MARYVILLE, Mo. — Maryville head coach Matt Webb brought in some guys who know a thing or two about winning big games in a Maryville uniform on Friday night prior to Saturday afternoon's state semifinal game against Cassville.
The Spoofhounds' five state championship winning quarterbacks each addressed the team with 1982's Jon Baldwin, 2009's Marcus Grudzinski, 2012's Jonathan Baker, 2013's Trent Nally and 2017's Will Walker. All, but Nally, addressed the team in person at their Friday night team dinner. Nally left the team a video message.
On Saturday afternoon, junior Connor Drake took a step towards joining that exclusive company as he led the 2020 Spoofhounds to a 30-28 victory in the state semifinals.
After Cassville overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of on-sides kicks and a reverse pass to take a 28-24 lead with 1:07 left in the game.
That set the table for Drake, the team's backup quarterback to begin the season, to lead his normally run-heavy team down the field in the 1-minute drill.
“The message was that it is our time to shine,” Drake said. “That is what you dream of — going down the field with less than a minute to send your team to state.”
Drake opened the drive with a short pass which senior Connor Weiss turned upfield for a 35-yard gain.
“I just ran an out,” Weiss said. “Connor threw a good ball, a little low, right out of the defender's arms, so it was perfectly placed. I just turned back inside, I saw Caleb (Kreizinger) throw a block and I just started running as fast as I can. Somebody caught me from the back — I have no clue how, because that usually doesn't happen.”
After an offsides penalty on Cassville and an incompletion, Drake found senior Trey Houchin for a 12-yard gain. He then connected with senior Caleb Kreizinger for eight more and Kreizinger ducked out of bounds to stop the clock.
Drake went back to Kreizinger on the next play for 18 yards to get Maryville down to the 8-yard line.
On the next play, Drake scrambled to his left to buy time before spotting a wide-open Stoecklein in the back corner of the end zone. Stoecklein hauled in the pass with 11 seconds left.
“On the final play, you got your backup quarterback — having the savvy, the leadership, and just being the calm dude that he is — finding the sophomore receiver in Caden Stoecklein,” Webb said. “They busted the coverage, we made the play, and my heart rate has not quite come down yet.”
The 80-yard drive took six passing plays, 56 seconds and just a touch of Spoofhound 'magic.'
“I grew up here and graduated in 1993,” Webb said. “And every since I've been back, you talk about Hound Pound magic, and that was exactly what was going through my head.”
Now, the 2020 Hounds have gotten a taste of that magic.
“We live for those moments,” Houchin said of watching Stoecklein catch the pass. “That was one of the best moments of my whole life.”
The Wildcats (10-3) seemed to have the magic on their side throughout much of the fourth quarter. With Maryville leading 17-0, the first play of the final 15-minute session was a 1-yard Hayden Sink quarterback sneak for a Cassville touchdown.
Cassville immediately got the ball back with a surprise on-sides kick. Six plays later, Cassville running back Jericho Farris was sprinting into the end zone with a 28-yard touchdown to cut the score to 17-14 with 10:09 to play.
Maryville answered with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive which ate over six minutes off the clock and ended with Houchin scoring from a yard out.
In a game where neither team threw the ball much all season, the last four minutes were an aerial display. Sink threw a sideline route to Drake Reese, where Reese tightroped the sideline then sprinted into the end zone for a 51-yard score.
“The whole year we have faced adversity,” Maryville senior Brady Farnan said. “Through the beginning of the year facing Blair Oaks and having kids out with COVID, it has always been a struggle. It is all about overcoming the adversity.”
Cassville executed another on-sides kick moments later and they reached into the bag of tricks for a reverse with a receiver pass. Reese threw deep to Brett Cooper, who was all alone for a 44-yard touchdown with 1:07 left.
“I thought, we can not repeat Lathrop last year,” Stoecklein said.
Drake and the Spoofhound offense had its response with the 1-minute drill, and the Sink's desperation heave as time expired fell incomplete to send the Spoofhounds back to the state championship game for the first time since 2017.
“This is a group of kids who just love each other, and they want to keep play,” Weeb said. “They find a way to win.”
Drake's big day started early with a 41-yard first quarter touchdown pass to Kade Wilmes in the first quarter.
Weiss hit a 24-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half for a 10-0 lead and then added a 5-yard touchdown run on the Hounds' first drive of the second half.
Maryville is now set to play Blair Oaks, who beat Cardinal Ritter 55-46, next Saturday in Jefferson City for the state championship. Blair Oaks beat Maryville 51-8 in the season opener, but the Hounds were without without several key players including Weiss, Stoecklein, top lineman Blake Casteel.
“It should be a classic,” Webb said.