For the sixth consecutive season, the Tigers will play in a district championship game.
Marceline's football team rode a dominant second half to victory on Friday night, defeating third-seeded Gallatin 29-0 at home. The Tigers earn a hot date against Penney next week, also to be played at Chester Ray Stadium. Penney defeated top-seeded Milan in overtime on Friday.
"I thought our guys were tremendous tonight," Marceline coach Mark Ross said. "We responded against a big, physical team, and we didn't let them get out into space. We did a good job of containing them tonight."
The Tigers got things rolling early against Gallatin. After allowing a few seemingly routine first downs, senior defensive lineman Seth Cupp forced a fumble from the hands of the run-heavy Bulldogs, and Cullen Bruner recovered.
A few plays later, Marceline quarterback Chase Billups linked up with Clayton Stallo for 14 yards to put the Tigers in position to convert a crucial third down. Bruner broke free down the right sideline from 17 yards out to give the Tigers an early 6-0 lead.
"I can't tell you how huge that was," Ross admitted. "The first handful of games, we've given up scoring drives to begin the game. It looked like it was going that way again, and I think that fumble recovery changed the game in our favor for the rest of the night."
The only other score of the first half came well after. With 4:07 remaining in the second quarter, Billups completed a 20-yard pass over the middle to Stallo in single coverage. After rising up and snatching the ball out of the air, Stallo rumbled the rest of the way unscathed to the end zone for a 66-yard catch and run.
Stallo intercepted an errant throw three plays later, but a long return was called back as the result of a block in the back. The Bulldogs completed just 21 passes throughout the season entering Friday night's game, but passed 11 times on Friday night, completing four of those attempts. Gallatin turned the football over twice, and the Tigers coughed it up once.
"We knew in the first half that we got the job done, and we got a little lead," Stallo said. "We knew that we couldn't come out flat in the second half. We knew they'd be ready, and we had to bring the same amount of heat. We didn't have to do anything special, but we had to do our job, and that's how we did it."
After returning the kick to begin the second half, the Tigers struck again before the Bulldogs had any chance to make adjustments. A 23-yard pass to Desmond Fessler was followed immediately by a 42-yard touchdown pass to wide open Stallo. Marceline's final touchdown came near the end of the quarter when Bruner all but walked into the end zone from 19 yards out.
The Tigers added a field goal with only a few minutes remaining to give Friday night's game its final score.
Billups, who holds nearly all of Marceline's passing records, set a new one by tossing the rock for 321 yards on Friday night, a single-game high. He finished 14-of-22.
"He's legit," his classmate Cupp said. "We knew he was legit since we were in middle school."
Marceline finished with 428 yards of total offense to Gallatin's 183. Bruner rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries. The Tigers held the Bulldogs' dynamic rushing attack to just 143 yards.
Marceline held the Gallatin feature back, who entered the game just shy of quadruple-digit yards, to just 59.
"We knew their best running back (Graydee Rains) was big, and personally, I've wrestled him before," Cupp said. "He's a very physical wrestler, and I knew that would carry over to the football field. Our defense locked him down and shut him out. We've faced a lot of good backs this year, and we knew what we were getting ourselves into tonight, and we took care of business.
"We played to the highest potential we've played to yet this season, and I believe we're only getting better."