The victory wasn’t in hand until the game’s final minute, but Monroe High made the plays when needed to secure history.

The Dragons couldn’t put Kennedy away but held on for a 41-35 win in an OSAA 2A football quarterfinal at Bob Holt Stadium.

Monroe will play in the state semifinals for the first time since 1970 when it plays Knappa, a 48-34 winner over Oakland on Saturday, at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Central High in Independence.

Kennedy (4-7) trailed 28-7 at halftime in what turned out to be a penalty-filled contest, but closed within one score three times after the break.

Twice Monroe (9-1) answered with its own touchdown. The third time, the Dragons recovered an onside kick and ran out the final 74 seconds on the clock.

“That was a test for us. We haven’t really had that all year except for St. Paul, and we got blown out,” said Monroe’s Zach Young, whose team played its first close game of the season and won it’s eighth in a row. “It was a good test for us and we’re going to have those in the playoffs.”

Monroe defeated Kennedy 28-0 back on Sept. 15.

But the Dragons didn’t see the same Trojans team Saturday. Kennedy had since moved Emorej Lynk from quarterback to tailback, and Lynk played a big part in the Trojans keeping it close in the second half.

He scored two touchdowns in the third quarter  on an 11-yard pass reception and a 6-yard run — that got Kennedy within 28-21.

Monroe then turned the ball over on downs at the Trojans 13 but got a defensive stop and took its next possession at the Kennedy 32 after a poor punt.

Three players later, Young found the end zone on a 21-yard run.

Kennedy got a good kick return to the 50. Following four straight Lynk runs, Brady Traeger hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass.

Monroe had an answer. The Dragons went 65 yards in 11 plays, with quarterback Kai Garber capping it on a 2-yard touchdown run that made it a 41-28 game after a failed point-after try with 2:33 remaining.

On the drive, Young went 17 yards on a third-and-8 play, running right then changing direction for the big gain. Later, Brian Goracke caught a 15-yard pass from Garber to extend the possession. Garber scored two plays later.

Kennedy came back with its own score, aided by two of the three facemask personal fouls called on the Dragons in the fourth quarter.

Traeger caught a 12-yard touchdown with 1:14 remaining, but Monroe’s Brodey Lynn came up with ensuing onside kick and the Dragons bled the clock.

Monroe coach Bill Crowson, noting that his team opened the second half flat, said it was good to see his players have to battle for a win. They got a reminder afterwards that they need to be able to play two halves.

“We really shot ourselves in the foot all game getting penalties,” Garber said. “But we knew this would be our last chance if we lost. We really pressed on the gas pedal and took care of business.”

Crowson said the facemask penalties came from his players reaching and not using their feet better. But Lynk was also elusive and hard to bring down, the coach noted, making for difficult tackling angles.

Young rushed for 150 yards on 20 carries and Parker Wynn added 95 on seven attempts, including a 49-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

A shanked punt in the closing minutes before halftime put the Dragons at the Kennedy 32.

They took advantage, as they did in a similar position in the second half. Young made a diving catch in the back of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown from Garber four plays later.

Garber passed for 67 yards. Young had three catches for 45 yards.

Lynk was Kennedy’s leading rusher (20-111) and receiver (3-38).

Garber, a sophomore, also rushed seven times for 37 yards. He was poised behind center and made some big plays.

“He’s hard to rattle,” Crowson said. “That’s kind of the group, they’re pretty tough-minded … and pretty loose. It was good to tighten them up a little bit.”