Afterward, Valle coach Judd Naeger praised his offense, defense, and kicker Kolten Naeger (no relation), who made a field goal to position them for the win. But Coach Naeger saved his biggest praise for his team’s scout team – nonstarters who simulated Lincoln’s plays in practices leading up to the game.
“Our scout team was amazing,” Naeger said. “They’re as much a part of this win as anybody else.”
The win is Valle’s 15th state championship in football, with six titles since 2010 and the last one in 2015. Valle is tied with Webb City for most championships in high school football.
Before the game, coach Naeger quoted Scripture for the team — John 4:18, “one who fears is not yet perfect in love,” which on the football field means trusting teammates, he said. “No matter what happens, it’s not going to change your relationship with that guy next to you. It makes it easier for you to lay everything on the line.”
Lincoln’s quarterback, Jackson Beaman, gained 1,660 yards rushing and threw for 3,103 yards during the season prior to the championship game. Against Valle, he threw for 212 yards and rushed for 103 yards.
Valle’s quarterback, Brian Dunlap, matched his opponent, passing for 189 yards and rushing for 96 yards, much of it coming at key times in the game to keep drives alive. “He’s a true warrior in every sense of the word,” Naeger said, a reference to Dunlap’s grit and the team’s nickname.
Dunlap dealt with injuries and rehab during the season. “After this game, it was all worth it,” he said.
Lincoln scored on its first possession, a nine-play, 68-yard drive. Valle tied the game on a 23-yard pass to Aiden Heberlie, then scored again on a 14-yard pass to Owen Viox. Lincoln answered with a drive engineered by Beaman. Beaman rushed for another TD at the end of the half for a 21-14 lead for Lincoln.
Naeger said that at halftime, no yelling was needed, only a deep breath to calm down and refocus. Kyle Roth, a senior who plays center, said that the players did refocus. “It hit us that it’s all or nothing,” he said.
Dunlap said, “we all buckled down and did what we could to bring it home.”
Valle went to its running game on its first possession of the second half, with Cory Stoll capping it off with a 9-yard TD run. The Warriors took the lead on a 2-yard run by Jayden Gegg, who refused to go down after being hit at the line of scrimmage.
Valle added to the lead with the 26-yard field goal after a lengthy drive on the ground. Beaman led his team back with a TD pass with 1:03 left in the game. Valle’s Dunlap ran for a first down to seal the win after Valle recovered an onside kick.
It was a hard decision to go for a field goal, Naeger said. “I’m not a field goal guy.”
The players knew coming into the game that no matter what the outcome, they would be joyful and that “all the work that we put in was an experience that we have in the pocket that’s always going to be there,” the Valle coach said.
Naeger, after the team’s press conference, spent a few moments talking to the Lincoln players, giving them praise and encouragement. He told Beaman that his game was phenomenal.
Valle entered the game with a 13-1 record, losing just the third game of the season, and averaged 47.4 points a game while giving up an average of just 10.7. The Warriors defeated Mid-Buchanan the previous weekend 37-14 in the semifinals. Other wins in the playoffs came vs. Crystal City, Maiden, Hayti and Thayer. Valle won each game handily except for a 15-14 win vs. Thayer.