Last season’s Class 1 state championship game came as a surprise to most football fans across the state.
Valle Catholic entered the season with eight consecutive Show-Me Bowl appearances.
Monroe City entered the season coming off a 3-8 campaign.
Yet it was Monroe City playing for the championship, while Valle Catholic fell one win shy of a ninth straight title game.
Saturday the two teams meet at Faurot Field on the campus of University of Missouri-Columbia, much to the surprise of no one.
But both teams were pushed in their semifinal wins last weekend.
Valle Catholic (12-1) pulled away late for a 41-27 win over Lockwood, while the Panthers (14-0) scored in the final minute to slam the door shut on East Buchanan, 28-14.
The Warriors' only blemish on the season came in Week 6. Valle Catholic dropped a 55-7 decision to 6-time defending Class 2 state champion Lamar.
Monroe City coach David Kirby knows his team will be in for another tough task against the Warriors, who have impressive postseason wins over No. 9 Hayti (42-18) and No. 12 Thayer (33-10).
“Valle is a very well-balanced and disciplined team,” the Panthers coach said. “They rarely make mistakes, which allows them more opportunities for positive outcomes.”
For the third straight week, the Panthers will face a team that likes to air it out. Valle Catholic quarterback Mason Skaggs enters the state title game with 2,733 yards passing and 30 touchdowns.
Skaggs has also rushed for 501 yards with 12 more scores.
Tyler Blum and Ryan Grein are the Warriors top receivers, both having 52 receptions on the year. Blum leads the team with 954 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Grein has 727 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Warriors average just over 45 points per contest while allowing just under 15.
With having faced spread offenses the past two weeks, and all but shutting them both down, Kirby mentioned his team is focused on what it can control Saturday. He stated they also can’t afford to get starstruck over the Warriors' past success.
“We just want to come out and try to play a complete, well-disciplined football game,” the Panthers coach said. “We know they are a fantastic opponent with a rich tradition and we look forward to compete with the best.”
Valle Catholic coach Judd Naeger mentioned although his team possesses experience in the big game, it won’t play a factor in Saturday’s game.
“Both teams have tremendous experience in the postseason,” the Warriors coach said. “I don’t anticipate anything besides the 2017 teams playing into the game.”
The Panthers are led with one of the best 1-2 backfield duos in the state. Zach Osborn (1,527) and Cole Pennewell (1,448) have accounted for nearly 3,000 yards on the ground on the season. Pennewell has reached the end zone 22 times, while Osborn has scored 21 times on the ground.
Blake Hays can also take to the air when need be. The junior signal caller has completed 43 of his 67 pass attempts on the season for 853 yards. Hays has 14 touchdowns and just one interception.
Nehemiah Batsell leads the team with 18 receptions for 298 yards, while Dawson Shively has nine receptions for 226 yards and five touchdowns.
Naeger mentioned controlling the line of scrimmage will be a key for the Warriors.
“Monroe is a very, very good, well-tested team who competes in an amazing conference,” the Warriors coach said. “Their offensive and defensive lines are big, strong and fundamentally very good. Their offense stresses every gap and every player.”
With both teams being able to score on offense almost at will in contrasting styles, defense will be key once again.
Naeger is impressed with the Panthers defense, which enters the game allowing just 13 points per contest.
“Their defense is multiple and they do a great job with their kids flying to the ball,” he said.
Pennewell is the anchor of the Panthers defense with 100 tackles on the season. Max Hays leads the Panthers with seven sacks, while Dawson Shively has a team-high seven interceptions.
Brendan Meyer leads the Warriors defense with 122 tackles, while Jacob Bieser (11) and Owen Schweigert (10) have a combined 21 quarterback sacks on the year.
Regardless of the outcome on the field, Kirby mentioned he wants his team to know just how special they are.
“I am extremely proud of this group of young men,” the Panthers coach said. “They have played such a selfless style all year long. The faith they have for each other and the way they play for each other is amazing. They have accepted every challenge presented to them with great focus and a determination to succeed. They are a special group, no doubt.”
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 3 p.m.