MONROE CITY, Mo. -- Blake Hays and Monroe City football coach David Kirby enjoyed the moment for a split second.
Fullback Cole Pennewell punched in a 6-yard touchdown run that put the Panthers ahead by two touchdowns over East Buchanan. Monroe City was 41 seconds away from a second straight trip to the Class 1 state championship game.
Hays, the Monroe City quarterback, ran to the sideline to get the play call for the two-point try after the touchdown.
While Kirby was giving Hays instructions, both smiled and shared a quick hug.
"That was kind of an emotional moment," Hays said. "I try not to get too emotional, but we're going back."
Gage Bottoms converted the two-point attempt and put the finishing touches on top-ranked Monroe City's 28-14 victory in Saturday's state semifinal game at Lankford Field. Monroe City (14-0) will play Ste. Genevieve Valle (12-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
"It's awesome to see what these kids have done to buy into this program," Kirby said. "To see (Hays) come over, we did have that one quick moment before we were like, ‘OK, let's finish this off.'"
Two batted passes on the final plays of the game from the Monroe City defense left no doubt in the result.
The Panthers' defense was like that all game against a Bulldogs' no-huddle offense that averaged 35.4 points and nearly 375 yards per game this season.
After East Buchanan running back Wyatt Shepherd scored on a 2-yard run to tie the game at 6 with 6:30 remaining in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs (11-3) didn't score again until late in the fourth quarter.
Monroe City's secondary of Dawson Shively, Zach Osborn, Hays and Nehemiah Batsell made it tough for East Buchanan quarterback Tyler Schottel to make passes or for the wide receivers to gain yardage after the catch. Schottel threw for just 222 yards, 70 yards fewer than his season average. He also didn't have a touchdown pass after throwing 39 entering the game.
"(Defensive coordinator) Brock Edris knew everything they were going to do," Shively said. "He really had us prepared for this game."
That had the Panthers ready to make plays.
Monroe City led 20-6 when East Buchanan took possession with 1:15 remaining in the first half, and the Bulldogs hoped to score before getting the ball back to start the second half. The Bulldogs moved the ball to the Monroe City 27-yard line with 19 seconds remaining when Schottel threw a pass to the end zone intended for 6-foot-6 receiver Ethan Kilgore. Shively, however, muscled his way to intercept the ball at the goal line and helped protect a two-score lead into halftime.
"I knew I was going to be in position," Shively said. "When they threw it up, I just had to get to the high point before (Kilgore) did."
Monroe City still led 20-6 after a lackluster third quarter, but East Buchanan was just outside the Panthers' 30 two plays into the fourth quarter. Osborn, however, jumped a route and picked off Schottel to thwart the drive.
"For some reason, people think these kids can't play defense, and it shocks me," Kirby said. "They're committed to success and working hard to put them in a successful position."
One more successful defensive effort may have Monroe City winning its first state title since 1996.
"It felt good to be able to control the ball today," said Pennewell, who finished with 183 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns. "It felt good to lead the team."
Monroe City 28, East Buchanan 14
14 First downs 16
20-54 Rushes-yards 61-362
222 Passing yards 15
276 Total yards 377
25-37-2 Comp-Att-Int 1-2-0
3-1 Fumbles-lost 1-1
5-47 Penalties-yards 8-68
Monroe City 6 14 0 8--28
East Buchanan 6 0 0 8--14
M--Zach Osborn 2 run (run failed), 9:53
E--Wyatt Shepard 2 run (pass failed), 6:30
M--Cole Pennewell 1 run (Pennewell run), 7:57
M--Keenan Batsell 17 run (run failed), 1:25
E--Alex Lang 2 run (Tyler Schottel pass), 5:56
M--Pennewell 6 run (Gage Bottoms run), 0:41
RUSHING--East Buchanan, Lang 4-18, Tristin Smith 4-15, Shepard 3-1, Schottel 3-(-5), Kade Mann 2-4, Seth Kenagy 1-2, Nick Arnold 2-1, Monroe City, Pennewell 34-183, Bottoms 10-67, Osborn 9-62, Blake Hays 4-29, Keenan Batsell 3-21, Nehemiah Batsell 1-0.
PASSING--East Buchanan, Schottel 25-37-222-2. Monroe City, Hays 1-2-15-0.
RECEIVING--Ethan Kilgore 6-61, Carter Cornelius 5-53, Conner Karl 6-66, Kenagy 3-11, Mann 1-1, Smith 3-25, Owen Fortney 1-14, Monroe City, N. Batsell 1-15.