Split decision for Bird fans

In the first half, it was a touchdown-saving tackle.

In the end, the same play turned out to be the game-saving tackle.

Rockhurst's Austin Aguirre took down Gabe Marcantonio just inches short of the goal line to end the first half --- making it a play of 49 yards and 30 inches instead of 50 yards --- and the Hawklets went on to hold off the Jefferson City Jays 20-16 at a cold, damp Adkins Stadium on Friday night.

"Austin saved our bacon," Rockhurst coach Tony Severino. "I said at halftime that that could be the play that wins the game."

He was correct as once again, a game effort by the No. 7 Jays (5-3) against the No. 8 Hawklets (4-4) fell short.

"Our players played their hearts out," Jays coach Ted LePage said. "I've got to give it up to our team and our coaching staff --- they played hard and they coached hard.

"It just wasn't enough tonight."

Here's the play that ultimately decided this affair.

The Hawklets had a 13-3 lead --- the Jays' points coming on a 26-yard field goal by Marcantonio in the second quarter --- and had the ball at midfield with 10.8 seconds left in the half. This came after a 23-yard gain by Denzel Wilson and a Jefferson City timeout.

The play LePage call is surely buried deep in the playbook, but it worked.

Marcantonio handed off on an end-around to Isaac Roling who sprinted right, as Marcantonio circled out the backfield to the left. Roling threw back to Marcantonio, who avoided several would-be tacklers and seemed headed to the end zone.

Until Aguirre took him down as time expired.

Inches short.

"I really couldn't see, there were so many people in the way," LePage said. "We went into halftime and people were saying stuff and I said: 'Three things happen in every game --- coaches coach, players play and officials officiate.

'They made the call ... just keep playing. We're all right, we've got 24 more minutes left.'"

Indeed they did.

The Jays took a 16-13 lead after Marcantonio scored on a 2-yard run with 8 seconds left in the third quarter, capping an 11-play, 51-yard drive, and a 14-yard strike on a quick slant from Marcantonio to Jake Pridgin with 10:21 left in the game.

The first score was set up on a fumble recovery by Austin Gerloff, the second on a fumble recovery by Hayden Strobel at the Rockhurst 34.

"Our defense played very well, they played their butts off," LePage said. "They created turnovers and we were able to turn them into points.

"We got the momentum there, but then Rockhurst imposed their will. That's what they do."

Severino is an old-school coach and his team is the same.

Here's an example: They huddle.

In this day of fastbreak football, not so for the Hawklets. They huddle every play and run plays like power sweeps.

The Hawklets scored the game-winner with 4:13 left on a 9-yard run by Kiah Kintchen, who rushed for 104 yards. It was a sharp 45-yard drive in five plays --- all running plays.

On their final possession, the Jays turned it over on downs at their own 43.

"It's always a rivalry to me and (head assistant) Eric Berg and guys who have been a part of it for 31 years," Severino said. "You try to tell the kids and I'm not sure how much they believe it, but then they play in a game like this and they can tell.

"They know now that it's pretty intense when you come down here."

For Bird fans in Central Missouri, Friday night produced a split decision --- Cardinals flying high in St. Louis (how much fun was THAT!), Jays falling short to their rivals from Kansas City.

"You can't beat this rivalry, isn't it awesome?" said Severino, who's lost four games in one season with the Hawklets for the first time in 22 years.

"The people in Jeff City are passionate about their football, the coaches do a great job, the kids play hard ... that's what makes it fun."

It must be fun for the Hawklets, who have won 15 of the last 16 in the series.

"We found ways to try and win this game, but fell just a little bit short," LePage said. "We're getting better, we got a little better tonight.

"This doesn't mean our season's over, it just means we lost to Rockhurst."