“The kids now I mean that’s kind of what they are expected to do, you know, is to get to the state championship. For us it was new,” expressed Matt Berry.
The former Webb City running back, Berry, spent his senior season in 1989 doing what no one else had done before at Webb City, win a football state championship; hard to believe when you walk by trophy case after trophy case (after trophy case) filled with 14 state championship trophies.
However, Berry and the rest of the 1989 team started a tradition and helped create the expectation of achieving the top honor for a high school athletics team.
The success wasn’t just built over night. The ’89 class knew they had only achieved this feat after years of working with other great classes before them. The question you may have then is why did it take until 1989 to win the championship?
That would be a question answered by the hiring of Head Coach Jerry Kill. Kill would come to the Cardinals in 1988 from the Pittsburg State football staff, and from the start he changed the way the Cardinals trained during the summer, worked out, and even how they played.
“I just brought what I knew and a lot of that was from Pittsburg State and incorporated it. And, you know, really ran it like a college program and the kids bought into it,” mentioned Coach Kill, now the Athletic Director at Southern Illinois University, over the phone.
The Cardinals found success in 1988 with only one loss on the season in the state quarterfinals, but they were poised to make an even better run in 1989. They would start the season off with a win over their rivals from just down the road Carl Junction, but received their first scare three weeks later against Monett.
“Monett had a really good team that year,” said Berry “we had to come from behind late in the 4th quarter and kick a field goal to beat them and I think that was the turning point for us.”
I’m not being arrogant we didn’t have any real scares in the playoffs. A lot of it was just, you know, we really didn’t care. I mean we were going to strap it on and fight ya.”Matt Berry – Webb City State Champion 1989
While the Cardinals would need that field goal to survive against Monett, they would also use it as fuel to keep the undefeated streak alive, and despite a ten point victory against Carthage that year, every other game was a blowout.
When the Cardinals arrived in the playoffs the domination only continued as they outscored their opponents 94-15.
“I’m not being arrogant we didn’t have any real scares in the playoffs. A lot of it was just, you know we really didn’t care. I mean we were going to strap it on and fight ya,” said Berry, about the teams impressive run.
The state championship game would be different. The Cardinals would face off with a much larger St. Louis-Sumner in Springfield at Southwest Missouri State University (currently Missouri State University).
“Biggest team we had ever seen, ever faced,” said Kevin Crane, a former linebacker and running back for the ’89 Cardinals, “and they came out and they had these long coats on over their pads, so they looked even bigger, you know. And I remember Coach Kill, he had his sunflower seeds and he was throwing them and he goes ‘yeah’ he goes ‘bigger they are, the harder they fall Kevin’.”
“I remember Kevin scoring both touchdowns, but I think the biggest thing is once we got on them and starting play our game they got to fighting among their selves and I really think, and that’s when I felt we’ve got it,” added Doug Collard, former offensive and defensive lineman for the ’89 Cardinals.
The size of Sumner would not matter. The Cardinals shut out the Bulldogs 16-0 in the state championship game, courtesy of two Kevin Crane rushing touchdowns and a field goal. It would be the first state championship in Webb City Football history and the beginning of the Cardinals dynasty.
The party was far from over though. The Cardinals would receive a heroes welcome when they returned to Webb City.
“You know there was people there that didn’t even go to a game probably all year, but they were just excited because it happened. Um, it was just electric, you know, I had two boys play and they won state championships and we did the same thing, but it was just not quite the same, you know, it was brand new,” said Crane.
The tradition is still alive whether it was their first or their 14th, the town of Webb City still comes out to support their Cardinals, and you can expect them to do it again if the Cardinals bring home another championship in the near future.