sudduth scored from 10 yards out at the end of the first quarter after Jeff City went up 13-0. Bush’s first TD, a 31-yard run on fourth down, came after Jeff City went up 20-6 in the second quarter.
And when Jeff City went up 27-13 in the second quarter, Pleasant Hill struck back with a 3-yard TD run by Bush just before halftime, and the Roosters were within 27-20 at the break.
And so it went until Pleasant Hill started making some stops in the second half. The Roosters appeared to have Jeff City stopped on fourth down in Roosters territory late in the fourth quarter. But after calling two time outs and trying to get the Roosters to jump offsides, Jays coach Damon Wells sent out his field goal team, and Johnson’s kick split the uprights.
“I had trust in the whole unit,” Wells said. “I heard somewhere that one of the keys is to try to get him to say yes three times. I asked if he could take the steps, I asked if he could get the ball in the air and I asked if he believed we could get great protection, he said yes to all three and I said, ‘let’s get it done.’”
Pleasant Hill advanced into Jeff City territory on its last possession until a holding call pushed the Roosters back. And when Daniel’s pass got past Wise, Pleasant Hill’s season ended just short of another district title. Last season the Roosters advanced to the Class 3 semifinals.
“I told our kids to keep things in perspective, especially our seniors,” Hamilton said. “This program was 0-10 when they were eighth graders before they came in and now the last two years they’re 20-4. And I told our underclassmen to thank those older guys for what they have done.”
Jefferson City, a one-time football power with 10 state championships, won its first district title in 14 years.