Despite being less battle-tested over the course of the year, Class 3 No. 2 Maryville reacted far better to a close, tension-filled game in the second half than quarterfinal opponent Kansas City Center.
While the Hounds stepped up their play, Center essentially gave out after the third quarter.
And a game that hung in the balance entering the final quarter tilted decidedly in the Hounds' favor.
Behind a resurgent run game and two of four Yellow Jacket second half turnovers, Maryville exploded for 28 fourth quarter points and turned a one-possession game into a 49-26 run-away in the Class 3 quarterfinals on a windy Saturday afternoon at Jim Hoelzel Stadium.
Maryville (13-0) built as much as a 29-point lead before Center (10-3) scored on the final play of the game to make the final margin closer.
The Hounds advanced to play fellow undefeated California (13-0) in the semifinals Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Hound Pound.
Maryville is now two rounds deeper than it's been either of the last two years in Class 3 and one win away from the state title game.
"Honestly, you can't even put it into words," said Maryville senior quarterback Jonathan Baker who was 9-10 passing with 98 yards, a touchdown and two 1-yard rushing scores. "It's just awesome to see freshman year the success they've had. It's really driven our motivation this year. The past two years Richmond has had our number. We wanted to get past that stage. Getting to the semifinals and being able to host means a lot."
In its toughest playoff game to date, Maryville twice built two possession leads in the first three quarters, but each time Center answered on its next possession, and in fact, had a couple chances to tie it.
The Hounds clung to a 21-14 lead going into the fourth quarter, at which point, they took over, outscoring Center 28-6 over the next 10 minutes.
Two of the team's four fourth quarter touchdowns and three in the second half came off turnovers, including an interception return by Tyler Kenkel.
Maryville also rushed the ball much more effectively in the second half, churning out 184 of its 273 yards against a defensive line that included Division I recruit Maliek Collins.
Running backs Brody McMahon and Derek Stiens both eclipsed 100 yards and combined for three touchdowns.
"It's a core belief that in playoff football you got to be able to run the ball on offense and you got to be able to stop the run on defense," said Maryville head coach Matt Webb. "Our team believes that. That's a core value. We can be as multiple as the best person when we need to, but we need to run the football in weather conditions like this."
Page 2 of 4 - Maryville's fourth quarter escapade began when McMahon found a crease in the Center defense and broke off a 69-yard run down the left sideline.
He was dragged down from behind by Center quarterback/defensive back Ronnie Hill at the 1-yard line.
Baker surged into the end zone on the next play for his second touchdown and the extra point increased
Maryville's lead to 28-14 with 11:03 left.
"Our guys came up at halftime to Brody and Derek and they were like 'we're missing some guys, but just keep going. We'll find them,'" said Baker. "On Brody's run, we got the guy that had been been making the tackle the whole game. That was big."
Facing its third, two-possession deficit of the game, Center had no answer this time.
On a running play to the left, Center back Gage King coughed up the ball and it was recovered by the Hounds at the Jacket 25-yard line.
Four rushing plays later, McMahon scored from 11 yards out to boost the Hound lead to 35-14 with 5:27 remaining.
Center answered in less than a minute with a 40-yard half-back pass from Anthony Eskridge to Nick Williams for a touchdown.
A failed two-point conversion kept the score at 35-20.
The Jackets tried an onside kick that was swarmed by McMahon at the 38-yard line.
McMahon carried the ball twice for 33 yards on the next two plays, and Stiens followed with a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 42-20 with 3:38 left.
Kenkel's pick-six with 1:18 to play grew the Hound lead to 49-20 before Hill connected with Williams from 46 yards out on the game's final play.
"We knew this would be by far the best team we've seen all year," said Center head coach Bryan DeLong. "We knew we'd have to play mistake-free football, not fumble, not have penalties. Just don't do silly things. You see we did those and plus they just outplayed us. I got out-coached by coach Webb. They had a better scheme. They did some great things against us that we just couldn't stop. They were better prepared. Their guys played harder. They beat us. It was pretty evident I'm sure watching the game."
Both teams gave up their season-high point total in a game that featured almost 700 yards of offense.
Maryville put up 49 points on a Center squad that hadn't allowed more than 25 in a game all year.
It was Maryville's fourth consecutive 40-plus point game of the playoffs and 10th of the year.
The Hounds finished with 371 yards and 217 of that came in the second half.
"It's a chess match and that's what it got into today," said Webb. "Our staff does a great job of calling plays."
Page 3 of 4 - Center finished with 299 yards, including 222 through the air.
Hill threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 55 yards, but was picked off three times in the second half and finished just 9-18.
His first touchdown pass went to Isiah Maxi who had seven grabs for 134 yards.
"When you throw the football in weather like this, bad things happen," said Webb.
Wary of the wind, Maryville succeeded at being extremely methodical on offense in the first half.
Their three drives consisted of 33 rushes and six passes and averaged 13 plays.
The Hounds faced numerous third and fourth down situations and converted all of them, regardless of distance, on their first two drives to build a 14-0 second quarter lead.
"I got an extreme amount of faith in our defense and we routinely go for it on fourth down when the situation arises," said Webb. "With these weather conditions, I thought it was important to keep the ball and not allow something on special teams to happen. That was huge with those conversions."
Maryville's opening drive lasted 17 plays and featured four conversions on decisive downs.
The last of those was a third and six completion from Baker to Peyton Mizera that DeLong thought was an illegal forward pass.
Baker completed the exhausting march with a 1-yard sneak to make it 7-0 with 5:44 left in the first.
This was Maryville's only full possession of the first quarter.
After a Center punt from near midfield, the Hounds strung together an 11-play, 59-yard drive and scored on a third and 17 completion from Baker to Kyle Leslie with 10:03 left in the second quarter.
Baker dodged a sack from Williams, rolled to his right and threw in the vicinity of two open Hound receivers. The ball ended up in the hands of Leslie for a touchdown.
"I had Leslie and McMahon going to the same spot," said Baker. "I thought you can't take a sack here. You just got to give him a chance and God was in that play."
Down 14-0, it was Center's turn to compile a lengthy scoring drive of 84 yards.
Set back by 40 yards in penalties, the Jackets compensated with big plays through the air and converted a key fourth and one from their own 25.
Hill connected with Williams on a 22-yard score with 4:32 left to cut Center's deficit to 14-6.
It remained there after a missed extra point.
Maryville went on another long march before the half, but the Jackets held them out of the end zone to keep the halftime score at 14-6.
Page 4 of 4 - The Jackets started the second half with the ball, but Hill's first pass was picked off by linebacker Ridge Yount who later left the game with an injury.
Maryville couldn't turn that into points, but did cash in on a subsequent Hill interception by Trent Nally that was returned to the Jacket 26.
Stiens scored on a 3-yard run with 6:35 left in the third to make it 21-6.
Center stole momentum right back with an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown by King, the second of the year against the Hounds.
A successful two-point conversion made it 21-14.
Center got the ball back with a chance to tie, but couldn't convert a third and 13 from the Hound 43 and was forced to punt.
The Jackets only two offensive second half touchdowns came after the Hounds had gone up by at least 21 points.
Maryville's next opponent, California, beat Duchesne in the quarterfinals 21-12.