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By Cody Thorn | Photo by Jason Peake

A mantra around the Webb City football program this fall — ‘Why not us?’ — pushed the Cardinals out of adversity and to a Missouri State High School Activities Association record 16th state championship.

The Cardinals won their first Class 5 championship with a 26-21 win against Wentzville Holt, the closest outcome in any of their state titles. The win also broke a tie with Valle Catholic for the most state titles won by any school.

Webb City held a 26-7 lead over Holt going to the fourth quarter before giving up a couple of scores and needed a late defensive stand to lock up the title. It was the seventh win in a row in 2021 — an improbable run that included knocking off some quality opponents on the way to securing a spot in the final.

When the Cardinals sat 4-3 after a 41-27 loss to Nixa, there were some rumblings that this group wasn’t on par with the state championship teams of the past.

“I remember the whole thing, could you imagine what if we played to our potential and everybody played better? And that led into, 'Why not us’,” said Webb City coach John Roderique, the SBLive Missouri Coach of the Year. “When you win, you don’t worry so much about that stuff, but you need to be as critical, maybe even more so, when you win than when you lose. When things don't go well on the scoreboard, we tend to look closer.”

There were a handful of losses that opened eyes for the Cardinals. The Nixa loss was one, the first time ever losing to the Eagles.

The Cardinals lost the season opener to Joplin, 41-40, on a last-second field goal. The game that probably shocked many was a 42-14 thumping at the hands of Carthage.

“When you lose a close game, you can point to half a dozen plays that could’ve made a difference,” Roderique said. “The first Carthage game, we were bad all over the place. It was not good from start to finish. We knew we probably would get a chance to get to play those guys again in districts.”

The week before that loss, Roderique wrapped up career win No. 300 and then essentially went back to the drawing board after the tough loss.

He was right, though: The Cardinals got another chance against Carthage — then ranked No. 1 in the state — in the district final. Webb City traveled to Carthage and pulled the 28-21 shocker.

“We all embraced the role of underdogs,” Roderique said of the rematch with Carthage. “What a great deal of confidence we got when we beat a really good team like that.”

A win over state-ranked Lebanon followed before a 35-21 win over defending state champion Jackson at home. 

Then the Cardinals headed to the championship game at the University of Missouri’s Faurot Field and took control of the title game after giving up an initial score.

However, Holt stormed back, and the Cardinals needed an interception on their 3-yard line to thwart a potential Holt game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. 

Instead, it was another ring to add to the collection for Roderique, who improved to 307-31 as the head coach of his alma mater. 

“It is really special how the road we took to get there and the obstacles and adversity and struggles,” Roderique said of this title. “We mentioned at the banquet the other day, the struggles. You can’t really get many places in life without great struggles, and we struggled a lot in a lot of different ways even in the state championships. You look, we are cruising pretty good, and then just hanging on for dear life.”

What’s next for Roderique in the interim is helping the team design another championship ring. He doesn’t bring them out often but will when helping give the players some ideas on what the championship ring could look like.

The conversation outside of the program is how many more titles will Roderique secure before retiring?

The veteran coach is a little non-committal about his future but points out adding former head coaches Ryan McFarland (Seneca) and Scott Bailey (Lamar/Jefferson City) to the staff helped reinvigorate him.

“I’m still up in the air for me what my future holds, but it does make you feel good about what you do as a coach and the opportunity to work with kids,” Roderique said. “That has been a question for a long time. It is not a surprise or anything. It’s one of those things a person does when they are getting later in your career and you get to the point you know when you can retire, I think it becomes a different question. We will see. Who knows. I really enjoyed this year. We had a couple new staff members in Ryan McFarland and Scott Bailey that made it really fun.”