No. 1-ranked Fort Osage returned the opening kickoff on Friday, Nov. 14 for a 95-yard touchdown at Park Hill District Stadium. However, the Indians botched a special teams play late to allow Park Hill to escape with a 21-20 victory in the quarterfinal matchup despite playing most of the way without senior starting quarterback Tyler Holmes.
Fort Osage kicker Kegan Lammering missed a 22-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining, and Parker Sampson — the Trojans’ third-string quarterback — took a knee on the next play to wrap up the second state semifinal berth in program history. The Trojans play at Nixa (8-4) on Friday, searching for their first trip to the Show-Me Bowl since winning a Class 5 state championship in 2003.
All of the history became possible after Lammering’s crushing miss after Fort Osage’s final drive penetrated Park Hill’s 10-yard line.
“It’s a chip shot so it’s a difficult angle for the kid,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said of the try from the right hashmark. “We tried to get some inside pressure with tall guys and good length in there. One thing led to another, and we got what we wanted. We told them, ‘You have to give max effort on that last play.’ I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Lammering had not missed a field goal attempt on the season. He was 5-for-5 entering the playoff matchup but missed kicks at the end of both halves, including a 44-yarder that went wide left as time expired in the second quarter that forced the Indians to settle for a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Park Hill backup quarterback Jeremiah Benson led a pair of touchdown drives after the break to help the Trojans take the lead. Holmes reaggravated an ankle injury while taking a sack 4 minutes into the first quarter, and he watched the second half on crutches.
Lammering hit his second field goal to push Fort Osage’s advantage to 20-14 on the fourth quarter’s first play. The Trojans answered immediately on an eight-play drive — all runs — capped on Benson’s second score, a 38-yard touchdown run on a scramble.
The senior wide receiver and backup quarterback picked up an injury at the end of the play, and Hood drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty arguing for a late hit penalty against the Indians.
Sampson — also the Trojans kicker in addition to replacing Benson at quarterback after the injury — nailed the winning extra point attempt from 35 yards out with 8:37 to play.
“It was kind of crazy because I wasn’t understanding what the penalty was,” Sampson said. “I was just like, ‘We need to get this done.’ We had a backup holder, too. I just told (sophomore wide receiver Ciaron Willis), ‘Put it on the tee, and I’ll do my best to get it through.’ When I saw it go through the uprights, it was definitely a relief.”
Benson threw a pair of interceptions on back-to-back attempts, the first setting up Lammering’s missed 44-yard try at the end of the first half and the second on the second play of the third quarter. Park Hill managed to hold both times and didn’t allow any points off of three turnovers.
Fort Osage (11-1) ended up with 375 yards of total offense — including 310 yards for quarterback Skylar Thompson (178 yards passing and 132 rushing on 27 carries and one score) — to the Trojans’ 250, but the Indians ended up settling for too many field goal attempts and were unable to take advantage of turnovers.
“It was a great defensive test,” said Trojans senior linebacker Carter Anchors, who forced a pair of fumbles. “They had a great quarterback, great running game, great receivers and a great line. They are overall a great offensive team, and they came out and gave us a huge battle.”
Park Hill’s offense finally clicked after forcing a punt following Benson’s second interception. The Trojans reeled off a bruising 16-play drive with runs from Benson (seven carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns), Matt Harris (10 carries for 89 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run on Park Hill’s first offensive play to tie things up after Fort Osage’s kickoff return score) and Kenyatte Harris (26 carries for 84 yards).
The methodical march took 6 minutes off the clock and cut the Trojans’ deficit to 17-14 on Benson’s first score — a 1-yard plunge on fourth and goal.
“My teammates just told me to do me,” Benson said. “I was nervous coming into the game like that. But coming out after talking with my teammates (at halftime), it helped, and we settled in.”
Park Hill also scored on its next drive, sandwiching Lammering’s second field goal between a pair of crucial touchdowns.
The Trojans held Fort Osage twice more, including the final kick attempt, to escape with the win and become Class 5’s final undefeated team entering semifinals. Nixa started the season at 1-4 with losses to Class 4 quarterfinalist Helias, Class 6 semifinalist Francis Howell, Class 4 semifinalist Webb City and Class 5-ranked Willard.
Nixa defeated Carthage 24-21 last week, one week after the Tigers upended Willard 48-47 in the District 6 title game. Ladue Horton Watkins (12-1) and Battle (9-4) — a first-year program in Columbia and winner of District 4 as a No. 3 seed — meet in Nov. 21’s other semifinal. The winners play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 28 at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for the state title.