The third quarter proved to be the most disastrous in a 22-10 Class 5 semifinal loss to Nixa on Nov. 21 at Nixa High School in Nixa, Mo. Park Hill’s undefeated season came to an end with a banged-up running back and a backup quarterback but still featured the program’s second-ever trip to the state semifinals — first since 2003 — and the Trojans tied the record for most wins in a season with a 12-1 finish.
“It’s an outstanding season,” Hood said. “It’s better than what anyone could have imagined (at the beginning of the season). We felt like this was a special team. The kids proved that throughout the course of the year. The kids’ character showed up through every win we had and even the loss at the end. They handled everything with professionalism and class.
“We had a lot of injuries; bumps and bruises got in the way. We just couldn’t find the one play we were looking for at the right time.”
Park Hill senior starting quarterback Tyler Holmes did not play in the loss to Nixa after suffering an ankle injury in the District 8 championship game against Liberty North and reaggravating it in an upset quarterfinal win against Class 5 No. 1 ranked Fort Osage.
Jeremiah Benson shifted to quarterback for each of the final two games from his normal wide receiver spot where he earned honorable mention All-Suburban League Red Division honors.
Benson finished with a 5-for-16 passing line for 42 yards with one touchdown — a 22-yarder to Kentrez Bell with less than 90 seconds remaining in the contest — and two interceptions taking over for the Trojans’ second-team all-conference quarterback. In all, Park Hill outgained the Eagles 258-226, but four turnovers — including three in the third quarter, two on muffed punts — proved too costly to overcome.
“The defense really stepped up,” Hood said. “They rose to the occasion. They answered the call. That defense doesn’t give up a whole lot of points, and they sure didn’t Friday night. We put them in some disadvantageous situations, but they stepped up and made great plays to keep Nixa out of the end zone for the most part.”
Park Hill went 9-0 in the regular season, won the Red Division title outright and earned a first-round bye in districts despite losing senior running back Kenyatte Harris to a bone bruise in his leg during a 37-7 Week 5 win against rival Park Hill South.
Harris sat out most of the rest of the season, returning to part-time action for the final three games. He ran for 721 yards and racked up 14 total touchdowns in the first four games.
Junior running back Matt Harris picked up most of the slack and finished the season with a team-high 1,272 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, including 111 yards on 16 carries against Nixa. Kenyatte Harris added 93 on nine carries against the Eagles (9-4), who advanced to the first state championship game in program history.
“I want everyone to remember what this group did,” Hood said. “What we’re most proud about is they brought that excitement and that energy and that spirit back to the school. They made the school fall in love with football again. They brought the community together. Those were the goals we had at the beginning of the year that had nothing to do with the play on the field.”
Nixa and Park Hill combined for three field goals in the second quarter, but the Eagles led 6-3 at the break following Logan Tyler’s 31-yard boot with 2 seconds left in the half. The Trojans never led and were down 15-3 after the third quarter despite the miscues.
Tyler, also Nixa’s quarterback, ran for both touchdowns, including an 8-yarder early in the fourth quarter to complete a drive that started in the third. He finished with 100 yards on 19 carries, while Eagles running back Alec Murphy added 90 on 24 attempts.
Park Hill continuously fought bad field position in the second half because of the turnovers, and despite 10 tackles (four for loss) and two sacks from senior linebacker Clayton Cole, Nixa managed just enough points to eliminate Class 5’s last undefeated team and earn a trip to the title game opposite first-year program Battle (9-4), a 34-6 winner against Ladue Horton Watkins in the other semifinal.
“It was bittersweet,” said Park Hill senior linebacker Jamaal Brazil, who recorded 7 ½ tackles in his final game. “Of course we all wanted to go farther. Of course we wanted to go to state and win. I just appreciate the great group of guys we had and what we were able to do for the school and the community.”