COLUMBIA — For Head Coach Charlie McFail, Smith-Cotton’s win-loss record doesn’t tell the full story.
“We’re a pretty good football team because we can do some things well, we just don’t do them well all of the time,” he said Friday night after his Tigers lost, 48-21, at Rock Bridge to remain winless on the season. “If we can get that consistency, we’re going to be OK.”
S-C came out strong, moving the ball to the Bruins’ 32 yard line on a drive highlighted by senior Cameron Finley’s 33-yard run. But false start and holding penalties against the Tigers killed the drive. Rock Bridge responded with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Grant Hajicek to receiver Brant Bowers; Will Norris’s PAT made it 7-0 Rock Bridge.
On the next possession, with S-C facing fourth and five at the Bruins’ 34 yard line, Tigers senior quarterback Brett Grupe scrambled for a TD to even the score. The confidence on the S-C sideline was visible.
“That was a huge confidence builder,” Grupe said. “That is a team that beat us 49-0 last year and being able to drive on them on the first possession shows our improvement. Each game its been baby steps but we drive and drive and then we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The Bruins’ next few possessions bore that out, as fullback Miles Cheatum sliced through the middle for a 61-yard TD. S-C then veered into the inconsistency that McFail noted, going three-and-out and shanking a punt to give Rock Bridge the ball on the Tigers’ 47 yard line. Running back Bryce Jackson busted out a 20-yard run and scored on the next play from nine yards out to make it 21-7. S-C fumbled the kickoff and Rock Bridge recovered, then cashed in on a five-yard TD toss from Hajicek to Spencer Nivins.
The Tigers (0-7) stalled on offense again and Rock Bridge got the ball back on S-C’s 41 yard line after the Tigers were flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. With 5.8 seconds left in the half, Bruins receiver Brett Mooney scored on a 27-yard pass, breaking a tackle at the one yard line for a 35-7 halftime lead.
“If you watched the game tonight, we did some great things. We had some great drives, played some really good defense, we just don’t do it all of the time,” McFail said. “We end up taking a drive off or a series off and we kind of fall apart during that time. Like I told them during halftime, we get a little of that ‘ugly bug’ on our back; we’ve got to keep that thing off of us and we’ll play pretty good.”
Hajicek connected with Nivens on a 44-yard TD pass to open the second half, and Cheatum blasted in from six yards out to give Rock Bridge a 48-7 lead and start the running clock. The Bruins started subbing out the starters and S-C capitalized, with Finley scoring on runs of 1 and 22 yards.
The disappointing outcome didn’t change McFail’s opinion of his team’s direction.
“We’re playing a whole lot better than what we did three or four weeks ago, so we are improving,” he said. “We’ve got some guys playing some different positions, doing some different things … we’ve had injuries come into play and we’ve had to move some guys up and into different spots but those guys are playing good football for us.”
The Tigers now turn their attention to Homecoming and the Clinton Cardinals.
“We’ve got to put in some work this week in practice … We’ve done that the past two weeks and I think that is why we came out and played better the last couple of games,” McFail said. “Hopefully we will put together some scoring drives and capitalize on the opportunities that we get and not give away opportunities.”
Grupe also focused on positives and hopes the momentum keeps building.
“Next week it's Clinton, it’s Homecoming, we have to get the first win of the year. It’s kind of meant to be,” he said. “It’s a big confidence building going into next week knowing you were doing something right at the end.”