By Justin Sampson (Ozarks Sports Zone)
SPRINGFIELD — Some games resemble a dance more than a battle. This will not be one of those meetings.
Monett and Maryville did not spend four months running roughshod over 27 of 28 possible opponents using finesse. Anyone associated with either program will tell you it’s gritty, smash mouth, hand-in-the-dirt and push-‘em-where-you-wanna-go football.
Their styles do not clash, as Maryville head coach Matt Webb noted.
“I think we have an excellent team, but at the same time, I see a mirror team when I watch Monett on film,” he said.
It wasn’t long ago that Maryville appeared to be on the Lamar course. The program hired alumnus Matt Webb on April 18, 2012 and did not lose a game for 952 days. It was a state-best 42 straight victories, longer than Lamar’s current streak. They rattled off back-to-back Class 3 State Championships, besting Ezekiel Elliott and John Burroughs before defeating Seneca in 2013.
Locals dubbed the city “Title Town”, given that Northwest Missouri State, less than a mile down the road, produced a Division II National Championship that same season and has since captured
Then two more unbeaten regular seasons gave way to losses in the Class 3 sectionals for the Spoofhounds. They have still yet to lose to a Midland Empire Conference opponent under Webb, but had grown accustomed to the No. 1 ranking in the state.
Here they are back in the championship game, a 14-0 record and just one single-digit spread on their resume.
In that same span since Webb’s hiring, Monett has reached the Class 3 semifinal on three occasions: twice under Chad Depee (2012, 2014) and now under Derek Uhl. Saturday marks the first time they will play for a championship since 1977 and it comes back in the city where the Cubs won their first title in 1971.
The Cubs got here largely thanks to a bruising run game and dynamite defense. They’ve given up a touchdown or less five times with three shutouts, including last Saturday’s semifinal at McCluer South-Berkeley. They’ve averaged 36.5 points per night behind the same offensive line that has helped produce a 2,000-yard running back.
Oh yes, that senior back has already gained a reputation in “Title Town”.
“We’ve seen guys that may be a step faster or quicker or a little more big, but (Michael Branch) has a combination of both,” Webb said. “He’s going to be a load to bring down and we’re going to have a difficult time just getting enough people there.”
Webb believes both Branch and the Monett offensive line are they best his team has faced all season. They haven’t seen many front sevens that can match up physically, but the Cubs, who improved virtually every offensive statistic from last year, appear up to that task.
Still, after giving up under nine points per game, the Spoofhound defense is understandably confident and is looking forward to the challenge of the Monett rush.
“Everyone is saying (Branch) is so good and it puts pressure on us,” LB/RB Elijah Green said. “We know we have the best defense in the state. You want to put him against us? Throw him in and we can see how he does.”
Maryville will plan to throw in plenty of bodies. Their 5,567 total yards and 698 points have been by committee with Green, Bob Bruckner, and Trey Oglesby all rushing fo at least 460 yards. Oglesby has also completed 98 passes for 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The Cubs will have their hands full, but what the defense showed on film left a big impression on Webb.
“I think we play a lot of good defense here, but I’m simply amazed at the level they play at,” he said. “They don’t make mistakes. Depending on what scheme they’re playing, you can tell they’re well-prepared each week and don’t get out-leveraged.”
On the other side, the Cubs obviously aren’t limited to the ground; senior quarterback Ian Meyer has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards with 21 touchdowns. Still, pounding the rock remains their strength, and they’ve done it well enough to play on the sport’s final weekend.
“They’re a run-heavy team which plays right in line with our defense,” Green said. “We’re a big run-stopping team so it should be interesting to see how it plays out and should be a close game.”