The nature of playoff football is cruel by design. At the kickoff of any given postseason contest, each participating team is just 48 minutes from possible elimination.
Regardless of what either team did to get to that point, its entire season is boiled down to mere minutes. With a chance of extending its season one more week at stake, each team is forced to toe the line of elimination, desperately hoping for its season’s survival.
One team moves on triumphantly, while the other heads home anguished.
Maryville football experienced the brutal reality of the sport’s postseason Nov. 24, falling to Trinity Catholic High School 36-14 in a MSHSAA Class 3 semifinal matchup in St. Louis, Missouri.
For Maryville, the end came on an unusually warm, sunny day in late November at the hands of the best team in the state. The Spoofhounds (12-2) matched up against a team that was expected to beat them for the second week in a row and failed to prove the pundits wrong.
Trinity Catholic (12-2) boasted talent unlike any other team the ‘Hounds came across all season, and in a way, the loss could be seen as expected. Yet for Maryville, the end feels premature.
“(I’m) disappointed that the season finished in the state semifinals,” coach Matt Webb said. “When you invest as much as you do in each other and the team aspect … being great teammates and forming that bond and making a playoff run, and when you lose, you’re disappointed. It’s the finality of the end of the season, and not where you wanted to finish.”
Facing off against the Titans, a team built by what Webb described as recruiting “the best players in St. Louis and (putting) them on one team,” Maryville was overmatched. With their shot already long, the Spoofhounds played the game with sophomore quarterback Ben Walker sidelined with a concussion.
Ultimately, the ‘Hounds fell short, as did their campaign for a second-consecutive state title and a third-straight appearance in the Class 3 championship game. It’s likely that Maryville will be poised for another deep playoff run next season, but for now, Webb and company will pause for a moment of reflection before beginning to move forward.
“If you have a goal that you want to win a state championship … and you don’t accomplish it, I think all good programs reflect and see what you can do to get better,” Webb said. “There’s no setting back. We’ve got a process that we follow every year, and that’s exactly what it’ll be.”
For a majority of the team, next fall will roll around bringing with it a new slate of games. But for 15 Maryville seniors, the loss to Trinity brought with it the end of their high school careers. For seniors like running backs Tyler Houchin and Eli Dowis, linebacker Jason Bagley and lineman Cade Gustafson, among others, there is no next year.
“(We’re) a hardworking class,” Houchin said of this year’s seniors. “We showed it out on the field, just great guys. It’s a new chapter ahead of me and ahead of all of us, and we’re just going to take it.”
The group of seniors accumulated a number of individual awards and accolades, though their accomplishments together shine brighter. The seniors took part in the state championship run a season ago and competed for another one the year before.
Over the course of four seasons, they never lost a home game. And still, the end seems to have come a week too soon for the graduating class.
“I’m very proud of all of our seniors,” Webb said. “They were very committed and gave a lot of time and effort. They’re leaving it a better place and that’s what you want to do when you come in as freshmen. You buy in and you commit, and that’s what we mean by ‘Tradition never graduates.’ They’ve helped carry on a great tradition.”
For the seniors, the end of the road has come. And for the entire team, the end to the season has come with it. In a way, the campaign ended the same way it began: with a loss that poses more questions than it answers.
The Spoofhounds suffered a Week 1 setback to Blair Oaks before ripping off 12-consecutive wins, wreaking havoc on the MEC in the process. They rebounded from the loss and seemed to take it in stride, attempting to play their way to a second-consecutive state title.
In that regard, Maryville failed. For the first time since 2015, the team will not get the chance to compete for a state title. So the ‘Hounds will do what they always do and rebound accordingly a season from now.
While every school in the state strives to develop a football program that perennially contends for championships, Maryville will make minor adjustments, perfecting the formula that seems to bring state titles more often than not.
Regardless of the players who make up the roster or who’s starting at quarterback, Maryville finds itself among the elite every year. It isn’t about the players on the field, but the winning tradition they’ve grown accustomed to upholding--one that doesn’t graduate.
“We’ve got great kids in this community that come from great parents,” Webb said. “(They) teach their kids that it’s important in life to invest in something and commit to things that are a little bit bigger than yourself. When you’ve got great support from parents, you’ve got great support from the community ... all those things make Maryville a very special place. I’m humble and proud to be the head football coach here.”