Rock Bridge blasts Smith-Cotton for third-straight win

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COLUMBIA - Slow starts have been the weakness of the Rock Bridge football team, and the Bruins kryptonite reared its ugly head when winless Smith-Cotton scored a touchdown to tie Friday night's game 7-7 midway through the second quarter. 

But this slow start wasn't fatal.

A 61-yard touchdown run by Miles Cheatum started a run of 41 unanswered points to lead Rock Bridge (3-4) to a 48-21 senior night win over Smith-Cotton (0-7) at Rock Bridge.

Still, Bruins' coach Van Vanatta said his team needs to find some answers to its starts in the future.

"Once we get going, we are a pretty good football team. But we have to figure it out," Vanatta said. "I don't have an answer for them, but we just have to know that when we come out we have to be ready to play." 

Smith-Cotton hung around early with a run-heavy offense that ate up clock. The Tigers' first drive carried into Rock Bridge territory before two straight penalties and a tackle for loss by Bruins lineman Jalen Logan-Redding stalled the Smith-Cotton offense at midfield.

Rock Bridge quarterback Grant Hajicek opened the scoring with 3:49 left in the first quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Brant Bowers. But then came that game-tying Tigers' score on a 14-play, nine minute drive on which Smith-Cotton converted three fourth downs. 

Smith-Cotton quarterback Brett Grupe finished the drive with a 35-yard scramble on fourth-and-5, breaking two tackles in the backfield before swerving through Bruins defender and into the end zone. 

After Grupe's touchdown with 7:21 left in the half, it was all Rock Bridge.

Cheatum scored on his first carry of the game from 61 yards out with 5:41 left in the second quarter. Cheatum has turned into the Bruins home-run hitter and has three touchdowns of over 50 yards in the last two weeks.

"He seems like he scores every time he touches the ball," Hajicek said. 

The Bruins' other running back, Bryce Jackson, scored after a Tigers' three-and-out before a special teams play sealed the game for Rock Bridge.

Trying to pin the Tigers deep, Will Norris booted a squib kick, but the ball went off the hands of Smith-Cotton's up man before Mason Gortmaker pounced on it to give the Bruins another possession. 

"That was a huge momentum-shifter," Hajicek said. "That really gave us the opportunity to put the nail in the coffin." 

Hajicek drove the team down the field before throwing an 11-yard score, and the senior quarterback still wasn't done with his opening half.

Rock Bridge took over again near midfield with 33 seconds left, and Hajicek engineered another score with a l27-yard pass to Brett Mooney, who used all of his 5-foot-7 frame when he stretched the ball over the goal line as time expired in the first half.

That score gave the Bruins a 35-7 lead at the break, with 21 of those points coming in the last 1:56 of the first half.  

"Once we got going and our kids started playing, everything went well," Vanatta said.

The improved run defense continued in the second half for the Bruins, who forced two straight punts to start the third quarter. Hajicek threw a 44-yard bomb to Spencer Nivens and Cheatum added his second touchdown of the day.

The duo of Cheatum and Jackson have filled in admirably for Peyton Carr, who is only playing on defense while nursing a hamstring injury. Those two backs have combined for 10 touchdowns over the last two weeks. 

"The biggest thing I see from them is they're hitting (the hole) and getting it," Vanatta said. "They're getting downhill and getting positive yards and that's the key to our success right now."

Both touchdowns moved the Rock Bridge lead to 48-7 at the end of the third quarter. Smith-Cotton got two touchdowns against the Bruins second-string defense in the fourth quarter, while Rock Bridge finished off its third straight win after an 0-4 start. 

The Bruins were able to take advantage of the winless Tigers on Friday, but Hajicek said Rock Bridge won't be able to start slow against opponents later in the season. 

"Come playoff time, you can't get yourself in a hole," Hajicek said. "At the end of the day, it just comes down to us. We just need to treat the first quarter the same way we treat the fourth quarter."  

Rock Bridge will look to correct its first-quarter woes when it plays Helias at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 at Helias.