The X-Factor put his mark on the biggest game of his career.
Darrius Shepherd – "X-Factor" as he's called by his teammates – returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to get the ball rolling for the Class 6 state champion Blue Springs High School football team as it claimed a 35-14 victory over Columbia Rock Bridge in the Show-Me Bowl Friday night in the Edward Jones Dome.
"We needed something big and we got it from Shep," Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe said of Shepherd after his 14-0 squad became the first team in the history of Eastern Jackson County to win back to back titles. "I said for two years he's the most underrated player in the metro area. He doesn't get all the attention, he just finds a way to help this team win."
While the return was crowd-pleasing, two bone-jarring blocks by Elijah Lee and Gunnar Strickland made it even more memorable.
"I saw No. 9 (Hayden Johnson) and he was kind of heading toward Shep," Strickland said, "and then Shep and I made eye contact. I knew if I got a block, he was gone. It was close to a clip, but it was a clean block and it was a great way to start the game."
The low-key Shepherd was grinning as Strickland described his role in the game-opening touchdown.
"We wanted to do something early to put some points on the board," Shepherd said. "When I got it, there was a nice seam. Elijah made the first block, then Gunnar and I had this eye contact. I knew he was going to make the block to help me score. It was a team effort – it was a team effort."
Cobi Bissell felt the same way.
The backup running back and starting defensive back was thrust into the spotlight when Simone Award winner Dalvin Warmack left the game with a left ankle injury at 1:53 of the second period.
Bissell scored on runs of 4 and 36 yards and the Wildcats offense didn't skip a beat.
"Cobi Bissell would be a starter on most teams," Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe said. "He just happens to be behind the best back in the state. When he came into the game for Dalvin, all the guys were confident."
Especially the members of the offensive line.
"We hated to see Dalvin go down," lineman Jordan Benson said, "but we knew Cobi could get it done. And he did."
Bissell played every down on defense at his hybrid corner/safety/linebacker position.
"It's just such an honor to be a part of a state championship team two years in a row," Bissell said. "We all hated to see Dalvin get injured, but we knew we had to keep playing hard to win a second straight state championship."
The new kid on the block played a huge role in the win as first-year quarterback Ian Brown completed 11 of 18 passes for 165 yards and two scores to Kaleb Prewett.
"These guys are all celebrating their second state championship," said Brown, who attended Rockhurst High School last season. "This is my first, and it feels good. Now, we have to get working towards winning another one next year."
For the second year in a row, a Wildcat assistant coach has left the team with a state title. Last year Marc Hines retired following the state championship and this year Tim Dade retired in the same fashion.
"Tim has meant so much to me and this team," Donohoe said. "What a great way for him to go out."