Since the time he took over as Maryville's head coach in the spring, Matt Webb has constantly preached to his team about the importance of "winning the process," and focusing on one game at a time.
Eager to atone for painful losses to Savannah and Richmond the past two years, the senior-dominated Spoofhounds have executed Webb's message to perfection, taking down all 14 challengers on their schedule by an average of 40 points.
And now, a group that's conquered playoff demons and managed to get better despite the departure of its former head coach and two key players from a 10-2 team, sits on the precipice of the ultimate prize in high school sports—a state championship.
What a remarkable season it's been.
"It started in the summer," said Webb, a 1993 MHS graduate. "One day at a time in the weight room, summer conditioning, building it to where we wanted to go one day at a time. The guys bought into it. They looked at me as a new coach and believed in what I was talking about. We could've folded very easily with the distractions in the off-season, but this group of guys pulled together and said we're not going to do that. We're going to take it one at a time. That's not an easy thing to do not knowing me from anybody. I'm a man of faith and this season has been put together for a reason. This is something beyond all of us."
A journey that began on the middle school practice field for team camp the first week of June concludes with the No. 2 Spoofhounds playing No. 1 John Burroughs in the Class 3 State Championship game Friday at 1 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Both teams are 14-0 and have been ranked 1-2 in Class 3 all season long, setting up what should be an epic finale between two heavyweights located on opposite ends of the state.
"John Burroughs has been No. 1 in the state all season. Maryville has been No. 2," said Webb. "It's awesome that we're meeting for the championship. These two teams have been on a collision course all season long."
Maryville High School has been abuzz over this game the last several days, and with Thanksgiving break beginning today, many students will get to make the six-hour drive east to watch the Hounds play.
Same goes for parents and other Spoofhound supporters.
The team plans to depart late Thursday morning and eat Thanksgiving dinner together at their team hotel in St. Louis.
"We're hearing a lot of different plans of what people are going to do Friday and heading down with families," said Maryville senior quarterback Jonathan Baker. "It's been awesome. People have been very complimentary."
Page 2 of 4 - Hardly a stranger to this routine, Maryville is making its third appearance in the state title game in the last five years and first since winning the Class 2 title in 2009 under former coach Chris Holt.
The Hounds last played for the Class 3 title in 1996.
Maryville has 15 senior starters and four of those—Baker, defensive end Tyler Tripp, defensive tackle Caleb Mather and running back Derek Stiens—either started or played as freshmen in the 2009 championship game victory over Brentwood.
They return to the Dome as accomplished veterans poised to end their Spoofhound careers on top and leave a legacy as the best class in MHS history.
"It's going to be different," said Baker. "I don't even think it's going to be comparable. It's your senior year. You just go in there and give it all you got. It's going to be awesome."
John Burroughs has even more state championship experience on its roster, having appeared in the state title game each of the past two years.
The Bombers lost to Maryville's former playoff nemesis Richmond 21-20 in 2010 and came up short again last year to Logan-Rogersville 21-14.
Both defeats arm Burroughs with all the motivation in the world going up against Maryville.
"That team is going to be on top of its game," said Webb. "It also helps us that we're playing for a community and an entire area. There's a lot of pride going on the road to the Dome. It's going to be an awesome environment."
Neither team has any common opponents, but both have beaten the one's on their schedules like a drum week in and week out.
Maryville has won 12 of 14 games by at least 27 points and four of five in the playoffs by 35 or more.
Most recently, the Hounds clocked former unbeaten California 42-7 in the semifinals.
Likewise, John Burroughs has won all 14 games this season by at least 22 points.
Its closest encounter was a 28-6 win over Monett in the semifinals, a game it led 7-0 in the fourth quarter before scoring 21 points in a five minute span.
On average, both teams are outscoring the opposition by over 40 points per game.
"In Maryville, we're confident in ourselves and we're confident in what we call the process," said Webb. "What we have is a senior-laden team very committed to the goal of winning one game at a time. They're a very, very good and talented team. Their tailback (Ezekiel Elliott) is one of the best I've seen and that includes all my years coaching college football. That's not all they have. They are explosive at receiver. They have a very good quarterback, very good linemen. I don't see any flaws at all. I think the team that gets into the game the quickest and just plays the game on the field will come off the field as winners."
Page 3 of 4 - The Elliott-led Burroughs offense has put up 44 points per game this year, with a season low of 24 points in the quarterfinals. They take on a Hound defense that surrenders just over eight points per game, but is without top linebacker Ridge Yount.
Elliott, a four-star recruit who's committed to Ohio State, has gashed defenses for 1,905 yards and 47 touchdowns on the season.
He's unequivocally the best running back Maryville has faced all season and probably the best one in the entire state.
But if there's a unit out there that can potentially slow him down, it's the Hounds.
With a strong, athletic front four that includes Mather and Tripp, Maryville has limited the opposition to 77 yards rushing per game.
Even California, a team that averaged over 300 yards rushing on the season, had less than 100 against the Hounds entering the fourth quarter.
"I don't think Ezekiel Elliott has seen a defense that he hasn't torn up," said Webb. "He's just phenomenal. I think it's a great challenge for us defensively. We take a lot of pride in the way we stop the run and play team defense. Any time you get to a state championship game, you want a challenge and this is more than a challenge."
Predominately a running team, the Bombers have the ability to be explosive through the air when need be.
Their quarterback is Nick Duncan, a 6-1, 175-pound junior. He's in his second year as the team's starter, working under the tutelage of head coach Gus Frerotte, a 15-year NFL veteran at the position.
Senior Foyesade Olokun (6-3, 200), senior Andrew Bartnett (6-2, 165) and junior Jake Wood (5-10, 160) are the Bombers three main receivers.
Most of Burroughs top offensive personnel, including Elliott, also starts on defense where the Bombers have dominated just as much.
They are giving up just 7.3 points per game, and only Class 4 Priory has scored more than 14 against them.
Burroughs is facing a Maryville offense that has produced 48.6 points per game on average.
In the playoffs, the Hounds have scored at least 42 each game and set a new school record for total yards in a season last week.
Baker might be the state's hottest quarterback right now, throwing 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in five playoff games.
He was 17-20 with 244 yards and four touchdowns in the first half against California.
On the season, he has 33 touchdowns passes and four interceptions.
Maryville's main available weapons in the passing game are sophomore running back Brody McMahon, senior Kyle Leslie, senior Treyton Burch and junior Trent Nally.
McMahon had two touchdown grabs and 116 receiving yards against California. Burch and Nally, who filled in for Yount, had one apiece.
Page 4 of 4 - Held to just 104 yards last week, Maryville's ground game has been unstoppable most of the year. The Hounds have rushed for 3,843 yards and average better than 275 per game.
Stiens, who had 83 yards and two scores against California, McMahon and senior Peyton Mizera have handled the ball-carrying duties all year.
They run behind a physically imposing offensive line of Mather, senior Shane Owens, senior Cain Farrell, senior Eric Sigman and junior Jackson Morrison.
"Regardless of what happens Friday, I would personally feel this is a special group of players on this team," said Webb. "I'm going to remember this season a lot just because it was my first team. This team is a classic example of what can happen when you pull together. It seems like an eternity ago that we had Senior Night. This is their last experience. They'll remember this game forever."