Marceline had no trouble rolling on to the district championship on Friday night. With a 49-12 victory at home versus Carrollton (5-6), the top-seeded Tigers earned a berth into their seventh consecutive district title appearance.
"We set the tone for the game, and we put points on the board early on," senior linebacker and lineman Colby Sims said. "We put ourselves in some good spots.
"We made sure our guys knew what they were doing and where they were supposed to be, and that was the theme of the game tonight."
After forcing a three-and-out to begin the game, Marceline pulled back the curtain for the Cullen Bruner show. Five minutes into the game, Marceline capped a 65-yard drive with a Bruner touchdown, and the senior back scored again a minute later from 45 yards out.
Sam Gillman picked off a pass on the sideline to set up the 13-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
On the following drive, Carrollton junior quarterback Gavin Claud left the game with a frightening injury. He remained motionless on the ground for a minute, but left the field of his own volition.
Although the Marceline coaching staff would never treat a game that way, Claud's injury effectively squashed any chance the Trojans had to get back into the thick.
Backup Carrollton quarterback Cedar Metz -- a wide receiver by trade -- had a rough time playing from behind.
"When you build your offense around a guy like (Claud), that's kind of the risk you take," Carrollton head coach Scott Finley said. "That's football, and that happens. Once the deep threat was gone, Marceline could just fill the box, and we had to keep it really simple. Our guys did a great job of fighting and, honestly, we opened some things up that we might not have expected. Marceline executed so well and played better than us for sure, but this is the kind of game where the score isn't indicative of the fight."
The Tigers took a 23-0 lead into the halftime break, but by all standards, the margin should have been greater. With time dwindling in the first half, an errant snap from Carrollton's one-yard line on third down forced the Tigers into a fourth-and-goal from the 20.
They left the half with no points on a long drive, but by that time, the game was palpably over.
To begin the second half, Marceline struck early, posting a touchdown 20 seconds into the third. Mere moments later, a 76-yard Bruner touchdown forced the clock to run continuously, as the Tigers took a 37-0 lead.
From that point, Marceline head coach Mark Ross had a chance to give his starters more rest than he could have hoped for. Carrollton had played a rigorous and brutal schedule, and Ross expected Friday night's game to be one that would be hotly contested.
He gave all the credit to his players' execution and assistant coaches' gameplans.
"I think the boys played really well all the way around, and our offense looked as good as it has all season," Ross said. "Defensively, we got some stops early on and got some huge momentum plays. We started really fast, and we carried that the whole way. We didn't get complacent, and we kept focused the whole way. These kids want to prove that they're for real."
Marceline will host Sweet Springs in next Friday's Class 1 District 5 championship. The Greyhounds defeated Slater, 44-32, on Friday night.
Sweet Springs enters the game 8-3.
"We took a step forward, and we got everyone some playing time," Sims said. "We've got this board with all these goals on it, and being district champs is right up there. We've got to take it play-by-play, week-by-week."