Valle Catholic won their 14th state title on Saturday, November 28th at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The Warriors defeated Penney High School of Hamilton, MO with a decisive 61-36 win.
Photo courtesy of Jason Viox
Great season! Proud of you, Coach Judd Naeger, your staff and your team of Warriors. Congratulations to all.
Matt King’s game story:
The inability to finish drives in narrow playoff victories over Thayer and Marceline forced the Valle Catholic football team to rediscover its identity this week for another encounter with destiny.
The Warriors responded on Saturday afternoon with a performance worthy of their undeniable dynasty, scoring on seven of nine possessions with a potent rushing attack showing the way.
“We wanted to make their inside linebackers run a lot sideways. Our outside zone was really good for us today,” said 12th-year head coach Judd Naeger. “We like to run the football and we kind of got away from it at times this year… Today, we got back to who we are.”
Connor Basler passed for three touchdowns while keeping for two more, and Valle Catholic vanquished recent postseason nemesis Penney (Hamilton) 61-36 at the MSHSAA Class 1 Show-Me Bowl.
The Warriors (15-0) completed a third consecutive perfect season with their 45th straight win. The 14th state championship in program history is their fifth in six years and most among Missouri high schools.
“It’s a great feeling knowing we had to fight and claw our way through those last two games,” senior tackle Matthew Skaggs said. “Being able to come out and run the ball like we did today was more of a confident booster for us linemen, because we hadn’t been able to do that as well as we liked.”
Valle Catholic, which posted a 458-349 margin in total yardage, turned three first-half Penney (11-4) turnovers directly into 21 points and struck just 30 seconds into the contest.
Junior defensive end Cole Keeley returned a lunging interception 30 yards to the end zone that Hornets quarterback Jaran Richman tried to discard under pressure from the pocket.
Converted receiver Nick Oberle provided a major boost in the backfield with 143 yards on 15 carries. He gained 30 yards on the initial Valle snap from scrimmage.
Basler cashed in the 7-play drive with an 8-yard run, then connected with Tristan Rollhaus from 10 yards out following a Carl Loida fumble recovery for a 21-0 advantage less than six minutes into the action.
“You can’t turn the ball over and have to make some stops,” Penney coach Caleb Obert said. “I thought we did a little better job in the second half. We played hard until the end.”
The Hornets rallied on the ensuing series with a leaping 37-yard catch by 6-foot-5 tight end Telly Harper on fourth down. That would set up an amazing highlight for Penney in defeat.
Sophomore Latroy Harper elevated on a fade route, and snatched a 1-handed, 5-yard touchdown that ended with a hard landing on his back. The replay was later featured on national television by ESPN.
“Not much,” Harper said grinning when asked how often he practices such plays. “I just focus on the ball and watching it all the way into my hands.”
Valle Catholic players also admired that display of athleticism, but were undeterred in taking full control as Basler bounced outside for a 1-yard touchdown on the next possession.
Garrett Jaegers corralled an overthrown ball and raced down the left sideline with downfield blocking for a 48-yard pick six, and the Warriors overcame an ensuing third-and-23 situation after a punt fake backfired on Penney.
Jaegers covered 20 yards on a rocket screen before a quick toss to Rollhaus advanced the chains. Wood caught a 13-yard slant wide open to establish a safe 41-8 advantage.
“You want to keep the ball out of their hands, obviously, and not give them a short field. But at the same time you’ve got to play to win,” Obert said. “We wanted to give ourselves a shot. It didn’t work out for us.”
Penney answered with a 5-yard scoring run from Timothy East after LaTroy Harper elusively returned a rare punt 43 yards to the Valle 7.
But the Warriors got a 3-yard scamper from Oberle with 19 seconds left until halftime for a decisive 47-14 margin. His previous 38-yard burst on the drive was the Warriors’ longest play from scrimmage.
“This week, we were going with a lot of Frankenstein, which is where I’m at,” Oberle said regarding his role in a specific offensive package. “I just had to trust my O-linemen to block.”
Oberle filled a necessary void after junior Tristan Huck was limited in mobility despite being medically cleared. Senior captain Lee Stuppy was lost to a broken leg during the preseason jamboree.
- subtitles off
- captions off
Basler still found enough available targets, and finished 9-of-15 overall for 131 yards. Wood got behind the defense for a 26-yard TD in the third quarter, and Rollhaus tallied a team-high four receptions.
“It’s great just having the great group of guys that I’ve been with for those three (championship) years,” Basler said. “To go out on top as seniors means a lot.”
Korby Ford countered a 2-yard touchdown and subsequent 2-point conversion to stop a running clock at 54-22, but Penney managed just 105 rushing yards overall.
LaTroy Harper continued to dazzle in the fourth quarter. He escaped an immediate hit after reeling in a low throw, then sprinted 80 yards on his fifth reception to close the scoring.
“We had to stop (Harper) or at least give them the idea that two guys were always around him,” Naeger said. “And then we felt like we needed to stop the pitch on option plays.”
Basler capped a stellar final season with 58 touchdown passes and 3,401 yards. He was the game’s top rusher on Saturday with 144 yards on 21 attempts.
Senior linebacker Kurtis Meyer was involved in 10 tackles and Jacob Friend recorded a sack in the win. Four-year place kicker Devon Kutz was perfect on seven extra points.
The Warriors reached their seventh state final in a row, and exacted a measure of revenge against the same Penney program that derailed their title aspirations in 2009 and 2012.
“They have some great athletes,” Naeger said. “But our kids had a really, really great week of practice. They had a championship week of practice.”
Naeger and his former teammates and coaches from the 1995 Valle Catholic state championship team were honored on the field prior to the contest.
Richman completed 13-of-24 passes for 199 yards while senior defensive end Mason McFall notched 12 tackles and a sack for the Hornets.
Huck netted the final Valle Catholic points to make it 61-22 with 11:14 to play, using second effort to spin across the goal line on a short run.