MONROE CITY, Mo. -- David Kirby has preached to the Monroe City football team this season hard work is rewarded with more hard work.
That rings true more than ever this weekend.
Monroe City returns to the Class 1 state championship game, and the Panthers are looking to avenge last year's 47-14 loss to Penney. Winning a state championship this year, however, means beating the best Class 1 team in the state the last decade in Ste. Genevieve Valle.
The Warriors are playing in their ninth state title game in the last 10 years.
"They're a really good team," Kirby said. "They're the cream of the crop for Class 1. Only two teams have won state in Class 1 the last 10 years and that's Penney and Valle."
The Panthers (14-0) are eager for the challenge.
"I'm pretty excited myself," senior fullback Cole Pennewell said. "I always love a challenge. I think it's going to be a battle."
The two schools have recent history. In 2014, Monroe City lost to Valle 56-18 in the Class 1 District 1 title game. The Warriors won the Class 1 championship that season.
Seniors like Pennewell didn't play much, if at all, in that game, but they believe they're better equipped three years later.
"They took it to us," Pennewell said. "We've gotten better since then. Both teams are different now though."
Still, the Panthers walked away knowing how high the bar is set to be a top team in Class 1A.
"It set a standard that we had to start playing at," Pennewell said. "That shows what kind of level you have to play at."
The level is a high-scoring, spread offense the Warriors feature. They're averaging 43 points in four postseason victories.
Quarterback Mason Skaggs has thrown for 2,733 yards with 30 touchdowns. His favorite target -- wide receiver Tyler Blum -- has 52 catches for 954 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Warriors don't solely rely on the pass, as running back Carter Roth has 842 yards on 130 carries with 16 touchdowns. Skaggs also has 501 yards and 12 touchdowns on 131 carries.
Monroe City's last two opponents -- East Buchanan and Westran -- both ran spread offenses, which has the Panthers adequately prepared to see another.
Defensive back Dawson Shively leads the Panthers with seven interceptions.
Valle has allowed only 1,244 rushing yards this season, which is Monroe City's priority on offense.
Running back Zach Osborn leads the Panthers with 1,527 rushing yards, while Pennewell has 1,448. The duo have combined for 43 rushing touchdowns, and the Panthers have racked up more than 4,500 yards on the ground overall.
"We went down there to win the game last year, but we were young and I think a lot of the guys were awestruck," Kirby said. "This year they understand what it takes to get there and have to be focused.
"We're focused on making sure we're more complete because that's what you have to do if you're going to compete with Valle Catholic."