Without the new artificial turf on Jim Pearson Field at Pottenger Stadium, it’s likely Kickapoo’s biggest plays on Friday wouldn’t have happened.
A pair of key pass plays from junior quarterback Anthony Cooper to junior receiver Corbin Harris turned out to be the difference in the Chiefs’ 14-7 Ozark Conference win against the Rolla Bulldogs.
“I don’t think that we hit those throws if we’re playing in the mud,” Kickapoo coach Joel Wells said. “The ball would have been a huge problem with mud, and it’s unbelievably nice to play on this new turf.
“I know the conditions weren’t great because of the rain, but they were a lot better than they could have been.”
Springfield Public Schools installed artificial turf at four stadiums this summer, thanks to a $3.5 million private fundraising effort.
Trailing Rolla 7-0, Cooper connected with Harris for a 13-yard touchdown at the 7:53 mark of the second quarter. But the extra-point kick missed.
“It was a corner route and I saw my defender dart up on the run fake, so I knew I had the touchdown,” Harris said. “Cooper threw a perfect ball to me. Since it was raining, he didn’t throw it too hard, so I could catch it and I just cradled it in.”
The score remained 7-6 until Cooper and Harris connected again early in the fourth quarter.
From their own 48-yard line, the Chiefs ran the same play as their second-quarter touchdown. Harris made the catch and ran to Rolla’s 5-yard line.
Three plays later, Cooper scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 10:15 left in the game, and the Chiefs rolled the dice with a two-point conversion.
Senior tight end Michael Flowers made an over-the-shoulder catch on a high-arcing pass from Cooper for a seven-point lead (14-7).
“Once we got the passing game going, everybody started getting hyped and we started playing a lot better,” Cooper said. “I was very happy that we caught the ball and kept the ball moving late in the game and I was proud of how well we played.”
Kickapoo gave up just 50 yards of total offense to Rolla in the second half, after allowing 134 yards.
“We were playing against a power run team and they like to chew the clock, so we knew we had to make a lot of stops and not let them convert on third down,” Kickapoo senior linebacker Kyle Allison said.
“We put an extra man on the line to stuff the run and to get more people to the ball.
“We played great team defense tonight and that was certainly what helped limit them to only seven points.”
Cooper was 5-for-9 passing with 111 yards and rushed four times for 14 yards and touchdown.
Sophomore Tony Grant led the Chiefs (1-1, 1-1) in rushing with 62 yards on nine carries, and junior John Fuchs had 53 yards rushing on 12 carries as Kickapoo gained 145 yards on the ground.
The Chiefs also won despite three lost fumbles. But …
“This turf is fantastic,” Allison said. “Our old field tended to get muddy when it rained, so I don’t believe we would have been able to play as well on that.
“With the new field, we felt like we had something to prove almost and I’m glad we got to play, because it was a lot of fun.”
Rolla finished with 175 yards rushing, led by Michael Pickrell’s 86 yards on 27 carries. Senior quarterback Michael Steelman’s 1-yard touchdown sneak was Rolla’s only score.