WELDON SPRING • Van Vanatta knows things are about to get interesting in Class 6 District 2.
Vanatta's Rock Bridge football team came to Francis Howell on Friday and knocked off the Vikings 35-21 in the teams' regular season finale to push them out of the top spot heading into next week's first round of district play.
So, the road to winning the district goes through Columbia for the second straight season, as the Bruins (6-3) all but locked up the No. 1 seed.
“This district's wide open. There's a lot of good teams in this district,” said Vanatta, a former Hazelwood Central coach who took the Rock Bridge job before last season. “It's one of those things where we may see them again and it's hard to beat anybody twice.
Francis Howell (6-3) had a six-game winning streak snapped and lost to Rock Bridge at home in the final regular season game for the second straight year.
“I think we're still gonna land a No. 2 seed, which puts us in a good situation to hopefully get after these guys if we do see them again,” Chojnacki said. “But, it's gonna be us taking it week by week.”
After racking up 376 yards rushing in a win over Helias last week, Stanford recruit Nathaniel Peat followed that up Friday with 314 yards on the ground and two long touchdown runs, including a 99-yarder.
“I knew I had to pull through for the team,” he said. “Down at the 1, I knew we couldn't give up a safety there, so I just kind of had to do it.”
Vikings junior running back Gideon Niboh did his best to keep up with Peat, as he rushed for 198 yards on 32 carries.
“We knew they were gonna be keying on that kid because of the last two weeks of film we sent them and he still got it done,” Chojnacki said. “He's impressive. He's great to have and great to have for another year after this.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the scoring heated up in the second quarter.
Rock Bridge broke through first on a 68-yard pass from Grant Hajicek to Marcus Manuel and made it two scores on consecutive plays as Spencer Nivens took the first play of the next Francis Howell drive back 44 yards for a pick-six to make it 14-0 just 2:28 into the quarter.
After an exchange of possessions, the Vikings drove all the way to the Bruins 2, but turned the ball over on downs. Following a holding penalty, Peat raced 99 yards for a score to put Rock Bridge up 21-0.
Francis Howell finally punched one in on the next drive, a series that covered 83 yards in 10 plays. Niboh did most of the heavy lifting on the drive with 54 yards before momentarily limping off. His replacement, Jonah Libbert, took care of the next two carries, including a one-yard scoring run with 1:56 left before halftime to get the Vikings to within two scores.
The Vikings recovered the ensuing kickoff, but were stopped on downs at the 22. The Bruins made it to the Francis Howell 17 before time expired on the first half with Rock Bridge up 21-7.
After each team misfired on its first two possessions of the second half, Francis Howell scored on its third drive of the half when Aidan McDaniel connected with his favorite target, Daylan Dalton, on a 7-yard score to cut it to 21-14 with 4:38 left in the third.
McDaniel finished with 255 yards passing, but completed just 20 of 41 passes and threw two interceptions.
“Aidan McDaniel is a great quarterback. He's gonna get it done for us at quarterback. There's no doubt about that,” Chojnacki said. “He's gonna be a guy that comes out very hungry next week because of this game.”
The Bruins then embarked on their longest scoring drive, time-wise, going 80 yards in 4:12, capped off by Manuel's 6-yard TD catch, but the Vikings answered just 1:14 later on Dalton's 11-yard catch to make it 28-21 inside the first minute of the fourth.
A bad snap on a punt set the Vikings up at the Bruins 19 with 8:35 to play, but they could get no closer than the 12. Later, they got the 26 before an interception set up Peat's final TD scamper, a 71-yarder that sealed it with 2:09 to play.
In addition to the two critical turnovers, Francis Howell went 0-for-7 on fourth down in the game.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. It was as simple as that. We've got to clean up those mistakes and hopefully get a little redemption on those guys,” Chojnacki said. “But, I'm really proud of our kids. There was a lot of resiliency shown by our kids.”