Christian Brothers College High School and Valle Catholic High School reached the finals of the state playoffs this season, overcoming challenges along the way.
Christian Brothers College High School defeated Blue Springs 31-14 Nov. 18 to win the Class 6 football championship. The game was played at Plaster Stadium in Springfield, Mo.
CBC ended the season 13-1, with a 12-game winning streak after losing its second game of the season to CBC of Memphis.
Coach Scott Pingel praised the team's resilience after key injuries to players earlier this year. "These younger kids, and seniors for that matter, stepped up and had an attitude of 'OK, so these superstars went down, but we're going to keep playing, even harder and faster.' That was cool to see guys respond to adversity in such a positive manner. ... That's something I'll take with me the rest of my life," Pingel said.
The other factor that stood out was unselfish play as the players focused on the team and not their own achievements, he said.
Football, he said, is one way high school players grow from boys to men. "This year was a reality of what life can throw at these guys, and they handled it real well," Pingel said.
As a coach at a Catholic school, he enjoys helping players focus on faith and a higher purpose of life.
Jack Niemeyer, a senior and back-up quarterback, said the team considered the loss last year in the state semifinals against Blue Springs "as a huge learning experience. Taking that forward and doing what we had to do in the offseason ... putting in the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to win" made the difference, he said.
A turning point during the season was the loss in Memphis, with the seniors meeting afterward about their desire to win and bringing that message to the rest of the team. "We kind of kicked it into second gear, and moving forward that was the difference-maker," Niemeyer said.
As a senior, he was a vocal leader among the younger nonstarters, helping them see their roles as important. CBC's athletic successes are built through bonding outside of practices and school. "Christian Brothers means a lot to us," he said. "We play for the three letters across our chest, and our brotherhood means a lot to us. It translated to success on the field this year."
A member of St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington, Niemeyer appreciates the faith aspect of the program. He cited the importance of a Catholic education for him and how it complements athletics. "It really dawned on me after the season how that helps us as a team," he said.
In the championship game, CBC lead 7-0 at halftime on a 2-yard run by Bryan Bradford that capped a 12-play, 84-yard drive. In the second half, CBC scored on a 53-yard pass from Carson Buddemey to Julian Williams, a field goal by Dylan McGraw and two short runs by Bradford, the first one after a 15-play, 80-yard drive.
Bradford rushed for 123 yards and quarterback Brett Gabbert was 15 of 22 for 144 yards. On defense, Taylor Robinson and Malik Billingsley each intercepted a pass, and Luke Carey had a sack.
Valle falls just short
Monroe City stopped Valle Catholic's powerful offense in the Class 1 championship game Nov. 25, a 12-7 defensive battle. Valle took an early lead on a 23-yard run by Carter Roth. But Monroe scored touchdowns in the second and third quarters. Mason Skaggs completed 16 of 25 passes for 175 yards for Valle in the game played at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Valle coach Judd Naeger, whose team was 12-2 this season, said any loss is tough to stomach, and a loss in the state championship game is even tougher. "It has always been very important to us to win and lose the right way," Naeger said. "Our team has great respect for Monroe City and the effort of their players. We talked at length after the game about how one of the most important things you have to figure out in life is how to define success. We are often told that success is reliant on our performance plus how others think of us. This could not be further from the truth."
Naeger said the goal is for players to leave the program understanding that mistakes and losses are a part of life "but do not define who we are. The relationship we create with our God and those in which we come in contact with define us. Our 2017 journey was a good one, and we shared many experiences."
Those experiences include traveling to Perryville to help tornado victims, sandbagging to help farmers after rising waters, a float trip at the conclusion of our summer camp, winning the district championship against a talented Hayti team "and just hanging out with each other during water breaks all season long at practice," the coach said.
Valle battled the wind and rain at their Fr. John Dempsey Field on Nov. 18 and beat Lockwood 41-27 in the semifinal match. Valle held the Tigers to -31 yards in the second half and kept the ball on the ground to pull away from a 27-21 halftime lead. Roth had 33 carries for 172 yards. Valle's offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage.
>> Football elite
Valle's football program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. The Warriors are one of the state's biggest powerhouses, tying for the most state championships with 14 and holding the nation's longest winning streak at 51 games before suffering a setback in 2016 against Lamar, which had won five consecutive Class 2 state championships.
Valle won championships in 1981 (shared after a scoreless tie against St. Pius X of Kansas City), 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Eight of its state championship teams went undefeated. The program also was a state runner-up three times — 1993, 2009 and 2012. Last season, Valle lost to Penney 33-19 in semifinals in Class 1, finishing its season at 11-2.
CBC won its second state championship this season. Last year, CBC lost to Blue Springs in the semifinals of Class 6, finishing its season at 11-2. CBC lost in the title game in 2015 to Blue Springs South, ending a 27-game winning streak. The school captured its first state championship in 2014 with a 31-24 win against Rockhurst. CBC finished second in 2006 and 2011.
>> Other top teams
Other teams that advanced to the playoffs before being knocked off include St. John Vianney, which lost to eventual champion Pattonville 34-27 in quarterfinals of Class 5 for a 10-2 season; St. Francis Borgia, which won twice in the Class 4 playoffs before being defeated by Rolla 28-14 to end an 11-1 season; St. Mary's, which lost to MICDS 58-37 in Class 4 to finish at 8-3; Trinity Catholic, which lost 48-46 to Lutheran North in Class 2, the only loss to go with nine wins; and Cardinal Ritter College Prep, which lost to Trinity 28-7 in Class 2 and finished 9-2.