Players up and down the Panthers roster made big plays to clinch their first state championship since 1996 and third in school history.
Nehemiah Batsell may have saved Monroe City from the agony of having to painfully watch another team celebrate a state championship for the second straight season.
Batsell’s interception with just over nine minutes left in the Class 1 title game Saturday at Faurot Field helped secure the Panthers thrilling 12-7 win over perennial power Valle Catholic.
It was Monroe City’s first state championship since 1996 and third in school history.
But the Panthers needed other big plays throughout the game to come away victorious.
Here’s a second look:
Batsell’s first interception came on the first play from scrimmage for the Warriors. Valle Catholic built some early momentum after stopping Monroe City on fourth-and-4 with a quarterback sack. The turnover on downs gave the Warriors potent offense great field position at their own 44-yard line.
Although Monroe City was unable to capitalize on the interception, it prevented the Warriors from making an early statement and also gave the Panthers defense more confidence.
Valle Catholic scored on its second possession for a 7-0 lead. Monroe City turned the ball over on downs for the third straight possession, giving the ball back to the Warriors.
Again the Panthers defense stepped up and halted further momentum.
This time it was Dawson Shively who came up with a big interception. The interception gave Shively eight on the season, which broke Jamar White’s single-season record of seven.
With the Warriors inside the Monroe City 30 and looking to extend their lead, the senior safety stepped in front of a Mason Skaggs pass and returned it down to the Warriors 35.
The next play, Cole Pennewell rumbled 35 yards to the end zone to pull the Panthers to within 7-6.
After forcing a punt, Monroe City took over from its own 3. On the sixth play of the drive, the Panthers faced fourth-and-1 from their own 23.
Unless a team trails in the fourth quarter and needs to move the chains to stay alive, most would punt the ball away in this situation.
But most teams also do not have Cole Pennewell to hand the ball off to.
Without hesitation, the Panthers rolled the dice and went for it on fourth down.
Pennewell moved the chains with a 2-yard gain.
Monroe City did not score on the drive, but it proved they could move the ball against the Warriors defense.
The drive also chewed up nearly eight minutes off the clock. By the time Valle Catholic ended the 18-play drive, there were only 34 seconds left in the first half.
Valle Catholic received the second half kick, leading the Panthers 7-6.
The Monroe City defense set the tone on the opening drive. Pennewell came up with a quarterback sack for a 13-yard loss on second down.
Then on third-and-27, Batsell swatted away a pass from Skaggs to force yet another punt.
The Panthers were forced to punt on their next possession. Backed up near his own goal line, Batsell had to leap to prevent the snap from sailing into the end zone. Under duress, Batsell was able to punt the ball out to the 46.
A couple possessions later he pulled off another punt in similar fashion. It wasn’t near his goal line, but he had to leap to haul in the snap before booming a 50-yard punt.
After the first punt, Valle Catholic started its possession in Panthers territory.
On second down, Brad Cheek busted through the line for a tackle in the backfield. Nolan Pennewell, the Panthers third-down specialist on defense, sacked Skaggs for a 10-yard loss.
On the punt attempt, Cole Pennewell shot through an open gap and blocked the punt, giving the Panthers all the momentum they would need to break through.
Blake Hays only completed two passes in the game. But his final completion was his biggest. On third-and-9, Hays found Gage Bottoms in the flat for a 19-yard gain. The first down gave the Panthers fourth-and-goal from the 6. Bottoms barreled his way into the end zone on the next play for the game-winning score.
Bottoms finished the game with 75 yards rushing.
On the Warriors next possession, Max Hays and Brayden Osborn busted through the line for a near sack. Skaggs somehow escaped being broke to the ground, but his throw to the sidelines with no receiver in the vicinity resulted in an intentional grounding call. Valle Catholic went from second-and-2 to having a third-and-27.
After Valle Catholic forced the Panthers into a second straight punt, the Warriors offense finally got on track. Skaggs completed back-to-back passes of 33 and 31 yards, aided by a couple missed tackles, setting up first-and-goal.
The drive ended with Batsell’s miraculous stealing of the ball from Tyler Blum on fourth-and-goal, but Batsell made another play on the drive.
On third-and-goal from the 10, Skaggs dropped back for a pass but could not find an open receiver. The Warriors quarterback pulled the ball down and sprinted down the sideline. For a moment it looked like Skaggs may have had an opening to score, but Batsell made the tackle at the 4.
Then the play of the year happened.
The Panthers chewed up another eight minutes off the clock before turning the ball over on downs at the Warriors 10 with 95 ticks left to play. It was only fitting for Shively to end the game with his second interception, sending the 2,000-plus fans decked in black and gold into a frenzy on the visitor sidelines.