CALIFORNIA, Mo. - It might not have been the ending the California football team was hoping for.
But give the Pintos credit for making top-ranked Maryville earn its way another state championship game.
"It's a tough loss right now, but I'm very proud of the kids and the way they played," California coach Marty Albertson said after Maryville claimed a 22-13 win over the Pintos in a Class 3 semifinal game Saturday afternoon. "They left it all out on the field today."
Maryville (13-0), who defeated California (12-2) last year in the semifinal round, will take on Seneca (11-3) for the state title at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Seneca beat John Burroughs 31-7 in the other Class 3 semifinal.
Despite taking an early lead, the Spoofhounds were tested by a smaller California team throughout the game.
"They played their hearts out," Albertson said. "The ball just didn't bounce our way today."
The Pintos lost three fumbles on the day, the first one leading to a 70-yard touchdown return by Maryville senior Dalton Pistole as the Spoofhounds took an 8-0 lead with 2:52 left in the second quarter.
Maryville got another big play when junior running back Payden Dawson broke free for a 43-yard touchdown run to give the Spoofhounds a 14-point lead with 41 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Pintos, ranked fifth in Class 3, had a quick response.
Junior running back Walker Borghardt took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score to bring California within seven with 26 seconds left before the break.
The Pintos, who finished with 223 yards of total offense, kept the momentum flowing when they had back-to-back goal-line stands late in the third quarter.
"They had size and they had speed, but I thought our defense played really well against them," Albertson said. "They were bigger than we were and our kids just played with a lot of heart.
"We kept putting our defense in trouble all game and they kept responding with the great goal line stands. You can't say anything more about that - that was awesome."
Maryville finally got past the California defense when senior quarterback Trent Nally found Adam Thompson for a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to give the Spoofhounds a 22-7 lead with 7:54 left in the game.
The Pintos weren't done fighting.
California quarterback Jaden Barr ran for a 57-yard score to bring the Pintos within 22-13 with 7:12 remaining.
Sophomore kicker Aaron Cuevas, the hero from last week's quarterfinal win, came up big again when he perfectly executed an onside kick. The Pintos recovered the ball and drove to the Maryville 10-yard line, but Cuevas' field-goal attempt on fourth down was blocked and the Spoofhounds took over from their own 15.
California forced a quick three-and-out, but the Pintos lost their third fumble of the game on a punt return as Maryville regained possession from the California 31-yard line with 3:32 left in the game.
"That happens. Nobody tries to fumble the football, nobody tries to turn the ball over," Albertson said. "Football is a funny game. You get turnovers and the ball bounces funny some days. Today, it bounced a little bit to them. If some of those go the other direction, the score could have been a little different."
California's defense put together another goal-line stand to keep the Spoofhounds off the board, but it was too late.
Barr was 7-of-13 for 104 yards through the air and had 65 yards rushing on four carries. Senior running back Jerry Lutz added 22 yards on the ground on four carries, and Andrew Norton had two catches for 83 yards to lead California offensively.
"We didn't move the ball as much as we had all year, but that's because of (Maryville's defense)," Albertson said. "They have a great front four."
Nally was 3-of-9 for 41 yards and threw one touchdown, while Dakota Beemer added 139 yards rushing on 23 carries to pace Maryville, which finished with 278 yards of total offense.