MONROE CITY, MO. (WGEM) -- They may have fallen short but the Monroe City football team got a taste of what it's like to play in a state championship game last season.
Now it's time to see if they can take it one step farther this season.
"We got to live up to some high expectations this year. But we've got a lot of the same group back with us this year," senior Cole Pennewell said.
"I think we can do a lot of great things."
According to junior Jonathan Saxbury, "It really hurt losing that game last season. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and it reminds us that we have to work hard each and every day."
The Panthers return plenty of firepower from the 2016 bunch that won 11 games, including plenty of experience in the trenches.
"They've accepted the role of not only being the protectors but trying to be the predators up front, and being a good, solid, aggressive group," head coach David Kirby said of the offensive line.
There's plenty to like at the skill positions as well.
Quarterback Blake Hays is back, and he's joined in the backfield by Zach Osborn and Cole Pennewell.
"We got Zach and he's really fast, we got Gage Bottoms, he can hit and he's really fast, and myself, I can run somebody over once in a while," Pennewell said.
Defensively speaking, the secondary is stacked with Dawson Shively and Nathan Mehrer, and they are led by an All-State linebacker in Pennewell and an All-State defensive lineman in Saxbury.
"They're both blue collar, country kids. They're the demolition, county fair kids that play aggressive on football (fields), and just have fun," Kirby said in regards to his dynamic defensive duo. "They enjoy the contact and they know what's coming this year."
"Our defense is really good," senior Alex Wilson indicated.
"We can fly around to the football and get 11 hats to the ball."
The Panthers know there's a bullseye on their back and it's something they embrace.
"We want kids to come out and and give us their best because that's going to make us better," Kirby explained.
?"We want to compete at a high level and see how good we can be."