Rolla football head coach Jon Franks came into the season with one major goal: to win all of the Bulldogs' home games. So far, Rolla's on track for that goal, as the Bulldogs pulled off the upset by taking down Kickapoo 36-29 on Pride Night on Friday, Aug. 25 to bring their record to 1-1 on the season. The win was Rolla's first on their home turf since beating Glendale in 2015.
The Bulldogs got out to a great start against Kickapoo thanks to Josh Pritchett and Blaize Klossner. The two traded off first downs on the ground and in the air until Pritchett found the end zone on a four yard run. The extra point was blocked, but Rolla still led 6-0. Kickapoo fired right back when Mason Auer connected with Travis King for a 47 yard strike down to the 28-yard line, but after the big play, the Rolla defense stood strong. The Bulldogs managed to force a punt to regain possession and ended the first quarter with the ball and threatening to score.
After working the ball down to the 14-yard line at the end of the first, Rolla had a series of penalties that pushed them all the way back to the 32. Rolla couldn't manage a first down and was forced to punt. Trey Quick managed to pin Kickapoo inside their 20, but Auer was a force to be reckoned with on the drive. After some fancy footwork helped the Kickapoo junior avoid a sack and convert on a third and eight, the Chiefs found their second big play of the game. Auer charged forward for a quarterback dive up the middle and was grabbed by Rolla defenders. That's when he managed to flick the ball back to Dalton Coates, who carried the ball down to the nine-yard line. Auer went on to carry the ball in for a touchdown. The extra point went through the uprights, giving Kickapoo a 7-6 lead.
The two teams traded possessions after the Kickapoo touchdowns and Rolla got a bit of luck as Kickapoo lined up to punt. The snap sailed over their punter's head all the way down to the two-yard line. He managed to get to the ball and fire a quick punt, but it gave the Bulldogs excellent field position near the 50. Pritchett and Klossner starred again for the Bulldogs, as Klossner caught a pass for 10 yards to convert on third down and Pritchett converted his own third down attempt with a seven yard run later in the drive. The senior quarterback made his way down to the seven, where ripped off another run into the end zone to give the lead back to Rolla. The Bulldogs attempted to go for two, but they were flagged for a false start before a dropped pass in the end zone. Despite the failed conversion, Rolla led 12-7.
Kickapoo was able to answer again on the kickoff. Adrian Davis caught Nick Janke's kick and carried it down to the Rolla 48 to spark their drive. Auer continued to cause problems for the Rolla defense and connected with Austin Hutson for a 22 yard score with just 1:32 left in the half.
But Rolla had no intention of going into halftime without the lead. Pritchett ripped of a series of runs, as well as a solid completion to Davis Buhr, and charged down the field to the seven-yard line with 39 seconds to spare. After Klossner was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs decided to go with a pass. Klossner made his way for the back right corner of the end zone and Prichett floated a perfect pass right into his hands for a touchdown. The PAT went right through the uprights and the Bulldogs took a 19-15 lead into the half. It was a lead they wouldn't surrender.
The third quarter started as a grind it out affair. Rolla forced a punt on Kickapoo's first drive and they managed to work their way down the field thanks to a third down conversion by Buhr and a big catch by Klossner. The Bulldogs got down near the end zone, but Pritchett made his lone big mistake of the game when he threw an interception on the two-yard line with 7:55 left in the quarter. Kickapoo looked like they were on the verge of taking the lead when Auer launched a bomb down the middle of the field to King. Luckily, Ahmed Boubacar was there to make a shoe-string tackle to avoid the touchdown, but it was still a 63 yard gain for Kickapoo. That tackle would prove to be crucial, because a couple of plays later, the Chiefs coughed the ball up and Justin Briggs managed to recover it for Rolla. That fumble gave Rolla a spark and Pritchett capped off the drive with a 31-yard touchdown, his fourth of the game. With the lead extended out to 26-15, Rolla had a comfortable cushion, but it wouldn't be comfortable for long. Kickapoo came back on the kickoff and Coates took it to the house, bringing the score to 26-22.
The third quarter ended without much action, but both teams had plenty left in the tank for an exciting fourth quarter. The Bulldogs got things going when Pritchett scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the game with roughly 10 minutes left in the quarter. Coach Franks decided he didn't want to risk another return, so he decided to go with an onside kick after the touchdown. The gamble paid off, as Caleb Turner launched himself onto the ball to recover the kick.
"It was like in slow motion," said Turner of the recovery. "I saw it bounce off that guy's chest and right towards me and I just knew I had to get it."
That recovery gave Rolla a huge boost of energy and they managed to work their way down the field, burning some time off the clock in the process. They weren't able to connect on the touchdown, but Jarret Gabriele gave the Bulldogs some breathing room with a 31-yard field goal. Kickapoo got the ball back with just over 6:30 left in the game and promptly hit a bomb down the middle of the field before Auer threw another touchdown pass to bring the score to 36-29 with 4:02 left on the clock.
In a shocking turn of events, Kickapoo decided to kick it deep to RJ Alfred, rather than try for an onside kick. Alfred responded to the act of kindness by returning it to Kickapoo's 45.
"Coach just said to catch it, run, find the open hole and score," Alfred said simply after the game. "It felt great. I just wanted to score, but it's whatever. Let the offense score, we'll win the game," he added with a chuckle."
Rolla wasn't quite able to find the end zone on the drive. Blaize Klossner made a great catch to convert on third down, but the Bulldogs were flagged for an ineligible receiver down field. Rolla decided to punt rather than try to convert on fourth and 12, pinning Kickapoo on their own three-yard line with under a minute remaining. Auer managed to get out of his own end zone, but he couldn't run from the Rolla defense forever. The clock hit zero as Auer avoided sack after sack, but there were no receivers for him to pass to. He threw a pass to no one and as the ball bounced to the turf, the stadium erupted. Fans came pouring onto the field after the two teams shook hands and Rolla was left to celebrate their first win of the season.
"It's exciting for our kids," said Franks after the game. "They work hard and they play hard. For them to get a win at home in front of a phenomenal crowd, it's a blessing."
The three-headed monster of Pritchett, Klossner and Buhr had a heavy hand in the Rolla victory. Pritchett ran for 237 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another 158 yards and a touchdown. Klossner caught 91 of those passing yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another 65. Buhr also went over 100 total yards with 76 on the ground and 40 through the air. Pritchett was ecstatic after the win, but was quick to thank his offensive line for opening up a lot of holes.
"I wouldn't want to be behind anyone else," said Pritchett. "They put in 100 percent every play."
Rolla guard Steve Heavin and the rest of the line put in a lot of work in the trenches because they know if you give Pritchett something to work with, he'll find a way to make a play.
"Our motto is never pass the down, so we just try to look around and make sure we're always hitting somebody," said Heavin. "As long as we're making contact with somebody, we know Josh can make a play."
This was a massive win for Rolla because they really needed to get that win in front of their home crowd. After going winless at home last season, it was important to get a win on Pride Night.
"It means a lot. Everyone's just coming out and having a good time tonight and for them to finally get to see us get a win is amazing," said Pritchett. Turner added, "This is awesome. This is probably the best win that we could've had. On Pride Night with all the fans here, this is gonna get us a lot of support."
Franks hopes this win will spark even more confidence in his team.
"Even though it's not about wins, it's about getting better. We got better from last week. But it's nice to be at home and win and help these guys see that things are happening," said the Rolla head coach. "For us, we go toe to toe with a predominantly powerhouse Class 5, then we take a Class 6 off tonight. That's gotta be motivation for our guys to see things are working. It's exciting."
Rolla will look to turn the W into a winning streak when they head down to Parkview on Friday, Sept. 1.
Passing: Pritchett - 19-23, 158 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Pritchett - 28 carries for 237 yards, 4 TD; Buhr - 18 carries for 76 yards; Klossner - 9 carries for 65 yards
Receiving: Klossner - 9 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD; Buhr - 5 catches, 40 yards; Grooms - 3 catches, 17 yards; Turner - 2 catches, 11 yards
Tackles (Top 5): Quick - 11, C. Morris - 11, Boubacar - 8, Franks - 7, J. Morris - 6
Sacks: Franks - 1, Makridis - 1
Fumbles: J. Morris - 1 forced fumble, Briggs - 1 fumble recovery
Kicking: Quick - 3 punts for 89 yards, Gabriele - 4-5 PATs, 1-1 FG for 31 yards
Returns: Alfred - 1 return for 42 yards