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The whole regular season for the Orrick Bearcats was about preparation for the biggest day. Preparation for the ultimate goal. The right to call yourself a champion.
The Bearcats had to be prepared because they were about to face the toughest team that has ever stood across the line from them.
“We talk about finishing,” Richard said after the 34-28 double overtime victory. “We finish every drill and we finish everything that we do. Today was the ultimate finish. You have to have an incredible amount of guts and an incredible amount of heart. We exhibited and we finished and we won.
“Those kids never laid down, they never quit,” Richard said about the Thayer kids.
At times during the regular season, the team was challenged mentally and responded like a champion. The team went on the road in the middle of the regular season without Richard and played their most complete game at that time. After Friday’s game, assistant coach Brian O’Dell told the team they don’t have to wonder anymore about what their best game was. But the Bearcats still improved each week.
still improved each week.
During district play defensive standout Leslee Eubank said after a win over St. Mary that sent the team into the playoffs 10-0 that the team was focused each week down to every last detail.
In the playoffs the Bearcats faced a potent offensive threat from West Platte, and lost their leading rusher for the second half and for the year when Aaron Blyth took his 1,500 plus yards to the bench with a broken ankle. The Bearcats responded by making the plays during crunch time to move on to face Princeton. Again, without a team leader, the Bearcats came out focused and took care of business.
It was clear from the opening coin flip that Thayer High School, which had gone down in defeat in last year’s championship game against Orrick, was determined to avenge last year’s loss.
The game would prove to be a heavy weight title fight that saw both sides knocking each other out until the scoreboard read 20-20 at the end of regulation thanks to two miracles on both ends. The first a 62-yard touchdown bomb by Thayer as time expired and then a missed extra point to send it to overtime.
Bystanders in the Edwards Jones Dome could feel the momentum swing back and forth from grandstand to grandstand as both sides’ fans rode the rollercoaster of the game.
After the game, Eubank said both sides exhibited sportsmanship like no others.
“They would smack your butt coming off the pile and say ‘Hey, good block,’ even after you pancaked them,” Eubank said.
Richard said kids on both sides displayed incredible mental toughness especially during crunch time. During overtime, Thayer quarterback Jacob Eckman appeared to fumble the ball on the game tying two-point conversion but was ruled to have crossed the goal line. Richard said most kids would have been deflated at that point.
“Most kids are going to say, ‘Oh well, it’s just not our day,’” Richard said. “Not ours. Our kids got it done.”
They got it done for their second consecutive state title.
Photo: Flanked by Jimmy Bilton and Leslee Eubank, Orrick defensive end Nick Lafferty hoists the state title trophy Friday afternoon after Orrick’s 34-28 double overtime thriller over Thayer High School at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. It’s the Bearcats second consecutive state title. (Photo by Dennis Sharkey/The Daily News)