There's an old saying in sports: only one team gets to end their season with a victory. Unfortunately for the Rolla football team, they're not that team this season.
Rolla's historic run on the gridiron came to an end on Friday, Nov. 10 with a 49-21 loss to Parkway Central in the State Quarterfinal. While the game didn't come to the end that they had hoped, it's hard to look at this football season as anything but a massive success for the Bulldogs, who were playing in the State Quarterfinal for the second time in school history. The other quarterfinal came in 1994, before any of the current crop of Bulldogs were even born.
"This senior group has done a really nice job for the program and the community. It's definitely not the way that anyone wants to end the season, but it happens," said Rolla head coach Jon Franks. "Fortunately, our future is in good hands. These are good guys, good kids, really good young men and they kept playing. It was just a tough game."
Things looked bright for Rolla early as the Bulldogs marched 54 yards down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive with Josh Pritchett punching in a one-yard score to take a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs then forced a punt on Central's first drive of the game, but things got a little messy after that. Pritchett had a pass tipped on the the next drive and Parkway Central's Nathaniel Moore was able to snag it out of the air and carry it down to the one-yard line. Central then tied the game with a touchdown by Jayden Moore.
The floodgates started to open for Central as the turnovers kept coming on a cold night in Rolla. Pritchett fumbled on the next drive and the Colts were able to recover. Mitchell then scored his second touchdown of the game to take a lead that Central would never relinquish. The Colts elected to go for two, but failed, taking a 13-7 lead. On the next Rolla drive, Pritchett tried to launch a bomb, but over-threw Davis Buhr, who returned to action after breaking his leg against Glendale, and Moore came up with his second interception of the contest. The first quarter came to an end after the interception, but Central picked up where they left off in the second.
Rolla was able to get a stop on Central's next drive and the Colts lined up to punt, but they had no intention of kicking. Instead, they put the ball in Moore's hot hands and he went 67 yards for a touchdown. Pritchett tried to get the Bulldogs back in the game, but with nowhere to run, he had to try to squeeze some passes into tight spaces. His third interception came on their next drive when Tavion Jordan jumped a route and came down with a pick on Rolla's 25. Central then scored from that 25-yard line on a pass from Patrick Dill Jr. to Deandre Campbell. The two teams traded punts on their next possessions, but Pritchett was intercepted two more times before the first half came to an end, bringing his total on the game to five. The senior quarterback had thrown just 10 interceptions in the team's previous 12 games. Central added one more score, a 24-yard connection from Dill to Campbell to bring the halftime score to 34-7.
Central had the only touchdown of the third quarter on their first drive. The Rolla defense was able to hold to Colts to a fourth and short at the 26-yard line, but Mitchell broke through on fourth down and took it all the way to the house for a touchdown. With a 35 point margin, the clock ran for most of the second half. Central went on to open the fourth quarter with a touchdown to push their lead to 49-7.
Rolla was able to get a few points on the board late, but Central had already pulled their defensive starters. 114 of Rolla's 247 total yards came against the Colts' second unit, as Pritchett ran for a 10-yard score and hit Blaize Klossner for a 34-yard touchdown. Rolla was able to cut the score to 49-21 after a fake field goal by Caleb Turner, but the game would end with that score as Parkway Central ran out the clock.
"It's just one of those things where, if you're going to play sports, you're going to have nights like this," said Franks after the game. "This was a bad night at the wrong time, but life moves on and this program will move on."
While Rolla couldn't come out with the win that they were hoping for, coach Franks sees this game as a learning experience.
"The exciting thing is, kinda like last year, we made it to the District Championship game and we got back to the District game this year, we had some familiarity," said Franks. "We got to the Quarterfinals here and next time we get back, we'll know what it's like and we'll be fine. It's just one of those things, everything is a learning process and we've made another step. We had a great year."
Coach Franks takes a lot of pride in this season because his definition of success isn't just about winning football games.
"What do you determine as success? Yeah, we lost, but we played a long time, we did some great things," said coach Franks. "To me, this is a successful year. We lost and it hurts and it should hurt, because they committed and put enough time and effort in that it hurts to lose when you put your full heart into it. But this is a very successful season, a very successful step for the program and we're gonna keep going."
While this is a tough final game for this senior class, they have certainly left their mark on Rolla high school Pritchett set school records earlier this season and should have a lot of awards coming his way by the end of the season and this senior class can know that they led Rolla to their sixth District Championship in school history, their second State Quarterfinal game and have been a key part in turning around the football program here at Rolla.
"Just a good group, a great group of seniors," said Franks. "They'll be highly missed. A lot of fun, a lot of fun to have around the school."