By Kary Booher (Ozarks Sports Zone)
BOLIVAR, Mo. — He had the look not so much of elation but wonderment, sort of as if he questioned whether the night really happened.
There Springfield Catholic senior linebacker Casey Console stood Friday night, with a backdrop of celebrating classmates and a scoreboard proving that the hex – a 14-year hex against the Bolivar Liberators – had ended. Last year, it was a 35-7 loss, 40-0 two years ago.
“My freshman year, it was in the 60s probably,” said Console, who won’t have to tuck in his head any longer after the Fightin’ Irish’s 17-7 home victory at Swisshelm Stadium.
Catholic recovered four Bolivar fumbles – with Console corralling arguably two of the most important ones – and junior Logan Brock, a soccer player who had never successfully kicked a field goal in a varsity game, delivered the tiebreaking score, a 27-yard field goal with 9:02 left. Quarterback Tyson Riley’s 56-yard touchdown run in the final 30 seconds sealed it.
Of course, that’s the Cliff Notes version in a game that had just about everything, from near-misses to crazy plays and the losing team outgaining the winning team in total yards, 384-284.
In one sequence in the first half, for instance, Riley – playing safety – forced a fumble on a Bolivar 58-yard pass play, then on the next play connected with Lincoln Jones on a 57-yard pass that set up Nick Crites’ 7-yard touchdown.
“It wasn’t a pretty game. We made mistakes. They made mistakes. But defensively, we stepped up when we had to,” said Catholic coach Steve Hancock, whose team improved to 4-1. He later added, “It tells us we’re able to compete with the better programs in the area. That’s all we wanted to do. Bolivar is a lot better than their record (1-4) shows. We’re capable of being in the race in our conference.”
It would be understandable if Catholic feels a sense of destiny. Just consider Console’s night.
He denied Bolivar of a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half, forcing a fumble on second-and-goal. Console then re-emerged again in arguably the game’s most important play – Bolivar’s fourth-and-2 at the Catholic 23-yard line with 3:23 left.
The Liberators likely gained the first down. But the ball got free. And Console, a middle linebacker who moved to nose tackle on the play, pounced on it.
The last fumble was a gut-wrenching turn of events for Bolivar. For one, it was the Liberators’ 17th play of the drive and, more so, they had momentum.
Bolivar had converted a fourth-and-2 at its own 39 and a fourth-and-8 from its own 45 – doing so with quarterback Hayden Burks, a sophomore left-hander, clearly gaining confidence.
It had been Burks’ 49-yard pass to Lane Loomer on the third play of the second half that helped Bolivar wash away the disappointment of the first half’s ending. The pass took Bolivar to the Catholic 6 before Burks hit Mason Payne on a slant route for the touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Liberators, Catholic wouldn’t let them reach the end zone again, despite Loomer rushing for a game-high 171 yards on 25 plays.
“The scary thing is, we just might figure it out at the right time. And, if it does, we’re going to have a really fun ending,” Bolivar coach Glen Johnson said, keeping it positive for his young team. “These kids fight so hard, and that’s the hardest part of this.”
In many ways, Bolivar was oh-so-close to walking out of Springfield with a win. Riley, the Irish safety, forced the first fumble on a play that would have had Bolivar setting up at about Catholic’s 10-yard line midway through first quarter.
Bolivar then saw its 58-yard pass play late in the first half – it would have taken the Liberators inside Catholic’s 20 – become a lost fumble, forced by Riley.
“We practice hard. We play hard,” Riley said. “And when we play, we don’t give up on a play. Something good might happen at the end.”
Brock’s tiebreaking field goal was the 15th play of a drive handled mostly by running back Heath Southwick, who kept the series alive with a four-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the 14.
Southwick had 44 yards rushing, all after halftime, and was among six Catholic rushers. Riley finished with 70 yards rushing.
“It means we have a good team now,” Console said. “I believe with all of our hard work we’re going to go far.”