By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Coaches leapt into each other’s arms, players sang the school fight song in the end zone and Curtis Jasper became choked up during his postgame interview.
Throughout the night fans chanted K-R-D.
The outpouring of emotion came moments after Joplin’s 35-28 victory Saturday night at Webb City, and three days after the death of Joplin football player Kadin Roberts-Day, a sophomore who collapsed at practice on Wednesday.
The final score was fitting: 35 + 28 = 63, the number worn by Roberts-Day. That number was visible all over Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, affixed on helmets worn by both teams, on drums, posters and bright red shirts everywhere.
“We have our angel,” said Jasper, the Joplin head coach. “No doubt about it.”
On the field the Eagles pulled off the nearly unthinkable. Saturday marked just the second loss in more than 40 home games for Webb City in Central Ozarks Conference action dating back more than a decade.
It was Joplin’s first win against the Cardinals since 1990; the teams have played just four times in the last 30 years.
Early on it looked like it might be one of the most lopsided games at Cardinal Stadium in recent memory.
Joplin built a 28-7 lead in the first half and led by four touchdowns in the third quarter before the Cardinals began their inevitable comeback.
The Eagles led 35-7 with 5:28 left in the third quarter after a 2-yard run by senior Isaiah Davis. That came after Webb City fumbled at its own 12-yard-line – the Cardinals’ fifth turnover of the game.
Webb City answered with an 80-yard drive and a 1-yard Sergio Perez score.
After holding Joplin on three plays, the Cardinals blocked a punt that was recovered by junior Shane Noel in the north end zone.
Three plays later, Joplin fumbled and Perez, a senior, recovered it at the 38. The Cardinals wasted no time, scoring on a first-down run by senior Terrell Kabala, who ran into a pile and emerged a second later as the only man downfield.
With 9:22 left in the game, Joplin’s lead had been whittled to 35-28.
The Eagles moved into Webb City territory but were forced to punt, pinning the Cardinals at their own 15. They moved the ball just two yards and had to punt with less than five minutes on the clock. They wouldn’t get the ball again.
“We had about five-and-a-half minutes left and we weren’t necessarily in panic mode,” Webb City coach John Roderique said. “We run a couple plays and it didn’t look very good.”
“The bottom line is you’ve got to be ready to make plays when it counts, when the money’s on the line, when you have to have them,” he said.
Joplin did just that – but a penalty helped.
Davis broke free for a 47-yard gain on first down, but the Eagles found themselves facing a fourth-and-14 with three minutes remaining. Quarterback Blake Tash went to the air and the Cardinals were whistled for a costly pass interference.
That moved the ball to the 18 for a fourth-and-1; a false start moved the ball back five yards, but Tash threw a jump ball for senior Zach Westmoreland, who hauled it in for a 15-yard gain.
After that, Joplin just needed to take a knee.
“How many times did they just throw the ball up to Westmoreland?” Roderique said. “What do you tell our guys? They’re in a good place, they’re in good position, they just made more plays in those situations. The big fullback got loose there. We probably had three or four missed tackles. Is that a poor job on us or just a really good job by them?”
Webb City’s turnovers were also pivotal. The Cardinals fumbled three times in the first half and threw an interception that Westmoreland returned 85 yards for a touchdown. The turnovers led directly to 21 Joplin points before halftime.
The Cardinals fumbled on their first snap of the game, giving Joplin the ball at the 10. Glades scored on first down, making it 14-0 after the Eagles opened with a 71-yard scoring drive and a 6-yard Tash-to-Westmoreland touchdown.
Webb City mounted a 17-play, 80-yard drive lasting seven minutes to make it 14-7. Junior quarterback Eli Goddard threw to senior Cale McCallister for a 17-yard score.
After taking over at midfield to start the second quarter, Webb City marched to the red zone and was poised to tie the game when Westmoreland picked off a pass and returned it for the score to make it 21-7.
Two plays later, Webb City fumbled again at its own 26. That led to a Tash-to-Davis 20-yard touchdown at the 5:10 mark and a 28-7 Joplin lead.
“You don’t win with five turnovers,” Roderique said. “For whatever reason we were out of sync tonight it seemed like. Missing reads, missing blocks, just seemed like a real uncharacteristic game for us. It’s not rocket science. We didn’t play very good offensively. Throw a pick-6 and for some reason we threw that way. We just did a lot of fundamental things that weren’t very good and that’s on me. I call the offense. I’m in charge of it so it’s on me. Whether kids were prepared to play, not prepared, but we didn’t execute very well. I’m the head guy so I’ll take that one.”
He also tipped his hat to Joplin.
“Because they played really well,” he said. “Obviously they were an inspired football team tonight and played well. I wish them luck the rest of the year.”
Jasper said it was crucial to take advantage of the turnovers.
“You’ve got to,” he said. “They’re a gosh darn good ball club and if you don’t take advantage of them you’re not going to win.”
He said he’s got the most resilient team “in the world.”
“What we’ve been through this week together as a family, I can’t even begin to explain it. I have no words. I just know I love my guys. I love this community. They rallied around us. Other communities rallied around us. Hat’s off to Webb City. Nothing but class. I can’t explain how much respect I have for them. Not only as a football program but as a school and as a community as well. It’s overwhelming right now to be honest.”
“They’re playing for each other, they’re playing for Kadin and the Roberts-Day family,” he said. “I just feel like in our hearts there was no way we were going to let this one slip away from us.”