Friday Night Fever Week 6: Hickman at Battle
COLUMBIA - The usual fanfare followed the matchup between Battle and Hickman on Friday night. But after this particular game, the Kewpies' purple and the Spartans' blue seemed to bleed together as players, fans and coaches from opposing teams hugged, exchanged friendly words and took pictures.
The camaraderie between both teams seemed to stand out most in the men who lead the way for the programs. Battle coach Atiyyah Ellison and Hickman coach Cedric Alvis could be seen talking and taking photos themselves after the game. They even exchanged a hug before parting ways.
"I leaned on him heavy when the interview process for Battle came up," Ellison said. "He just was so forthcoming and helpful and I consider him a brother.
"He's still a part of the family even though he's crosstown over there," Ellison added.
Battle won the game 67-37, but that final score was somewhat deceiving. Although the Spartans (4-2) finished with a 30-point win, they went into halftime leading by just eight.
The Spartans didn't find themselves breaking away in the first half due to multiple miscues, including wracking up 58 yards on seven penalties in the first half. They helped lead to four Hickman first downs in short yardage situations.
However, Battle looked to have a chance to break away late in the second quarter. With 34 seconds left in the first half, Harrison Keller fired a dart across the field for Tavian Miller. But before the pass could get to Miller, it wound up in the hands of Kewpies linebacker Max Neuhaus, who ran his interception back 34 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion kept the Kewpies at a one-score deficit.
"One of our keys that we look at every week is 'Take what we want,'" Keller said. "In the first half, we weren't necessarily doing that. We've just got to take what we want."
The Spartans were finally able to take what they wanted in the second half by coming out hard and fast on both sides of the ball.
Battle's first possession of the half, which resulted in a 23-yard Keller touchdown run, only took four plays.
The Spartans had seven touchdowns, as well as three turnovers, in a second half that saw them outscore the Kewpies 45-22.
Probably the three biggest impacts for the Spartans on offense were quarterbacks Keller and Khaleel Dampier, and running back Darren Jordan.
The quarterback duo combined for 421 total yards and five touchdowns, and Jordan, who said he's still not 100 percent back from his ankle injury, totaled 149 rushing yards and had two touchdowns.
The defense also did its part with three fumble recoveries, one of which was a 62-yard scoop-and-score from defensive lineman Elijah Owens.
"It really sets the tone," defensive back Trevonne Hicks said. "If we can force turnovers, it helps our offense and everything just runs like a well-oiled machine."
While the Kewpies lost for the second week in a row, they didn't let off on the gas. The game marked the second-highest point total Hickman (2-4) has scored this season and the second-highest point total since Alvis took over as head coach last season.
Alvis said his team came into Friday's game with one word on its mind: respect.
"We wanted to perform well," Alvis said. "We did not perform well last week. We were underestimated. No one believed that we could come out here and play, so that was the motivation, coming out here and showing people who we are."
Perhaps the best moment of the game came on the final play, as junior Jordan Mayes took a handoff from Keller and scored his first career touchdown.
"It was just amazing getting to see him and just how happy he was to get to do that," Keller said.
Mayes, who is on the autism spectrum, ran 54 yards to paydirt with a contingent of Spartans and Kewpies beside him. The junior's touchdown was preceded by chants from the Battle student section of "We want Jordan."
Keller said the team has been waiting for that moment since summer.
"He comes to practice everyday. He's out there with us. He does everything," Hicks said of Mayes. "He deserved this."
Jordan's mother, Latisha Mayes, said the moment brought tears to her eyes.
"He's been waiting for this and we knew it was coming, but it took my breath away," she said. "They're his brothers and it's so amazing how they've included him as part of the team and they don't treat him any differently.
"It was very, very, very special," she added.
Battle stays at home next week for a matchup with last year's state runner-up, Rockhurst, at 7 p.m.
Hickman will be at home at 7 p.m. next Friday against North Kansas City.