THAYER, Mo. – With starting senior quarterback Mason Skaggs watching the entire second half from the sideline, greater responsibility was placed in the hands of the Valle Catholic defense.

The Warriors produced six sacks along with two interceptions, and protected a two-possession lead on Saturday by shutting down Thayer for a Class 1 state quarterfinal victory.

Sophomore Kyle Gielow netted two touchdown receptions, and Valle Catholic punctuated its first three drives in the end zone to ultimately prevail 33-10.

Brendan Meyer made a team-high 13 solo tackles, Dalton Kertz and Jacob Bieser each registered two sacks, and the Warriors (11-1) earned a semifinal home game next Saturday against Lockwood.

“We just needed to pull together, stick with it, and do what we know how to do,” Bieser said.

Skaggs played exclusively in the first half, and was 18-of-29 passing for 239 yards. He helped engineer a pivotal scoring march just before the break.

After finding Tyler Blum deep for a 34-yard gain, Skaggs covered the last 3 yards on a keeper with 25 seconds on the clock to create a 26-10 advantage.

But after returning from the locker room, Valle slowed its offensive tempo and used a combination of sophomore Chase Dunlap and junior Kellen Blum behind center.

Details were not disclosed regarding the injury to Skaggs – who suffered a concussion earlier this season – nor was his status for the next round.

The Warriors forced a short Thayer series to begin the third quarter, and Dunlap started off converting three times on third down, including a 17-yard throw to Carter Roth on third-and-long.

“The coaches prepare us every week at practice. I do scout team [offense] against the [first-string] defense,” Dunlap said. “I just wanted to keep the clock going, get us down to those final minutes and help us put this thing away.”

The 11th play of the nearly five-minute possession resulted in a Dunlap fumble, but the Valle defense stood tall again with a second consecutive three-and-out.

The Bobcats threatened late when Garrett Young burst through the middle on a 51-yard scamper, but Collin Grass sacked quarterback Ayden Stone on fourth-and-3 from the 17.

Grass picked off Stone earlier in the fourth quarter, and his 6-yard touchdown jaunt capped the game with 1:16 to play after Thayer was flagged for a late hit on an incomplete fourth-down pass.

“I think all of the kids took it upon themselves to dig down and find another gear for Mason,” said Valle Catholic head coach Judd Naeger. “As a football coach, that’s even more exciting than a win.”

The familiar postseason rivals met for a third straight year barely one mile from the Arkansas border, and the Warriors opened the contest with a powerful 9-play march.

Skaggs calmly flipped a 2-yard toss to a wide-open Gielow on fourth down. A 16-yard strike over the middle to Gielow minutes later pushed the lead to 13-0.

“You’re always concerned when you’re playing an outstanding football team that’s coached as well as these guys are,” Naeger said. “Those kids are tough. They’re hard-nosed football players. We have a ton of respect for Thayer.”

Junior receiver Ryan Grein was nearly impossible for the Bobcats to cover while compiling 10 receptions for 136 yards prior to intermission.

His most impressive grab was an outstretched effort near the left pylon. The 36-yard touchdown on the Warriors’ third drive made it 20-0 with 2:53 remaining in the first quarter.

The Bobcats (9-4) were decisively outgained 289-91 in first-half total yardage, but capitalized on a safety in the second quarter when Skaggs was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone.

Austin Bowers caught a 45-yard pass behind the Valle secondary, and Stone found him again for a 4-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion pass brought Thayer to within 20-10.

“We went a little too fast. We kind of wore ourselves out,” Naeger said. “We have to be a little smarter about when we go fast, when [that tempo] helps us or maybe when it’s a good time to catch a break.”

Linebacker Dylan Spencer batted and intercepted an ensuing Skaggs pass to put his team at the Valle 33, but Roth answered with a timely pick and sizable return for the Warriors.

Tyler Blum and Roth each had four receptions, and Dunlap finished with a team-high 38 rushing yards on eight attempts for Valle Catholic.

Thayer generated just two first downs during its first four possessions as Warriors defensive end Owen Schweigert stopped three separate running plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Stone was 7-of-17 passing for 78 yards, linking five times with Bowers. Young paced his club with 98 yards on 13 carries.

Chris Loida had eight solo tackles in the victory. Valle Catholic earned 21 first downs while allowing only seven.

Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at mking@dailyjournalonine.com

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