ST. LOUIS • Matt Irvin’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Jordan Bishop could hardly contain his smile. Matt Berry was so excited he couldn’t stop talking.
The dream had become reality. Literally just moments ago the enormous Berry had his hands wrapped around something Kirkwood seemed destined never to touch — the state championship trophy.
They’ve been playing football for 114 years at Kirkwood. For 114 years the Pioneers have patiently waited for their turn to walk off into the sunset a winner. Friday night they finally did. Top-ranked Kirkwood blitzed Fort Osage 31-7 in the Class 5 championship game at the Edward Jones Dome. With a nasty, suffocating defense and quarterback Jordan Bishop making magic with his feet and right arm, this, the 114th football team to pull on a football uniform, reached the Promised Land.
“It all kind of came together,” Irvin, the Kirkwood coach who just finished his third season, said.
It came together after a backbreaking loss to Staley in last year’s title game. It came together years after the Pioneers, with two future professional players in Jeremy Maclin and Mike McNeill, stubbed their toe in the state semifinals time and again. It came together after Kirkwood made its title game debut in 2006 and lost to Raymore-Peculiar.
This group of Pioneers would not be denied. They had to rally back against rival Webster Groves to win the district title game and then survive on the road with a late field goal to eke past Summit in the quarterfinals. All season long the Pioneers, 13-1 after Thursday’s JV Turkey Day game, found a way to end the game on the right side of the scoreboard, even if it had Irvin and their fans buying hair dye in bulk.
There was no drama in their semifinal win or in Friday’s night’s championship. Bishop directed the Pioneers on an 80-yard drive to go ahead 24-7 and seal the deal early in the fourth quarter. All that was left was the celebration.
And what a celebration it will be. The joy that filled the Kirkwood faithful will only grow as time goes on. Friday night was just the beginning. This is a community that loves many things, but football is chief among them.
“You go to Spencer’s Grill on a Saturday and people recognize you as a football player,” Berry said. “Old guys you’ve never seen before telling you 'Great game.'”
This is a school whose ties run deep. Kirkwood just gets into the blood and there’s no getting it out. People across the nation tonight are relishing the Pioneers’ victory.
“That’s the best part — Kirkwood fans across the country are blowing up,” said Michael Biedenstein, the Kirkwood football team statistician and social media maven.
Biedenstein started keeping statistics for the Pioneers as a sophomore in 2002. It’s a job he never gave up, not after he graduated in 2004 and not after he got married this summer. Instead, his wife, Lindsay, keeps the numbers now because she’s better at it.
Quarterback coach Matt Krapfl graduated from Kirkwood in 2004. A former Pioneer signal caller, he’s one of five coaches on the staff that played at Kirkwood. He too was overjoyed by the moment.
“It’s very special,” he said.
Somewhere in the city, resting comfortably at a local hospital is longtime offensive line coach Jim Woolf. Woolf underwent a liver transplant on Wednesday. Beloved by the biggest of big men on the field, the Pioneers were going to “win for Woolf.”
And they did. They won for Woolf, for Krapfl, for Biedenstein, for Maclin and McNeill. They won for every Pioneer that pulled on a helmet, a jersey and a pair of cleats. They won for every coach who’d ever guided young men in the Kirkwood tradition.
“We were playing for more than our community,” Berry said.
They were playing for history. Friday night the 114th Kirkwood football team made some.
You can e-mail David Kvidahl at email@example.com