Football team brings home state title after 40-31 shootout victory over Wichita Northwest

325 yards of rushing offense put Mill Valley on top, and a field goal with 33 seconds left sealed the state championship

Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

Redemption came quickly for kicker Chris Tennant. Just five minutes after missing a crucial extra point that would’ve given his team a seven-point lead, Mill Valley sent him back onto the field to attempt a 33-yard field goal that, with his team ahead by six and only 33 seconds on the clock, would all but clinch the team’s third state title in five years. After Tennant nailed the kick and sealed the team’s 40-31 state championship victory over Wichita Northwest, he felt vindicated. 

“That kick was just redemption. That’s what it came down to after missing that extra point,” Tennant said. “I get hard on myself, so I was pretty pissed off, but I wanted that field goal just to redeem myself and prove who I am.”

This mental toughness was a season-long theme for Mill Valley; according to head coach Joel Applebee, it’s what allowed the team to put together a state title run. 

“This group is so resilient with everything they do. They respond the right way to everything,” Applebee said. “We just couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Quarterback Cooper Marsh might be the best example of this resilience on the roster. After he started the season with six interceptions and just one win in the team’s first four games, Marsh began to limit his turnovers and lead the offense. Against Northwest, he put together his best statistical game of the season, throwing for 107 yards and rushing for 184 yards and four touchdowns — along with, notably, no turnovers. 

Even Applebee was impressed with Marsh’s performance. 

“Cooper’s just an unbelievable competitor,” Applebee said. “He did a tremendous job.”

Running back Tyler Green also personified this grit against a stout Northwest run defense. Green was held to just 64 yards on his first 15 carries, which would’ve been his lowest rushing output of the season. However, when the team needed a spark after giving up 14 unanswered points and allowing Northwest to tie the game at 31, Green finally came through. On the first play of a drive that began on the Mill Valley seven, Green burst up the right sideline for a thunderous 60-yard run. 

Marsh would cap that drive off with a 24-yard touchdown run that, with only five minutes to play, gave Mill Valley the lead for good. After his big run, Green, who finished with 21 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown, kept his intensity up until the team finally scored. 

“A big run like that it always feels amazing but, like coach says, always next play,” Green said. “We just came back and we put it in. That’s what we do.”

This group is so resilient with everything they do. They respond the right way to everything.

— head coach Joel Applebee

The team’s defense also made plays when it mattered most. Against an explosive Northwest offense that scored 80 points in their semifinal game against Maize, they allowed only 31 points and came up with a crucial fourth-down stop at the end of the game when defensive end Kendal Christopher batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. 

According to Applebee, these big defensive plays and performances have been central to Mill Valley’s title run. 

“They’ve carried us all year. They’ve been unbelievable. At times, they’re physically dominant. The back seven are just so smart,” Applebee said. “They understand this game. They understand exactly where they need to be. They need to be in position. Today, they were where they needed to be.”

While the defense might’ve been crucial at the end of the game, at the beginning, the Mill Valley offense led the way. Wide receiver Ty Reishus offered insight into what the team thought they could take advantage of when they had the ball. 

“We thought their defense was a little bit soft. We knew we could out-physical them,” Reishus said. “We just thought we could run Tyler up the middle.”

Both teams started the first quarter on an offensive roll. Northwest quarterback Reagan Jones struck first on a 38-yard rushing touchdown, bowling over two Mill Valley defenders on his way to the end zone. 

Marsh quickly responded for the Jaguars with a 52-yard touchdown run and, after a Northwest fumble on their first snap of the next drive, another 19-yard touchdown carry. After three touchdowns in the first four minutes, the game looked like it’d be a shootout.

However, after those three drives, both run defenses tightened up. The two teams combined for 201 rushing yards in the first quarter, but only 83 in the second. 

After a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive at the end of the first quarter by Mill Valley, which featured two Kendrick Jones catches for 40 yards and Green punching in the touchdown from one yard out, Mill Valley had an opportunity to take a commanding lead. Already up 21-7, they recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff  and took over at Northwest’s 43 yard line.

The team couldn’t capitalize, though — on fourth and 10 from the Northwest 17, wide receiver Jared Napoli came up one yard short. After the turnover on downs, Northwest rolled down the field, converting three third downs on a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive and cutting the lead to seven.

At the end of the half, Mill Valley safety Jack McGuire deflected what would’ve been a 34-yard Northwest touchdown pass and the defense held Northwest to a last-second 39-yard field goal. The team entered halftime with a 21-17 lead. 

We thought their defense was a little bit soft. We knew we could out-physical them.

— wide receiver Ty Reishus

Mill Valley opened the second half on the ground, running the ball five consecutive times before finally airing it out to wide receiver Jacob Hartman, who drew a pass interference penalty that put the ball on the Northwest 26. However, the drive eventually stalled in the red zone, and the team had to settle for a 28-yard field goal.   

On the team’s next drive, wide receiver Ty Reishus made a leaping 26-yard reception to convert a third and 12 to the Northwest 25. A few plays later, on first and 20, Marsh bounced a run outside for an electrifying 24-yard touchdown. The score put Mill Valley ahead 31-17 with only 11 minutes left to play.

Reishus led the team in receiving yards this season, but fell to fifth on the depth chart due to a leg injury. However, he made the most of the chance he got with a huge third down conversion. He explained what was going through his mind when he finally saw the field for that third down. 

“It’s just a next man up mentality,” Reishus said. “Whenever you touch the field you have to ball out.”

On Northwest’s next drive, Reagan Jones took over. He bullied his way to a six-yard gain on fourth and one, then took the next snap 50 yards for a touchdown to cut the Mill Valley lead to seven. Mill Valley linebacker Kolten Jegen then muffed the kickoff and gave Northwest the ball back. On only their second play of the next drive, Jones completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver Zion Jones to tie the game at 31. 

After Northwest rattled off fourteen straight points to tie the game, Mill Valley’s offense couldn’t respond. Kendrick Jones dropped a slant on second down, Northwest’s defensive line forced an incompletion on third down and a high snap on the ensuing punt resulted in Northwest taking over from the Mill Valley 45.

However, throughout that run by Northwest to tie the game, Applebee was never worried about his team’s ability to respond.

“We talk to our kids all the time. ‘Keep your head in the game. Keep your head in focus. What’s next?’ You can’t think about [a mistake],” Applebee said. “You have to be able to learn from it, move on and respond the right way. All year long they’ve been doing that.”

Applebee’s faith in his team turned out to be justified. 

After the Mill Valley defense came up with a big three-and-out, the offense took over from their own seven. Then, after picking up only 64 total yards on his first 15 carries, Tyler Green exploded for a massive 60-yard run down the right sideline on the drive’s first play. Three plays later on third and five, Marsh scampered into the end zone untouched for a 35-yard touchdown, his fourth of the day. Kicker Chris Tennant missed the extra point, but the score gave Mill Valley a 37-31 lead with 5:21 to play. 

On the next Northwest drive, defensive end Kendal Christopher made perhaps the biggest play of his Jaguar career. He swatted down a pass on fourth and 4 to get the ball back for Mill Valley with 3:23 to play. On the ensuing offensive drive, Tennant made up for his earlier miss with a 33-yard kick that, with 33 seconds to play, put Mill Valley up 40-31 and all but sealed the game.

The last 29 seconds were a formality. While Northwest frantically attempted to move the ball downfield, the Mill Valley sideline began to bask in their victory. Finally, when the clock hit zero, the team could exhale. 

While his team ultimately lost, Northwest quarterback Reagan Jones put together an impressive all-around game. He finished the game with 161 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 178 passing yards and a passing touchdown. 

At the end of the day, though, Mill Valley took home the title, winning their third consecutive game against a previously undefeated team. Applebee described exactly why he thinks his program has been so successful in the face of challenges this season.

“It’s just a work ethic, a belief and an understanding of the value of hard work. It starts at home, and then we just add to it as much as we can in our program,” Applebee said. “They believe in the weight room, they believe in preparation and they believe in understanding that you have to respond. They’ve done it all year.”

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