KANSAS CITY — Nixa cornerback Parker Mann and his defensive cohorts already were well aware an offense is often right by running behind its left tackle, but Rockhurst provided confirmation, anyway.
Mann and the Eagles found themselves Friday relating to the struggles opponents have endured opposite Nixa left tackle Jackson Cantwell. Rockhurst left tackle Andrew Sprague had a similar impact on the line of scrimmage against the Eagles.
Sprague spearheaded a Hawklets offense that had its way against Nixa while helping Rockhurst hand the Eagles a 38-14 Class 6 Quarterfinal defeat.
“They're very comparable,” Mann said of Sprague, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound Michigan commit and 6-71/2, 300-pound Cantwell, a prized sophomore prospect. “I believe Jackson is better, just because he's my teammate. In practice sometimes I try to hit a move on a pass rush against Jackson. I don't even go anywhere most of the time. He stops me in my tracks
“Having a guy like (Sprague or Cantwell) helps a lot,” he added. “There were a few times tonight I had the edge against (Sprague) and it was probably one of the hardest things I've done. He would look at me before the play, so I knew he was coming at me. I had to get my mind right, as he was coming full-speed at me.”
Nixa defensive end Jayden Antonelli noted Sprague played an integral role in Rockhurst repeatedly putting together prolonged scoring drives.
“He's definitely good,” Antonelli said. “He lives up to what they were saying about him. They had a lot of time with the ball. You have more time with the ball and obviously you have more chances to score.”
Even while adjusting to the Hawklets running to Sprague’s side, the Eagles couldn’t make the stops they needed.
“(Defensive coordinator Phil Wickwar) had us bump over a half a gap because we figured they would run behind him every time,” Nixa linebacker Eli Frazier said. “It was like running up against Cantwell in practice.”
“He’s a big dude,” safety Spencer Ward said of Sprague. “He got me one time. I don't know how, with me being at free safety. Maybe he pulled. They would run behind him and it was hard to stop. It was kind of what Lee's Summit North did to us last year.”
Cayden Green, a senior left tackle on his way to Oklahoma, led Lee’s Summit North past Nixa in the Quarterfinals/District finals a year ago.
Nixa coach John Perry noted Sprague also hopped over to defense at times to help the Hawklets win the line of scrimmage on that side of the ball, as well.
“He's really good. He made some big plays,” Perry said. “They had six guys (on the defensive line) for the most part and we had seven and we couldn't run the ball on them.”
The Eagles scored on their opening possession. Facing a third-and-nine, quarterback Nate Uber found wideout Keivon Flint for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Both of the Eagles’ scores came on passes, but they also threw three interceptions.
Nixa’s play calling was influenced greatly by repeated third-and-long scenarios.
“We knew better than to be throwing the ball a whole lot because they drop so many (defenders into a zone pass coverage),” Perry said. “But we just weren’t clicking. We'd miss a block here or there and get behind the sticks and then we'd be kind of forced to throw it.”
Rockhurst quarterback Ethan Hansen starred while at the controls of the Hawklets’ offense. He had a pair of touchdown passes and picked up first downs while running out of the pocket and throwing on the run.
“He can really sling it on the run,” Frazier said. “He’s a great athlete and had some good receivers and H-backs.”
Nixa (11-1) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but yielded 28 straight points to Rockhurst to head into halftime facing a 28-7 deficit.
It was only the second game all season the Eagles have experienced life as a trailer. They were down by one score against Carthage in Week Three.
“The biggest thing was staying up and encouraging each other,” Ward said. “Regardless of the outcome, we were going to stay up and encourage. That's been our biggest emphases since February.”
Nixa responded to the start of the second half by forcing a Rockhurst turnover. Mann stripped a Hawklets ball-carrier and Frazier recovered the ball at the Eagles’ own eight-yard line.
Only a few plays later, Uber and wide receiver Wyatt Vincent hooked up for a 50-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-14.
Momentum shifted to Nixa’s side, but only briefly. The Eagles never had another serious scoring threat.
“I kind of thought we were going to take off,” Vincent said. “But things don’t happen how you want them to sometimes.”
A 45-yard field goal by Rockhurst’s Logan Kuechler in the fourth quarter basically put the game out of reach.
The Hawklets move on to the Semifinals, while Nixa bids adieu to a senior class that enjoyed 38 wins over the past four seasons.
“The seniors have been fantastic,” Perry said. “There’s never been a senior group that’s gone through our school that’s won as many games as they have.”
“It hurts pretty bad. It stings,” Ward said of his finale. “I tried my hardest every play. That's what I owed to this team. This is my second family. They've done so much for me, they don't even know.”
Rockhurst 38, Nixa 14
Nixa 7 0 7 0 -14
Rockhurst 13 15 0 10 - 38
N - Keivon Flint 31 pass from Nate Uber (Jordan Cribbs kick)
R - Maeson Tunley 8 pass from Ethan Hansen (Logan Kuechler kick)
R - Aidan Ryan 4 run (kick blocked)
R - Thomas Coppinger 1 run (Ryan pass from Hansen)
R - Ryan 6 pass from Hansen (Kuechler kick)
N - Wyatt Vincent 50 pass from Uber (Cribbs kick)
R - Kuechler field goal
R - Ryan 8 run (Kuechler kick)