"I think that anybody in 8-man that said their goal wasn't a state championship wouldn't be being honest," Mound City quarterback Luke Sanders said.
While some schools can only dream of a state title, the Panthers have gotten use to the six hour trip to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Mound City made four consecutive championship appearances from 2008 to 2011, but missed the title game for the first time in five seasons in 2012.
"It was a major disappointment. We had high hopes last year," Panther running back Thomas Shifflett said. "Being part of Mound City for the last six years starting in junior high and looking up to them all the way back to kindergarten, I couldn't wait until I was up there playing. It was a big disappointment for me; a big disappointment for all of us."
Hope is not lost in Mound City after a 7-4 campaign -- their first season with fewer than ten wins since 2007 -- last year. The Panthers return five second team all-state performers, including Sanders, Shifflett, tight end Dayne Messer, defensive lineman Nathan Hayes and defensive back Hayden Marrs; and they expect to climb back to the top of the 275 Conference.
"To be out of the group of teams last year was pretty hard to take, so I think we've kind of reestablished that our goal is to try to get to one of the elite teams of 8-man again. I think they're ready to try to get back to that level," head coach Brian Messer said.
Messer wants to get back to that level through his defense. He draws comparisons for this team back to the 2009 squad that won a state title. But to get to that point, the Panthers have to shore up a defense that allowed more than 40 points four times last season.
"I hope that we can play similar to the 2009 team, the second team that I had here," Messer said. "They were a bigger team, a little more physical, and really were a great defensive team. That's what we're preaching, and that's what we're aiming for. I don't know if we have the ability to do that or not, but that is what we're trying to live up to."
With a group of six seniors entering their last fall on the football field, they've set their sights on the dome in St. Louis once again.
"Senior year, my last time playing football," Shifflett said. "I sure hope this year goes good. We're going to try for it."