LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — Maryville football’s backfield imposed its will against Cameron on Nov. 6 when senior running back Connor Weiss captured three touchdowns, and again against Richmond on Nov. 13 when senior running back Trey Houchin secured a hat trick of his own.
However, as a soft mist drizzled down onto Bud Hertzog Field, a new sheriff arrived in town: Maryville junior quarterback Connor Drake.
Drake, combined with an explosive backfield, built Maryville’s (10-3) confidence and lead early, resulting in a 35-9 victory against Summit Christian Academy (9-4) in the MSHSAA Class 3 State Quarterfinals Nov. 21.
“This is the state quarterfinals, but he’s improved all year. I can tell you he’s a leader. He put those throws on the money and made plays when he had to,” Maryville coach Matt Webb said about his quarterback. “He’s got to operate our offense; that’s what we ask our quarterbacks to do, and Connor is doing an unbelievable job — he’s determined to win a championship.”
In the past weeks, Drake mentioned his passing game has not been where he would like it to be. In his first state quarterfinal start, he found his groove.
Facing an early third down after going three-and-out on the Spoofhounds’ first possession, Drake rose to the occasion, finding the outstretched hands of senior wideout Caleb Kreizinger for a 32-yard gain, setting Maryville up inside Eagle territory.
Drake’s ability to keep the drive alive resulted in Weiss dashing for a 44-yard touchdown, the first points of the game from either team.
“(Drake) played a hell of a game today. He really stepped up, and I’m going to tell him that right after this. I’m going to give him a hug and I’m going to tell him he stepped up,” Kreizinger said. “That was good of him. He hit me when I was open; that’s all I can say.”
Drake stuck with his favorite target on the ensuing drive, finding Kreizinger in the middle of the field on third down. Kreizinger had some bounce as he grabbed the ball at its highest point, coming down with it for a 38-yard gain.
Another drive kept alive by Drake and Kreizinger paved the way for the Spoofhounds’ second touchdown — a 14-yard run into the end zone from Weiss.
“Recently, I haven’t been throwing the ball real well,” Drake said. “To come into this game and get those completions early, it was a big confidence booster that I think got our offense rolling.”
All that was missing to complete Drake’s performance was a passing touchdown, which came in the second quarter.
Recognizing the Eagles defense was playing in a Cover 1, Spoofhound offensive coordinator Matt Houchin called one of Maryville’s base plays, trying to make the safety take one deep route, which would leave another deep route open.
As Drake rolled out of the pocket, he noticed the safety jumped his preferred target. Instead, Drake had Trey Houchin wide open in the middle of the field, who eventually scored on a 49-yard catch-and-run.
“He finally just sank in and played ball,” Trey Houchin said about Drake. “Sometimes he gets in his head a little too much, but when he just sits there and plays football, he does great things. That’s what he did today.”
Drake finished 4-of-8 passing with 129 yards and one touchdown. Trey Houchin finished with the lone touchdown reception, and Weiss ran for his second three-touchdown performance this postseason. Kreizinger found himself in the end zone late in the fourth quarter off a 32-yard sweep.
While Drake and the offense pulled their weight, the Spoofhounds’ defense wanted to contribute as well. Maryville’s defense kept Summit’s senior quarterback Grayson Sprouse to zero touchdown passes. Coming into the matchup, Sprouse had completed 148 of 259 passes for 2,130 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“(Summit Christian’s) offense is schemed very well,” Trey Houchin said, who also plays linebacker for Maryville. “They’re pretty precise in what they do. They played pretty well, but we adapted and changed, and we played pretty good.”
The Eagles’ single touchdown came from senior running back Lucas Eckles, who scampered off the left side for a 6-yard touchdown.
The Spoofhounds’ defense, carrying a 13-6 lead in the second quarter, pulled out the bend-but-don’t-break mentality. After nine Eagles’ plays that set them up inside of Maryville’s 8-yard line, the defense stood its ground.
After Sprouse was held to 7 yards the first two plays inside the red zone, a penalty pushed the Eagles back 5 yards. The Spoofhounds forced an incomplete pass, making Summit Christian settle for a field goal instead of potentially tying the game.
“That’s one of the best schemed teams we’ve played all year. We were locked in from the start,” Kreizinger said. “We had all of our coverages down; we didn’t really blow any. We only let up one touchdown and then stopped them on the goalline. That was our best game this season defensively. It was great.”
Senior defensive back Matt Goodridge tallied an interception to boost the defensive performance, while Kreizinger grabbed one, too.
The Spoofhounds now set their sights on the Class 3 State Semifinals, hosting Cassville (10-2) on Nov. 28 in the ’Hound Pound. This will be the first semifinal game played at the ’Hound Pound since 2012.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Webb said. “Everyone in Maryville, make sure you’re there next Saturday. Find a way, because these kids have worked hard and they deserve it.”