It may not have been the prettiest sight to behold on Saturday, but it's all the same to Marceline.
With a 20-7 victory over South Callaway in Mokane, the Tigers advance to the Class 1 semifinal versus Lincoln next Saturday.
The Tigers, for the second straight week, won by two scores while being offensively out-gained.
South Callaway put together one many sustained but fruitless drives to begin the game. The Bulldogs took the ball to the Marceline 21-yard line on a 23-yard Hayden Vaught rush before quarterback Cole Shoemaker coughed it up on an option play. Marceline senior Cullen Bruner recovered.
The Bulldogs were plagued by turnovers on Saturday. They lost five fumbles and threw a desperation-time interception. All three of Marceline's touchdowns were the result of South Callaway turnovers.
Marceline was turnover-free.
With 2:39 remaining in the first quarter, Marceline got the first of its three scores when South Callaway's Nick Mealy failed to reel in a pitch and Freddie Bascus recovered in the endzone. The Tigers gave the Bulldogs awful field position on a booming Bruner punt that rolled to the 3-yard line.
Two drives later, South Callaway lost a fumble at their own 41 in identical fashion on the exact same play. Bascus again recovered.
"A big part of that is our guys being in the correct position to recover those fumbles," Marceline head coach Mark Ross said. "Guys are doing their jobs, and they have the mentality that when the ball is on the ground, they'd better come up with it. We had pivotal moments on special teams as well, but we definitely missed some opportunities. As a coach, it's kind of a double-edged sword -- it's both frustrating and relieving to know how easy a lot of our offensive faults should be to shore up."
Following the fumble recovery, Marceline dug into its bag of tricks to come up with its biggest play of the game. Senior quarterback Alex McCauslin found sophomore Wyatt Molloy laterally in the flats, and Molloy hit Bruner for a 37-yard catch-and-run. Bruner appeared to be across the goal line, but was marked out just short.
He scored on a direct snap the following play.
"Everybody was doing their job to make sure that they made the best of any mistake that (South Callaway) might make," Molloy said. "We had to stay true, and we focused on making the most of anything that they gave us."
South Callaway again entered deep plus territory the following drive. After converting a 4th and 2, the Bulldogs were on the Marceline 16 before the drive stalled. The Tigers took it to the half from there.
Down 13-0, the Bulldogs began the second half with a surprise onside kick that squirmed around and remained unrecovered for six seconds, but Marceline recovered.
Bruner missed 44-yard field goal attempts on consecutive possessions. Both had plenty of leg, but were wide left.
With five minutes remaining in the game, one final turnover dug the Bulldogs' grave. Marceline punted, and the ball bounced off the foot of a South Callaway blocker.
The Tigers recovered at the South Callaway 10 and Bruner scored another direct-snap touchdown to give Marceline a 20-0 lead.
"Going into halftime, we felt pretty good about where we were," South Callaway head coach Zack Hess said. "We knew that, even with bad turnovers, we were still very much in the game. We got bitten by a trick play, and beyond that, we were stout. We came up with some big stops, but on the other side of the ball we shot ourselves in the foot whenever we got any traction. A ton of credit goes to Marceline's defense for making big play after big play."
With 1:47 showing in the fourth quarter, Shoemaker connected with Jasper Rees for a touchdown, but it was too little, too late. South Callaway could not recover the onside kick, and after burning all of its timeouts, got the ball back with 1:12 before throwing an interception.
After the 23-yard South Callaway rush on one of the first plays from scrimmage, senior linebacker and leading tackler Colby Sims said that his guys on the outside did an outstanding job of ensuring it wouldn't happen again.
"They kept hitting it up the gut, and our secondary really funneled everything to the inside, so as far as play calling, that definitely made life easier on our coaches," Sims said. "When the sideline is shut down like that, it's a little weight off the shoulders of the guys in the middle."
Marceline advances to 12-1, while South Callaway ends its season 6-7.
The Tigers last played in a state semifinal in 2015 when they lost to Valle Catholic, 16-13.