The Monroe City defense went into lockdown mode in the state quarterfinals to keep the Panthers playoff run alive and well.
In what is beginning to sound like a broken record, the Monroe City defense heard the doubts heading into Saturday’s game against Westran. The Hornets’ highly-touted spread offense entered the Class 1 state quarterfinal game averaging over 43 points per game in three district wins. Included in those wins were a 40-point performance against No. 7 state ranked Fayette and 42 against No. 2 ranked Marceline.
Again, the Monroe City defenders accepted the challenge.
Hornets quarterback Alex Young, who entered the game with nearly 1,600 passing yards on the season and 1,200 more on the ground, passed for 108 and ran for just 12 yards.
All but 18 of Young’s passing yards came in the first half, and the Panthers defense tackled the signal caller three times behind the line of scrimmage for minus-4 yards in the second half.
“I don’t think our defense gets the credit they deserve,” Panthers coach David Kirby said. “They have played physical all year long.”
Westran did deliver the first punch on Saturday. The Hornets turned an interception on defense into a touchdown on offense for a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
On third-and-11, Young threw one up in the end zone to his favorite receiver, Chris Evans. The 6-foot-2 receiver came down with an impressive grab over a pair of Panther defenders for the 28-yard score.
The score lit a fire under the Panthers.
Westran managed to gain just 64 yards from scrimmage and just one first down over the final 34 minutes of the game.
“The boys tightened up their chinstraps and started to play more physical,” Kirby said of after the touchdown. “Our defense was all over the place making plays. The guys really stepped up their game and that is what you need playing at this time of the season.”
The Monroe City offense used big play after big play for 30 straight points to end the first half.
The Hornets tried to regain some momentum in the final seconds, but again the Monroe City defense stepped up.
After Young hooked up with Evans for a 29-yard gain, the Hornets had the ball at the Panthers 26 with just seven ticks left until halftime.
Young scrambled around in the pocket before rolling out to his right and tossed the ball to the corner of the end zone, looking for Evans again. Panthers safety Dawson Shively was in perfect position as he made a leaping interception in the end zone to end the first half.
“Dawson is a heck of a good football player,” the Panthers coach said. “He studies game film, knows the game plan and plays with a mean streak. Defensively he just seems to be in the mix on every play.”
Shively nearly gave the Panthers momentum on the first play of the game. The senior made a bone-crushing hit on the opening kickoff to create a fumble, but the Hornets came away with the loose ball.
Linebacker Cole Pennewell also turned in another stellar game with a pair of pass deflections and two quarterback sacks.
“Cole is just a wrecking ball from his linebacker position,” the Panthers coach said. “He doesn’t get the publicity as other linebackers in our area, but he is right on par with any of them.”
Kirby also wanted to make sure a trio of other defenders get some recognition for their performance on Saturday.
“I have to give a shout out to Brayden Osborn, Hunter Lilly and Nathan Mehrer,” the coach said. “Brayden and Hunter have gone under the radar all season but played a great game and have had a heck of a year. Nathan has returned from an early season injury and has really given us added strength on the defensive side of the ball as well.”
With shutting down the high-powered Hornets offense in all areas of the game, Kirby mentioned it gives his team more confidence heading into the Panthers semifinal game Saturday against East Buchanan.
“I think that was probably one of our best showings of the season,” Kirby stated. “The defense has proven they can rise up to the challenge against every opponent. And this game showed some people that we can play well in all areas of the game. I think it does give us some added confidence moving forward.”
The Class 1 top ranked Panthers (13-0) will play host to East Buchanan at Lankford Field on Saturday with kickoff at 1 p.m.