‘Goin’ to Kansas City’ — Panthers earn trip to state semifinals

by Mark Cheffey

The Panthers are back to within a step away from playing in the state championship football game following their convincing 44-30 victory over Hallsville in the Class 2 quarterfinals Saturday.

The Panthers (12-0) will travel to Kansas City and play St. Pius X at 2 p.m. Saturday, with the winner going on to the championship game.

Palmyra fans erupt in jubilation after the Panthers scored a touchdown to go up 36-20 at the end of the first half on their way to a 44-30 victory over Hallsville in the state quarterfinal game in Palmyra Saturday afternoon.

Palmyra has reached the semifinals just twice, in 2014 and 2015, since the school’s only title game appearance in 2000, and this year’s squad is anxious for their opportunity to reach their ultimate goal.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Weston King, a senior lineman, who notched a team-leading eight tackles and three sacks during Saturday’s victory.

“We’ve dreamed about playing on Saturdays and being in these games since we were in middle school watching those guys do it. And, now we get to do that, and so it’s awesome to get to be here.”

“It feels so great to be in the same category as those guys, so we’re really excited,” said Brody Lehenbauer, a senior quarterback who threw three touchdowns passes and four two-point passes to help power the team’s quarterfinal win.

Interestingly enough, the Panthers get a chance to avenge Palmyra’s 20-year-old loss to St. Pius X in the school’s one trip to championship.

That team was led by Marty Smyser, the starting quarterback for the team, now the assistant elementary school princicpal and a former assistant coach for Lehenbauer.

“I remember him telling stories about it, but I didn’t know what school it was, so it will be cool to play them,” Lehenbauer said.

Palmyra will have their hands full against St. Pius
X which also goes into the contest undefeated at 11-0 even after weathering through a regular-season schedule that included seven of eight opponents from Class 3 and 4.

“It will be exciting,” said Coach Kevin Miles, who takes a team to the semifinals for the third time at Palmyra.

“Hopefully, we will have a better outcome this time,” he said, noting the Warriors are “athletic and big.”

St. Pius X has scored more than 40 points in a game five times this season and has given up more than 20 points just three times with victories over Pembroke Hill (47-24), St. Michael the Archangel (21-13), Cameron (42-22), Maryville (26-14), Chillicothe (42-27), St. Joseph Benton (47-7), St. Joseph Lafayette (16-14), and Savanna (41-6).

The Warriors then swept through their district with wins over Brookfield (20-6) and Lafayette County (21-0) before winning their quarterfinal game at home against Butler (14-6).

Saturday’s winner advances to the Class 2 state title game which, because of COVID-19 precautions, will be played at Blair Oaks High School south of Jefferson City at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4.

The opponent will be the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between Lamar and Jefferson (Festus).