The Tigers lost to Hickman for the first time in four tries and endured its worst start to a season since 2012 after a 40-6 result Friday at Tiger Stadium.
Kewpies senior Jevean Brown recorded two scores each rushing and passing and added a pair of interceptions. Tigers senior PJ Allred scored on an 80-yard rush in the final seconds to put Smith-Cotton on the scoreboard.
Last season, S-C defeated the Kewpies once in Columbia and again in an overtime playoff victory in Sedalia.
Hickman drove 51 yards in four plays — including three carries from Pippenger — on its first drive and scored on a 1-yard keeper from Brown.
Smith-Cotton head coach Charlie McFail criticized the defense’s flat game-opening performance.
“It’s kind of embarrassing when you miss, I think in that first drive we missed 20 tackles,” McFail said. “We talked to them, ‘Is that what you want people to see? Is that what you want to be known for?’”
A pass interference penalty positioned the Kewpies at the Smith-Cotton 24 with less than five minutes remaining in the first. Brown initially ran to his left, but would throw to his right for an 8-yard TD to sophomore TJ Turner to give Hickman a 14-0 lead.
Finley returned Hickman’s second punt of the game more than 50 yards to the opponent’s 33-yard line but, at the Hickman 14, Brown intercepted a pass from Brett Grupe in the end zone.
Before Finley’s punt return, the Tigers had been stopped just short of midfield. Finley completed a pass for more than 30 yards into Kewpie territory that was negated by a penalty. He was later stopped just shy of the marker on 4th and 14 at the S-C 44.
McFail said the offense is still seeking consistent execution.
“We do some things well, but we don’t do them well all the time,” McFail said. “We’re kind of stuck in a rut.”
Smith-Cotton (0-4) twice extended its first drive of the second half to four downs. Tigers junior Dillan Kessing converted with a short pass on 4th and 6, but Brown secured his second interception on 4th and 12.
Brown and the Kewpies responded with a 22-yard TD to junior Devin Turner in the third, a successful onside kick and a 23-yard rush TD in the fourth. Reserve signal-caller TJ Turner rushed for a 23-yard score with 5:45 to play and Hickman led 34-0.
Smith-Cotton sophomore Logan Jaekel recovered a Hickman fumble deep in Tigers territory, but Grupe’s third interception — snagged by sophomore Jaiden Tandy — framed an 11-yard rushing score for junior NJ Crowell.
“He missed a couple reads tonight,” McFail said of Grupe. “He’s trying to make plays happen. … He’s a competitor. We’ll take what we get from him.”
Injuries and experiments forced more underclassmen into the mix for Smith-Cotton. Trent Burlingame, junior, and sophomore Alex Zuniga helped the offensive line, while junior Jackson Hazel transitioned from tackle to guard. Sophomores Keyshawn Williams and Matt Beknazarov stepped in at linebacker and safety, respectively.
“They had to step up in the last few days,” McFail said.
Smith-Cotton (0-4) has kept its inexperience in perspective during a winless start to the season, McFail said.
“It’s hard to stay upbeat,” McFail said. “It’s hard to come to work every day and do that. It’s hard as adults and professionals to do that, let alone kids whose whole image goes on if they win or lose things.”
If only for a moment, Allred, a student with special needs, helped turn around the outlook at Tiger Stadium. He ran up the seam on the near sideline untouched and lifted an offense in need of inspiration.
McFail said he was proud to get one of the Tigers’ most involved teammates on the field.
“Physically, he wishes he could do everything.” McFail said. "That shows a lot of heart, being able to do that.”
The Tigers look to end its losing streak Friday, Sept. 27 at Smithville.
Alex Agueros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @abagueros2.