LINCOLN — A season after falling short in its Show-Me Bowl debut, the Cardinals have journeyed back to the state championship.
Lincoln senior Bo Kroenke caught two touchdowns and threw for a third Saturday during a 46-20 victory over Marceline in the Class 1 MSHSAA Football State Tournament semifinals.
Cardinals senior Jackson Beaman, who rushed for two scores, said he was proud of the team’s commitment to the yearlong comeback effort.
“We worked our tails off this offseason for this,” Beaman said.
Kroenke added that the Cardinals (14-0) are not yet finished. Lincoln kicks-off against Valle Catholic 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Faurot Field in Columbia. Last season, Hayti defeated Lincoln in a 44-point shutout for the state title.
“We have to win it this time,” Kroenke said. “We can’t mess around. We have to win it.”
Lincoln used 14 plays and more than eight minutes on an 81-yard, game-opening drive finished by a goal-line rush from Beaman. He carried home the 2-point conversion to give the Cards an 8-0 lead.
Cardinals junior Devon Parrott increased the lead to 11 points with a 29-yard field goal with 6:05 before halftime. After the Lincoln defense forced a third consecutive punt, Kroenke mishandled a punt return and the Tigers recovered at the Cardinals 15.
Marceline used a reverse handoff to find paydirt on a 9-yard carry from sophomore Wyatt Molloy. Lincoln led 11-6 after a failed 2-point conversion.
According to Kroenke, Beaman and head coach Kevin LaFavor, the Tigers (12-2) were among the hardest-hitting teams the Cardinals lined up against this season.
“They weren’t afraid to pop you,” Kroenke said. “A lot of respect for them.”
Particularly efficient on third down, Kroenke secured a 56-yard reception on third and 26 and put the Cards ahead 18-6 with 45 seconds to halftime. Lincoln senior Tanner Bays sent the teams to break after deflecting a pass and sacking the Marceline quarterback on consecutive snaps.
Beaman said a balanced attack, in which six receivers recorded a catch and five runners logged a carry, helped the Cardinals move the chains on third down.
“We have a lot of confidence in our offense,” Beaman said. “Third down and any distance, I try to read the defense and make the best decision.”
Beaman recorded the lone third-quarter score with 5:19 remaining in the period. As the offense sputtered — relative to its juggernaut potential — a dominant performance from the Lincoln defense helped control the battle.
Cardinals freshman Ross Johnson, junior Emidio Linares and Bays combined for six sacks to help the defense pitch a shutout from Molloy’s second-quarter reverse until the 2:16 mark in the fourth, when sophomore Jacob Stalle and senior Cullen Bruner scored one touchdown apiece against the Lincoln reserves.
Kroenke opened the final period with his second receiving touchdown, pushing the lead to 32-6. He recorded his third on an 11-yard strike after a Marceline fumble forced by Linares and recovered by senior Nate Hesse. With 5:07 to play, Kroenke rolled left on a handoff and passed to senior Parker Engles for a short TD that put the Cards ahead 46-6.
LaFavor, reaching his second state title game in as many years, credited his players’ dedication to a long journey back to the Class 1 Show-Me Bowl.
“I couldn’t imagine, as a player, having that much pressure, to say you want to go back, to say you're going back and to actually do it,” LaFavor said. “I always feel pressure, because I want it so bad. But I want it so bad for them.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @abagueros2.