Monroe City's hopes for playing in a third-straight state championship game are dashed by a dominating Clark County team

Monroe City’s march toward playing in a third-straight state championship game was derailed Friday night by visiting Clark County, 20-0, in the Class II District 6 final at Lankford Field.

The Panthers, the 2017 Class I State Champions, were hoping to reach another championship game in their first year of Class II competition.

But they could not get past Clark County.

The Indians, who lost to Monroe City on Oct. 12 in a 44-20 shootout, came into the game determined to shut down the prolific Monroe City running game, and get even for the loss, one of only two in the regular season for Clark County.

Monroe City played behind all night and made lots of mistakes, including turning the ball over three times - uncharacteristic for the normally smash-mouth Panther attack.

 “I have to give a ton of credit to them,” Monroe City Head Coach David Kirby said of Clark County after the game. “They had a good game plan and executed very well. They capitalized well on our mistakes and just made more plays…. It was tough. We normally do not have those turnovers.”

 The Indians were in control from the opening kickoff, particularly on defense.

“Our defense came out tonight and played a great game. We have a veteran group of guys who took the lead,” Clark County Head Coach Ethan Allen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my guys, the way they played. We ask a lot of them…and we get a lot from them.”

Clark County scored the first touchdown of the game at the end of the first quarter, taking a 6-0 lead. However, both teams traded possessions for the rest of the half, and despite giving up large chunks of yards, the Panthers appeared headed to be down only at halftime, 6-0.

Then, on the final Clark County possession of the first half, disaster struck. Monroe City’s defense had made some huge plays in the series that started with a Panther fumble at the 50-yard line.  The drive consumed most of the last 7 minutes of the half, but the Monroe City defense was poised to stop the Indians with under a minute left in the half. The Panthers forced a fourth-and-14 from the Monroe 38-yard line with 54 seconds left in the first half. All the Panthers needed was a key fourth-down stop to go in at halftime down, 6-0, well within striking distance, and feeling fortunate after a rough first half.

But Clark County reached into a bag of tricks. Indians quarterback London Brunk handed off to Caleb Lapsley on fourth down. Lapsley and his blockers headed for an off-tackle run with eight Monroe City defenders swarming for a stop. Lapsley, though, stopped three steps into the run, planted and passed the ball to a wide-open Dalton Albert, who had raced past surprised Panther defenders. He caught the perfectly thrown ball in-stride as he crossed the goal line. With a successful run for a two-point conversion by Brunk, Monroe City was deflated, down 14-0 headed into halftime.

The touchdown came after the Indians were penalized five yards for an illegal motion infraction. Allen called the pass play after the penalty.

“That was a play we have been working on for weeks,” Allen said. “We were running a lot and I felt like it was a good opportunity to catch them off guard. It worked out well for us.”

The Panthers, though, came out strong in the second half. They took the opening kickoff of the third quarter at their own 31-yard-line and started to put together the kind of march to the end zone that Monroe City fans have come to expect over the last two seasons.

Even at 14-0, the Panthers still had a chance to get back in the game.

On first down, Zach Osborn ran for 8 yards, followed by a Keenan Batsell run for 3 yards for a first down. Batsell, Gage Bottoms and Osborn steadily moved the ball toward the Clark County end zone.

Then, in the 13th play of the drive, Batsell took a hand-off on fourth-and-less than a half-yard at the 6-yard line and raced to the end zone. But just as he was about to score, Clark County’s Brunk, who is a two-way starter as a defensive back, reached in and stripped the ball. Fumble. It was Clark County ball, deep in its own territory on the 3-yard line.

Lapsley took a first down handoff, moving the ball to the 19-yard line. But the Clark County drive stalled when the Indians failed to convert a fourth-down at their own 42-yard line, giving the Monroe City offense another chance.

But two minutes later, Monroe City gave up ball in downs, and Clark County took over on its own 38-yard line.

 Clark County scored a minute into the fourth quarter on a Capsley 12-yard touchdown run.

For the normally dominating Monroe City running game, used to posting long runs for huge plays, it was not a good night, as the Indians stuffed the Panthers two best runners, Batsell and Osborn.  Batsell, who entered the game with more than 1,400 yards on the season, was held to 63 yards, while Osborn, who has posted more than 1,100 yards, was held to 34 yards. The Panthers were held to 147 yards rushing. Clark County, meanwhile, generated 292 yards on the ground, paced by Lapsley’s 133 yards and Brunk’s 129 yards.

After the game, Kirby and his coaches gathered his emotionally distraught players at the 50-yard line to discuss what he called a good season. The Panthers have gone 26-2 over the last two seasons, including an 11-2 mark in 2018.

“I told them that I love them and appreciate so much what they have accomplished for our program over the last four years.” Kirby said. “No matter what, they will always be winners in our book.”