The Monroe City football team picked off Valle Catholic four times Saturday to secure a 12-7 win in the Class 1 state championship.
Dawson Shively missed last year’s state championship loss to Penney due to an injury.
The Panthers safety more than made up for it Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia.
Shively intercepted Valle Catholic’s Mason Skaggs with 26 seconds left at the Warriors’ 44-yard line to secure the Panthers 12-7 win in the Class 1 title game.
Monroe City (15-0) won its first state title since 1996 as the Panthers denied Valle Catholic of its 15th championship.
“My team really put me in that position,” Shively said of the state-clinching pick. “And (because of them) I was able to go and make a play and use the ability God has given me and help us win. I am just so overwhelmed with happiness right now.”
It was Shively’s second interception of the game as the senior finished with nine on the season.
Not to be outdone, Nehemiah Batsell also came up with a pair of interceptions for the Panthers defense. Batsell’s second pick proved to be the biggest game-changing play.
Trailing by five with just over nine minutes remaining, Valle faced fourth-and-goal from the Panthers 4. Skaggs lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone for Tyler Blum. The 6-foot-3-inch Warriors receiver leaped over Batsell for the ball. But the 5-9 Panthers defensive back would not be denied as he stripped the ball away from Blum for an interception and touchback.
“I just smashed that ball straight out of his hands,” Batsell said of the interception. “When the ball was in the air I didn’t see it, I just saw his hands. Coach (Brock Edris) always says to just go up and make a play.”
Although Batsell went to the turf with possession of the ball, he was unsure how the officials would rule the play.
“After I took it from him, I was looking because I didn’t know if they were going to say he came up with it (first) or not,” he explained. “I made a big play and I just wanted to do it for my seniors.”
Batsell was not the only person unsure of how the play would be ruled.
“Oh my goodness,” Panthers coach David Kirby said. “I saw the ball go to the corner and then it was kind of jumbled for a moment. Then I see Nehemiah come up with the ball. I was waiting for the call and then when they motioned for a touchback, I was like ‘Holy cow, we just got the ball back now let’s go finish this thing off.’”
The Panthers offense nearly ran the last 9:12 off the clock.
Monroe City picked up five first downs as it marched down inside the Warriors red zone. But with 1:35 remaining, the Valle Catholic defense came away with its fifth fourth-down stop of the game, giving them one final shot.
Shively’s interception came one play after the Warriors converted a fourth-and-12.
Gage Bottoms gave the Panthers a 12-7 lead on a 6-yard scoring run with 3:35 left in the third.
The game-winning score came one play after Bottoms took a pass from Blake Hays for a 19-yard gain on third-and-9.
“We talked about it all season, Cole (Pennewell) and Zach (Osborn) get a lot of the attention on offense, which allows some of our other backs to have some success,” Kirby said. “(On the touchdown) we knew Cole would carry out a great fake and Gage could carry out a great run and that’s what we did.”
The play capped a 6-play, 39-yard drive.
Bottoms finished the game with 75 yards rushing on 11 totes.
The short drive was created when Pennewell blocked the Warriors punt on the previous possession.
“On the previous punt I noticed their center just ran down the center of the field and didn’t close the gap,” Pennewell explained. “He’s a small guy, not really a threat, so I decided to go for it and just shoot the gap and it ended up working.”
Shively’s first interception set up the Panthers first score.
With Valle Catholic leading 7-0, Shively stepped in front of a Warriors receiver and returned the pick to the Valle Catholic 35.
“Coach Edris did a great job of giving us these new defenses to work on this week,” Shively said. “We knew what schemes to be in with their alignment and he had us in the right position to make plays all game.”
Pennewell found the end zone on the very next play to trim the deficit to 7-6 with 9:41 left in the first half. The Panthers senior fullback finished with a game-high 148 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
Pennewell, who entered the game with 1,448 yards on the season, mentioned Saturday’s game was a business trip for the Panthers.
“We came into this game knowing we just didn’t come here to play a game, we came here to win this thing,” the senior said.
Valle Catholic (12-2) entered the game with just under 250 passing yards per game.
The Monroe City defense limited the Warriors to 175 yards through the air and just 32 on the ground.
“You put a challenge in front of these kids and they step up and accept it,” Kirby said of his defense. “They went out and put a complete game together and just stepped up all the way around. For their hard work, they get to be called state champions.”