The Monroe City football team stayed true to itself by pounding the ball past East Buchanan for a 28-14 win to reach the state championship.

The late Woody Hayes, the coach who led Ohio State to glory and championships in the 1960s and ‘70s, loved the running game. Boring when compared to high-octane passing teams, yes, but effective when executed.

Very effective.

“I will pound you and pound you until you quit,” Hayes said of his running game.

Woody Hayes, meet David Kirby, head coach of the 14-0 Monroe City football team. Kirby’s Panthers face Valle Catholic in the Class 1 championship in Columbia next Saturday.

Kirby loves the rushing game. His runners do too. And his offensive line excels at paving the way.

The Monroe City running game overwhelmed visiting East Buchanan to post a 28-14 win in a semifinal game Saturday afternoon at Lankford Field. The Panthers posted 345 yards rushing. Of 67 offensive plays, just two were passes.

As the previous 13 teams on Monroe City’s schedule learned this season, senior running back Cole Pennewell is a power runner who is not afraid to run straight into the heart of a defense, daring linemen and linebackers to tackle him.

A play with 41 seconds left was illustrative of the game Pennewell played against East Buchanan. With his team up 20-14, Pennewell took a handoff up the middle at the Bulldogs 6-yard line. Running behind a power block from junior center Jon Saxbury, Pennewell pushed defenders into the end zone for a touchdown that sealed the win.

Pennewell ran for 185 yards and finished with two scores.

“My O’line played a really great game,” Pennewell said, deflecting any praise. “We did what we had to do.”

The running game was won in the trenches with the Panthers offensive line led by Saxbury, who spent the game going head-to-head with East Buchanan defensive linemen Jake Boatwright and Dalton Wright. Saxbury tied up the 6-foot-4 Boatwright as Pennewell ran up the middle on the final scoring play.

“That kid was definitely a stud,” Saxbury said of Boatwright. “(He) was the best defensive lineman I have every played against. He was tough. He really exposed me a few times and I have a few things to work on this week.”

Pennewell was not the only playmaker out of the Monroe City backfield. He had help.

Quarterback Blake Hays and running back Zach Osborn provided solid performances. Hays ran five times for 41 yards, including an 18-yard outside run to give the Panthers a critical first down, while Osborn carried the ball 10 times for 68 yards.

Sophomore Keenan Batsell, who emerged late in the season as a speedy option, finished with 22 yards on three carries marked by a 17-yard burst for a touchdown in the second quarter.