MONROE CITY, Mo. -- Nehemiah Batsell remembers the feeling watching the Monroe City football team beat Lincoln in last year's Class 1 state semifinal game at Lankford Field.
"I was the kid watching in the student section," Batsell said. "They played tough football, and I knew right then and there I wanted to be on this football team."
Batsell transferred from Fort Zumwalt West to Monroe City during the postseason and wasn't eligible to play football because of Missouri State High School Activities Association rules. He was still interested in playing because his cousin, Keenan, was a fullback on the junior varsity team.
"I remember (Nehemiah) came out and watched practice, and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?'" Monroe City coach David Kirby said. "Keenan said it was his cousin, so I was like, ‘You, come here,' and he was telling me he was from St. Louis.
"That's when we started to give each other some grief. He'd ask why we don't run the spread. I said, ‘We do run the spread. We spread it out to all these running backs.' It was a good initial joke."
It also was the origin of Kirby's nickname for Nehemiah -- St. Louis.
Nehemiah eventually worked his way into the starting lineup for the season opener but was used sparingly in Monroe City's 44-36 victory over Clark County. Two weeks later, he had three catches for 48 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown grab.
"He's really developed into a good player," Kirby said. "We're starting to see a better player week in and week out."
Nehemiah is the leading pass catcher for the top-ranked Panthers, who play Ste. Genevieve Valle in the Class 1 state championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field. He has 18 catches for 298 yards with five touchdowns.
"My motivation is the senior class this year," Nehemiah said. "I want to help get them as far as they can. They made it to the big game last year, but this year I feel like it's their year."
Since district play began in October, Keenan also helped the Panthers. Fullback Cole Pennewell, the Clarence Cannon Conference Player of the Year, came down with mononucleosis during the week before the district title game against South Shelby. That thrust Keenan into the starting lineup, and he gained 122 yards and added a 56-yard touchdown run. Nehmeiah had a 25-yard touchdown catch, too.
"That was a huge challenge," said Keenan, who also had a 26-yard touchdown run in the semifinals against East Buchanan. "I had to adjust to a new offensive line. In junior varsity, we don't have tougher plays like varsity. But I just wanted to help the team any way I could."
The cousins are eager to play Saturday.
"It's been a dream to play with my cousin," Nehemiah said. "We always talked about that. It's special to be going to the big game. (Keenan) was there last year, and I get to be there with him this year."