The Monroe City football team powered to a 56-26 win to take the Class 1 District 5 championship Friday night at Lankford Field.

The Monroe City football team powered to a 56-26 win over South Shelby to take the Class 1 District 5 championship Friday night at Lankford Field.

But unlike the past two weeks of district play, the Panthers faced a Cardinals team that didn’t appear to fear the reigning district champions.

The game started as a championship heavyweight boxing match, with both teams standing toe-to-toe, trading head shots, hoping to tire the opponent into submission.

South Shelby punched first taking early control as a personal foul on the kickoff placed the Cardinals deep into Monroe City territory at the 25-yard line. On the first play, South Shelby recovered its own fumble at the 10-yard line. Runs by Dylan Threlkeld and Cody McKenzie put the ball at the 1-yard line. McKenzie plunged for a run off tackle for the Cardinals first touchdown of the night. With the conversion, it was 8-0 South Shelby barely two minutes into the game. Body shot, Cardinals.

The Panthers were in the unusual position of being down in the first quarter. Monroe City took the kickoff to its own 40. Keenan Batsell, the sophomore who had a breakout game in the first start last week against Mark Twain, ran up the middle for four yards to the 44. Then, Batsell took a handoff from quarterback Blake Hays, bounced to the outside, and raced 54 yards for a touchdown. No one touched him. With the conversion, the game was tied at 8-8. Body shot, Panthers.

Monroe City intercepted the Cardinals on the next series but a block the back moved the ball back to the Panthers 16-yard line. More hard punches.

Zach Osborn took a handoff inside and raced 84 yards for a Monroe City touchdown. With a successful 2-point conversion, Monroe City led 16-8. Head shot, Panthers.

South Shelby’s turn. Brock Wood took the kickoff at the 15-yard line of the Cardinals, gained a quick step to the outside and raced 85 yards for a touchdown. With the missed conversion, South Shelby trailed 16-14. Upper cut, Cardinals.

“These are like boxing matches with teams like that,” said Monroe City coach David Kirby. “They’re going to throw some good haymakers, we’re going to throw some good haymakers … we know in those types of games that we like our chances.”

With 4:33 left in the first quarter, the Panthers took the kickoff at their own 27-yard line and started a 9-play drive. Osborn and Batsell gained some tough yards in the middle, helping Monroe City march in five plays to the South Shelby 27-yard line. Then, the Cardinals defense buckled down, forcing a fourth-and-3 to begin the second quarter. A Monroe City motion penalty made it fourth-and-8. Then, Hays dropped back and fired a pass to Nehemiah Batsell, who ran in for a 25-yard touchdown. With the 2-point conversion, Monroe City led 24-14. Head shot, Panthers.

Blake Hays to Nehemiah Batsell for 25-yard Panthers touchdown strike. Monroe City 24, South Shelby 14. 11:54 2Q. pic.twitter.com/nhtTMCbolx

— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) November 4, 2017

Kirby mentioned he was pleased with how the Panthers handled the hard-charging Cardinals.

“One of things about these kids is they're extremely resilient … they know it is going to be a long game and they were focused on the task at hand,” Kirby said.

South Shelby continued to match blow-for-blow with the Panthers. Starting on its own 45-yard-line after the kickoff, the Cardinals put together an 8-play drive that took nearly five minutes with Wood and McKenzie running straight into the Panthers defense. Wood caught two key passes from Threlkeld. And with a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, McKenzie plowed up the middle for a touchdown. The conversion was not good. South Shelby trailed 24-20. Another upper cut, Cardinals.

But like a heavily favored boxer, Monroe City flexed its muscles and took control of the game. The Panthers took the kickoff at their own 26, and after two fruitless passes, on third-and-10, Hays drilled a pass to Osborn, who raced 74 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, barely 20 seconds after the Cardinals scored. With the conversion, Monroe City led 32-20. Knock-down punch, Panthers.

After holding South Shelby, Monroe City took the ball at its own 42 and put together a 10-play drive, ending with a Cole Pennewell 3-yard touchdown run. With the conversion, Monroe City started to pull away with a 40-20 lead. Another punch, Panthers.

The rest of the game belonged to Monroe City as South Shelby was worn down by the bigger and faster Panthers.

Gage Bottoms runs with authority for 4 yard Panthers score. Monroe City 48, South Shelby 20. 7:57 3Q. pic.twitter.com/yBLADpVoGZ

— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) November 4, 2017

Knockout, Panthers, but it was far from a TKO.

The Panthers posted 383 yards rushing, paced by Osborn with 150 yards and Keenan Batsell with 121.

Monroe City travels to face Westran in the state quarterfinals next Saturday.

Kudos to the back-to-back district champion @MonroeCityHigh Panthers. They advance to the Class 1 state quarterfinals next weekend. pic.twitter.com/qP4DKV7NfV

— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) November 4, 2017