WEBB CITY, Mo. — The final home game of the 2023 season was one to remember for the Webb City Cardinals.
With an impressive overall effort, and riding a strong finish, Webb City upended Grain Valley 49-35 on Friday night in a Class 5 quarterfinal at a packed Cardinal Stadium.
“I’m so proud of our players,” Webb City coach Ryan McFarland said. “They played hard. We’ve talked all week about how this was going to be a game with adversity and a lot of swings. We knew they may get some big plays offensively. We told them the team that keeps fighting adversity and doesn’t give up will have a chance to win. I’m proud of the composure our kids showed on the field tonight.”
A back and forth affair throughout, the first ever meeting between the schools was deadlocked at 21 in the third quarter before Webb City finished strong, outscoring the Eagles 28-14 the rest of the way.
And as a result, the Cardinals were the team celebrating the season-saving victory on John Roderique Field, where they completed an undefeated home slate.
“Our seniors were keeping everyone together and the spirits up on the sideline and we never got uptight in the game,” McFarland said. “I think that’s a credit to our leaders.”
Webb City recovered a fumble, fell on an on-side kick and didn’t commit a turnover in the contest.
“The difference was the mistakes,” Grain Valley coach David Allie said. “They didn’t make them and they got our ball a couple of times. That’s the difference. We had some missed opportunities with the fumble and the on-side kick. They didn’t make mistakes and that shows they’re well-coached.”
“It was a pretty clean game for us,” McFarland said. “That goes back to the senior leadership and the kids playing for each other. We challenged them to do their jobs and play hard. If we can have 11 guys playing hard and not taking a play off, good things can happen. Tonight, that happened for us.”
Also key to the win was the fact the Cardinals were able to record a number of third-down conversions, often through the air.
“We spent all summer and all season throwing the ball,” McFarland said. “People asked why are we throwing the ball so much. You have to be able to throw the ball when you need to. We feel confident throwing the ball.”
Webb City (10-2) will travel to conference foe Republic (11-2) next Saturday in the semifinal round of the state tournament. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Webb City is back in the semifinals after a one-year absence.
“I’m happy for the kids to experience this,” McFarland said as a large group of students and parents celebrated with the team on the field. “Webb City Football…this is why you play. You want a chance to win a state championship. They’re keeping that chance alive.”
Facing a second down and 21 deep on the 10, Webb City sophomore quarterback Gabe Johnson sprinted past the defense for a scintillating 90-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive, electrifying the home crowd and giving the Cardinals an early lead.
But Grain Valley needed just five plays to tie it up, as standout senior running back Ty Williams ran for a 46-yard touchdown run with 8:55 remaining in the first quarter.
The Eagles took a 14-7 lead with 4:21 left in the opening frame on senior quarterback Sal Caldarella’s 17-yard touchdown pass to classmate Noah Olah.
Webb City senior running back Omari Jackson broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run with 1:29 left in the first period, and Alex Dunne’s PAT kick tied the score at 14-all.
It looked like the Eagles were about to re-take the lead with just under five minutes left in the first half, but the visitors lost a fumble near the end zone, with Webb City’s Conner Gayman knocking the ball loose and Jordan Howard recovering for a touchback.
The Cardinals took a 21-14 lead with 2:07 remaining in the second quarter when junior Joseph Graffenreid hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Johnson on fourth and 19. The go-ahead score finished off a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
Grain Valley’s Aaron Barr caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Caldarella at the 9:39 mark of the third period, tying the game at 21-21.
But Webb City responded with a pair of crucial touchdowns to take a two-score lead, as sophomore Slade Hurd scored on an 8-yard run and Johnson ripped off an electric 78-yard touchdown sprint.
“The long run by Gabe was a quarterback misdirection play,” McFarland said. “We were waiting for them to over-pursue and we thought that was a good time to call it. It worked out well for us.”
Grain Valley pulled within seven at 35-28 with a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.
Webb City recovered an on-side kick to start the final frame and then took a 42-28 advantage after Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 9:58 remaining.
The Eagles answered with a 71-yard scoring drive, once again pulling within a single TD with just under seven minutes left.
But the Cardinals wouldn’t be denied.
Webb City picked up a huge first down with a third down conversion, once again through the air. This time, Johnson completed a 32-yard pass to senior receiver Payton Marshall, extending the time-consuming drive.
“We didn’t get off the field on third down,” Allie said. “That kills you.”
A few plays later, Webb City put the game away when Hurd charged into the end zone from a yard out, making it 49-35 with just 57 seconds left.
“We have played well in the fourth quarter all year,” McFarland noted. “We’ve had a lot of close games where we’ve been able to pull away in the fourth quarter. The credit goes to the mentality of our kids.”
Grain Valley threatened to score in the final seconds, but Webb City’s defense forced a turnover on downs for the final exclamation point on the victory.
“Our kids fought hard the whole time and we never felt like we were out of it,” Allie noted. “We ran out of time.”
NAMES & NUMBERS
Simply put, the Eagles struggled to slow down Webb City’s split-back veer rushing attack.
Webb City compiled 567 yards on 62 plays, with 447 rushing yards and 120 passing yards.
The speedy Johnson ran for 255 yards on 16 carries, while Jackson added 121 rushing yards on 13 carries. Hurd contributed 54 yards on the ground. Johnson, Jackson and Hurd scored two touchdowns apiece.
“Their offense can control the ball and keep it out of our hands,” Allie said. “Their quarterback is shifty and they run the ball hard.”
Brody Eggleston was credited with 12 tackles and Gayman had seven.
Grain Valley recorded 476 yards on 51 plays, with 282 passing and 194 rushing.
Williams ran for 163 yards on 21 carries with one touchdown. He finished the season with 33 touchdowns and more than 2,400 rushing yards.
Caldarella completed 15 of 25 passes for 282 yards.
Grain Valley ends the season at 10-2. The Eagles, who had won eight straight games ahead of Friday’s clash, lost in the quarterfinals for the fifth straight season.
THIS ‘N THAT
Webb City went 7-0 at home this season.
Webb City last advanced to the semifinals in 2021. Of course, the Cardinals captured a state championship that year, their first in Class 5.
Webb City was in the quarterfinals for the 31st time in school history.
CLASS 5 QUARTERFINAL
WEBB CITY 49, GRAIN VALLEY 35
Grain Valley 14 0 14 7 — 35
Webb City 14 7 14 14 — 49
WC: Gabe Johnson 90 run (Alex Dunne kick)
GV: Ty Williams 46 run (Ben Drinkwater kick)
GV: Noah Olah 17 pass from Sal Caldarella (Drinkwater kick)
WC: Omari Jackson 60 run (Dunne kick)
WC: Joseph DeGraffenreid 23 pass from Johnson (Dunne kick)
GV: Aaron Barr 43 pass from Caldarella (Drinkwater kick)
WC: Slade Hurd 8 run (Dunne kick)
WC: Johnson 78 run (Dunne kick)
GV: Peyton Woodrome 18 pass from Cardarella (Drinkwater kick)
WC: Omari Jackson 1 run (Dunne kick)
GV: Woodrome 24 pass from Cardarella (Drinkwater kick)
WC: Hurd 1 run (Dunne kick)