Marceline will face one of the darlings of the Class 1 tournament when Penney comes to Chester Ray Stadium on Friday night for the District 8 title. Penney pulled the rare four-seed-over-one-seed upset last week in the district semifinal by defeating Milan. The game went into double overtime.
Last week, the Tigers faced a Gallatin team that featured three backs with greater than 600 yards, but none in quadruple figures. The offensive identity of Friday's opponent will be strikingly different.
Penney's Sawyer Morrow, a sophomore wearing number 25, is responsible for well over half of his team's carries and most of its rushing yards by a landslide.
Morrow has carried 272 times for 1442 yards entering Friday night, and he has only been held under 100 yards rushing twice. Morrow, however, has fumbled 10 times on the season.
"The kid's just a sophomore, but he's pretty impressive," Marceline coach Mark Ross said of the 5-foot-10, 172-pound workhorse. "He gets downhill in a hurry, and they do some unique things to get him the ball.
"The biggest thing they have going for them is their front line. It's the best that we've seen in quite a while. They do some things offensively that we'll have to key in on. We're undersized, but our guys have been phenomenal in rolling with the punches and executing."
In last week's game, Marceline's early lead forced a Gallatin team that had completed 21 passes on the season to do just that -- pass the football. Penney is a team with a far less anemic vertical game, and the Hornets are averaging greater than 100 yards per game through the air.
Penney junior quarterback Ryan Cook has 72 completions on the season, and although he has completed just under half of his attempts, his completions average 16 yards per.
Cook and Morrow are also Penney's two best players in the secondary. They enter the game with 54 and 53 tackles, respectively.
Penney senior Tyler Trosper, wearing number 74, is a two-way force for the Hornets at the line of scrimmage, and he makes a lot of their plays go. Trosper enters Friday's game with 29 tackles for loss. Eli Harper, a junior donning the number 53 jersey, leads the team with 68 tackles, but he has made 21 fewer plays in the backfield.
The Tigers' offense will have to be creative in getting its athletes into space on Friday night, and doing so quickly.
"We're looking forward to the challenge, but it's definitely to our advantage to be home again," Ross said entering his team's fifth consecutive home game. "That's huge for us this time of year, and our guys are definitely clicking. When something doesn't work, we have things we can switch up offensively and defensively.
"Penney is very well-balanced all the way around. We've got to find some ways to get pressure on the quarterback, and make him a little uncomfortable. That's a tough challenge with their offensive line."