Leave it to Maryville, a team that has devastated almost everyone on its schedule, to suck every ounce of drama and anticipation out of a state semifinal game in the first half.
At a point in the playoffs when running clock second halves are not supposed to happen, Maryville managed to pull it off once again in a 42-7 romp of former unbeaten California in the Class 3 semifinals Saturday at the Hound Pound, ensuring them of a second trip to the Edward Jones Dome in the last four years.
What was thought to be Maryville's toughest test of the playoffs turned out to be much easier than their 49-26 quarterfinal win over Center, a game they led by just seven points entering the fourth quarter.
Four first half touchdown passes from quarterback Jonathan Baker helped stake Maryville to a 35-0 halftime lead that grew to 42-0 before California punched in a late touchdown with their first string matched against Maryville's back-ups.
"We dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," said Maryville head football coach Matt Webb. "To be able to stop the run and get three-and-outs is what we wanted on defense and to be able to do that consistently was very good. That's a very good football team we just played that had scored a lot of points this year and not given up very many. The way our operation worked on all sides, I'm very happy."
This marked the 10th time in 14 games the Hounds (14-0) have won by at least 35 points. They finished the year 8-0 at home, winning all eight games by at least 27 points and never giving up more than eight.
California (13-1) came in averaging 42 points and giving up seven per game, but the Hounds proved far superior to the point where their fans were in the midst of Thanksgiving travel arrangements by halftime.
"We were just so jacked and ready to go," said Baker. "Our linemen came ready to play. It tells you how prepared we were. Coaches did a great job of getting clips together and showing us their strengths and weaknesses. That was a very good team we beat. I would just like to think we were prepared for them and ready to go."
Further shedding the pain from playoff disappointments the past two years, Maryville is headed to its first Class 3 state title game since 1996.
Class 2 state champions in 2009, Maryville will play for the Class 3 state title against John Burroughs (14-0) Friday at 1 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
It's a matchup that pits the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state all season long. John Burroughs clinched its third straight title game appearance with a 28-6 road win over Monett Saturday.
Page 2 of 3 - The Hounds vanquished California in a much more decisive fashion.
In the first half, Maryville outgained California 301-36 and outscored the Pintos 35-0.
After a three-and-out on its opening drive, Maryville produced touchdowns on five of its last six first half possessions.
It was the team's increasingly utilized spread passing attack that provided most of the offensive juice.
Facing a loaded box aimed to stop Maryville's run game, Baker unloaded 20 first half pass attempts—a two-game total last season—and completed 17 for 244 yards and four touchdowns.
All four touchdown passes covered more than 20 yards, the last two going to sophomore Brody McMahon who had eight catches for 116 yards. Baker routinely made big throws on third and fourth down to keep drives alive and California's defense on the field.
"Their passing game was phenomenal today," said California coach Marty Albertson. "We knew their quarterback was a good player, but it seemed like they hit their passes whenever they needed them. Every time they had a third and long or fourth and long, it was bingo. He hit them."
Following three so-so games to close the regular season, Baker has been sensational throughout the playoffs with 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
He now has 33 on the year to just four interceptions, all occurring in a three-game span.
"It's just confidence all the way around," said Baker. "It's not just in me. It's in our offensive line, our playmakers. Coach (Matt) Houchin does a great job of adjusting to whatever game plan we need to go to and so that first drive they were just loading up the box so much. It was good."
Maryville's run game netted only 104 yards, well below its season average of 230, but senior Derek Stiens had an effective day with 83 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
The Hounds offensive output of 348 yards nearly tripled California's total of 120.
Over half of California's offensive production came in the fourth quarter after the game had well been decided.
In the first half, California made just one first down and it came in the final minute of the second quarter.
The Pintos went three-and-out on each of their first six possessions, rarely ever creating manageable down and distance situations.
Their game total of 111 rushing yards was nowhere close to their season average of around 300.
"All four of their down linemen are good kids," said Albertson. "We couldn't get any push on them and then their linebackers flowed real well. They basically sat in a 4-3 and let the front seven take care of the run. The defensive backs are four deep, making it hard to pass through especially when they pass rush like they do. They're just pretty solid."
Page 3 of 3 - California had a chance to grab an early lead, starting its first drive in Hound territory, but went nowhere on three consecutive plays and attempted a 54-yard field goal with the wind that came up short.
Maryville followed with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead. The opening touchdown came on a 31-yard swing pass from Baker to Trent Nally who was filling the spot held by injured senior Ridge Yount.
The Hound lead reached 14-0 on a 15-yard touchdown run by Stiens with 1:10 left in the opening quarter.
On Maryville's second drive of the second quarter, Treyton Burch got behind California corner Garret Baquet on a pump-and-go and Baker hit him in stride for a 23-yard touchdown to make it 21-0.
Baker was 4-4 on the drive for 58 yards.
California began to bring heat on Baker after that, and got to him twice for sacks.
But on a fourth and 12, Baker burned the blitzing Pintos with a pinpoint 30-yard touchdown strike down the middle to McMahon with 3:29 in the second. This gave Maryville a new program record for total yards in a season.
Baker and McMahon connected once more before the half on a third and eight toss over the middle that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown.
California returned the next kick-off back to Maryville's 43 and moved the ball down to the 24 before Nally came up with an interception of quarterback Jaden Barr to close the first half.
The Hounds added to their 35-0 halftime lead in the third quarter with a 30-yard touchdown scamper by Stiens.
Seth Fairchild ended Maryville's shutout bid with an 8-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Maryville was subdued in its post-game celebration, recognizing it has some unfinished business to tend to.
"We're playing one game at a time and we got one more game this season," said Webb. "We'll celebrate next week. This team since the beginning of the year has been focused on one week at a time and our season is not done. As big of an accomplishment as this is, the goal at the beginning of the season is to win one at a time. Not just to get to the Dome. That's not it. We've got one more to win."