Move over Jefferson City Jays and Kansas City Rockhurst Hawklets. Take a back seat for now, Lee's Summit West Titans, Blue Springs South Wildcats, Maryville Spoofhounds and Lamar Tigers.
From former large-school multiple- state champions like Jeff City and Rockhurst to a trio of reigning state champions last weekend in Blue Springs South (Class 6), Lee's Summit West (Class 5) and Lamar (Class 2), all of these aforementioned Missouri high school football powers have to be ranked behind the Webb City Cardinals in current and past championship hardware.
After turning back the pesky Jeff. City Helias Catholic Crusaders 28-14 in the Missouri Class 4 state championship final game last Friday evening in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, the Webb City Cardinals staked claim to their fourth consecutive state title and extended their Missouri mark for total state titles, among the three largest classes (6, 5 and 4) to 12. Overall, Class 1 powerhouse Valle Catholic, which won another state title this year also has 12. The Jefferson City Jays and the Kansas City Rockhurst Hawklets,two perennial state contenders have 10 and nine, respectively. But neither of those teams boast four consecutive crowns.
"I can't fathom what it's like being here," said Webb City senior running back Logan Cloyd. "It's just insane."
"When you're a senior all eyes are on you," said fellow senior Webb City running back Trey Parra, who rushed for a game-high 154 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns. "We do it for the tradition of Webb City."
But it was evident early on that if Webb City would win this year's Class 4 title, it would be more than a glorified scrimmage. Jeff City Helias took the opening drive and marched 70 yards on seven plays, capped off by a 12-yard run by Garret Buschjost to go up 7-0 following the extra point kick by J.C. Szumigala.
"At times we played really well," said Helias coach Phil Pitts. "At times we had that A-game."
But Helias was up against a relentless champion in Webb City, which has been down this road before. Thus after allowing that opening scoring drive, Webb City head coach John Roderique and defensive coordinator Mike Smith decided to switch from a conventional four-man defensive front to a three-man front to allowing 199 yards the rest of the way, after those 70 yards on the first possession. Buschjost had rushed for 53 yards on just a half-dozen attempts on that drive, but was held to just 88 yards rushing on 26 carries the rest of the way, as defensive ends Richard Humphrey and Alex Lane-Mandeville combined for 12 tackles, right behind team leader Steven Moore's eight solos.
"You always have to be prepared and we tell our kids to be ready to run whatever we've got at our disposal," said Roderique. "We couldn't stay in what we were doing so we had to make a change."
Meanwhile on the offensive end, Webb City struck for its first touchdown with 3 minutes 26 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Parra tallied from a yard out, finishing a seven-play, 43-yard drive. However, the extra point kick was no good, so Helias still led, albeit 7-6.
But the Cardinals next scoring drive was more methodical and time-consuming, as they went 93 yards on 11 plays,in taking 4:51 off the clock before scoring on a 16-yard run off a reverse by Kiante Hardin with 6:21 left before the half. Webb City then converted the two-point play as well, as Parra caught a pass from Devin Pickett to give the Cardinals a 14-7 lead in which they held at the half and throughout the scoreless third quarter. Helias then tied it 14-14 with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard dive by Buschjo to and Szumigala's kick to complete a 12-play, 70-yard drive.
But Helias gave Webb City a short field to work with on the ensuing possession as late-game hero Hardin returned an already short kickoff 66 yards to the Crusaders 19 yard line, with Parra eventually scoring on an 8-yard run with 7:20 left. Spencer's kick made 21-14.
"That was huge," said Roderique of the pivotal run back. "That might have been the biggest play of the game. They tied it up and had the momentum...then we get that and it lets get the lead back."
But Webb City's defense came up with another clutch moment, which would set up the Cardinals insurance touchdown: On 4th-and-1 on Webb City's 47, Buschjo was stopped inches short of a first down by Humphrey's tackle. Three plays later, Parra registered his third touchdown of the game, from 45 yards out with 3:32 remaining. Befitting its relentless, methodical ground attack, Webb City amassed all 328 offensive yards on the ground, in contrast to the balanced Helias attack, where quarterback Wyatt Porter completed 10-of-25 for 142 yards, while sustaining three sacks and two interceptions.
Helias would mount one last rally to pull to try to pull to within a touchdown of Webb City but a desperation pass by Wyatt Porter was picked off by Hardin and returned 22 yards to the Helias 40 with just 59 seconds left.
"That number 5 (Hardin) killed us," said Pitts, referring to the reverse touchdown run, the momentum-killing return and the game-ending pick.
For his part, Hardin, a junior, was just elated to be a member of yet another state champion.
"It's so amazing it's hard to describe," said Hardin. "On the interception, I just tried to read where the quarterback was going to throw it, then I make my move."
After losing the title game the last two seasons to Webb City and again in 2008 (41-34), the Cardinals have now completed the three-peat of the Crusaders in championship finals. But if Webb City is to claim a fifth straight title it may be up in Class 5, as the Cardinals may be moving up to comply with an enrollment increase.
"They've got our number," said Pitts. "If they go up to Class 5, I'll wish them the best of luck."
But despite the fact that Webb City has set a standard that transcends classifications and Helias played them considerably closer than most teams have in recent years, the Jeff. City coach sees no moral triumph in finishing as state runner-up, even to a budding dynasty.
"I take some consolation in that I got a lot of good kids," said Pitts. (But) we wanted to win a state championship, not come second, not come close."
Conversely all Webb City has known lately is first place.