Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — In life, second chances are few and far between. In high school football, they’re downright rare.
In coach A.J. Ofodile’s 12 years at Rock Bridge, the Bruins have only played a team twice in a season one time: last year against Rockhurst. This Friday, Rock Bridge has the opportunity to redeem a devastating one-point loss from Sept. 21, against its biggest rival, the Hickman Kewpies.
Senior safety West Wilson can’t wait.
“(Playing Hickman again) is all I could really think about the whole rest of the season,” he said. “You’re not supposed to, but I definitely did. So I think it’s a little destiny that we get to play them again the one year we slipped up in the regular season.”
Before this year, the Rock Bridge senior class had never lost to the Kewpies. The Bruins defeated Hickman in the Providence Bowl 26-0 in 2009, 24-20 in 2010 and 33-27 in 2011.
In the 2012 installment, the ninth played at MU’s Faurot Field, the Bruins led by 11 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Mason Murray and the Kewpies stormed back, taking the lead with 1:13 remaining. Rock Bridge made its way down the field, but a 29-yard field goal by sophomore Joe Barbee sailed left as time expired.
Barbee said he never thought he would get another shot at the Kewpies this year. Primarily a receiver and punter, Barbee said the Bruins need to enter the rematch with a more serious approach.
“Last time, we kind of just were playing them as our friends,” he said. “We need to play them like they’re just another team, not Hickman.”
Barbee might not have seen it coming, but for sophomore receiver Alex Ofodile, this grudge match is no surprise.
“Even before the game, my dad (coach A.J. Ofodile) was like, ‘Well, I’m not too nervous about it, because I know if we lose, we still have a chance to make it up.’ I kinda always knew we’d get a second shot, so I’ve just been looking forward to it,” he said.
The six weeks between the rivalry games have given the teams more than just a chance to build anticipation. They’ve also had a chance to improve their preparation.
“That’s the nice thing about having been able to see somebody,” A.J. Ofodile said. “You kinda have a little bit of an understanding — or you think you do, at least — of what they’re trying to get done. You have a little bit more clarity, especially, there’s so much guesswork in how a team’s going to approach you.
“Obviously, that will probably change this time. But over the course of a season, you can draw some common threads into what you think a team’s identity is, and what they do best,” he said.
It also helps that the two Columbia high schools have faced three of the same opponents in addition to playing each other this season.
“I’m sure they’ve seen every team we’ve played this year, just by the cross of the opponents and scouting, and we’ve seen every game they’ve played this year,” A.J. Ofodile said. “You kind of get a real good feel for each other … and the kids obviously know each other, too, so it presents a unique dynamic. You gotta really be on your game.”
Alex Ofodile was certainly on his game the first time the two teams met. He wrangled in long ball after long ball along the sidelines. Most importantly, it was his final-minute grab that set the Bruins up for a potentially game-winning field goal. He believes the Bruins can finish off the job this time around.
“Before half, we were up by a lot, and I think if we just keep our foot on the gas, we can win by a couple touchdowns. We just can’t let up like we did last time,” he said.
If the Bruins do regain bragging rights, they will have to do it in the Kewpies’ backyard. For the first time since 2003, the crosstown game will be played at a high school, and a crowd of more than 5,000 is expected.
A.J. Ofodile says he doesn’t know what to expect.
“I have no clue,” he said. “We played (at Rock Bridge) in 2002, it was absolutely packed … so we had a ton of people here. In 2003, we played there, it was a big crowd, but not the zoo that they’re predicting for this time. So you never know. We may have 8,000 people, we may have 2,000 people. The weather will be nice, so that will kind of help the cause a little bit, but sometimes people don’t wanna deal with the parking. I’ve seen it both ways. Who knows?”
Wilson doesn’t think the atmosphere will be too much of disadvantage for the Bruins.
“I think we’ll get enough people there that it won’t seem like that,” he said. “But, I think the fact that they have home field advantage will maybe set us as the underdog this time, which we obviously weren’t the first time we played them. We don’t have as much to lose as we did before and way more to gain than they do.”
With the new setup for Missouri prep football playoffs, this probably won’t be the last time Rock Bridge and Hickman face each other in the playoffs. In the new system, all eight teams in a district are seeded into a bracket by a formula. Because the two Columbia schools are in the same district, the chances of this sort of matchup increase drastically.
A.J. Ofodile said that while he would like strength of schedule to have more weight, he prefers the new method to the old.
“This is the way to make your nine games count, as opposed to just three games counting,” he said.