Falcons, Bulldogs play yet another game with big implications

Hermann quarterback Craig Winkelmann looks for running room as Blair Oaks lineman Chance Cumpton (79) and linebacker Caleb Bischoff (30) close in during Wednesday night’s game at the Falcon Athletic Complex.

Hermann quarterback Craig Winkelmann looks for running room as Blair Oaks lineman Chance Cumpton (79) and linebacker Caleb Bischoff (30) close in during Wednesday night’s game at the Falcon Athletic Complex. Photo by Kris Wilson.

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Blair Oaks Week 12 Podcast

WARDSVILLE — It’s November, so that must mean it’s time for a meaningful football game between the Blair Oaks Falcons and the South Callaway Bulldogs.

For the third consecutive year, a trip to the Class 2 quarterfinals will go to the winner of the ball game, with the latest installment coming at 7 p.m. today at the Falcon Athletic Complex.

“You’ve got the two teams who seem to be winning (a lot), playing in a big ball game in mid-Missouri,” Blair Oaks coach Brad Drehle said. “It’s going to be a fun one. It’s one of those things that everybody looks forward to.

“This is what you play for. ... It’s one of those ball games you build for.”

The Falcons are hoping history also holds in terms of the result, as they’ve gotten the better of the Bulldogs the last two years. In 2011, when the game came in the state sectionals under the old playoff system, Blair Oaks posted a 14-8 win. Then last year, when it was the district championship game, they captured a 49-21 victory.

But to keep that trend heading in the same direction, the Falcons (10-1, ranked eighth in Class 2) will have to find a way to score against the stingy defense of the Bulldogs (10-1, ranked sixth).

South Callaway has six shutouts and has given up just 71 points in 11 games, a microscopic average of 6.5 per contest. And if you throw out the Bulldogs’ lone loss, where they gave up 38 points to Battle, it sinks to just 3.3 points.

“They don’t play defense for very long,” Drehle said when asked the key to the Bulldogs’ defense. “They come out and play really fast and they turn you over by either getting you off the field with a three-and-out, or by forcing a turnover.

“They throw people for big losses and get you way behind the chains. Eliminating some of those things is going to be the key, we can’t play behind the chains.”

And like they old saying goes, speed kills.

“They just play fast on defense,” Drehle said. “They play really fast.”

It’s a defense that does something much like a familiar foe for the Falcons.

“They’re going to cut our offensive linemen and try to prevent us from getting a push,” Drehle said. “They’re doing some things that are a little like Osage does, from the standpoint of they’re just a little unorthodox.”

Junior defensive back Cory Hanger leads the Bulldogs with 77 tackles, including 10.5 for loss. Senior linebacker Neal Hall is next with 59 tackles, while junior linebacker Dakoda Ballard has 47 and a team-leading five sacks.

One thing that’s always important in a game of this magnitude is turnovers, and the Falcons come in at a minus-7 for the season, having turned it over 29 times while forcing 22.

“This time of year, everything counts,” Drehle said. “Every yard counts, every inch on the field counts. You’ve just got to be able to take care of all of it.

“Both of us are going to have eliminate mistakes. We have unfortunately put the ball on the ground and done some things we don’t need to do, and we need to get better.”

Blair Oaks advanced to the title game of the District 6 Tournament by beating Hermann and its option offense in the semifinals. After playing extremely well for 21⁄2 quarters, Blair Oaks struggled for the final quarter and a half at stopping the Bearcats. The Falcons will see a similar attack tonight from the Bulldogs.

“Like I told the guys, hopefully it’s a feeling of being hungry, you want to go out and prove, ‘Hey, we’re better than this,’” Drehle said of the end of the semifinal game.

When the Bulldogs have the ball, they do a good job of playing keep-away.

“They’re going to try to play defense with their offense,” Drehle said. “They stay out there with their offense for a long period of time.

“They’re going to go no-huddle, but they’re not in a hurry. They’ll eat the clock up, so it really kinds of sucks the life out of a ball game, and that’s their style of play.”

That style has the Bulldogs averaging 41.4 points per game, as their lowest output of the season was 20, and that was the only time they’ve scored in the 20s this season.

“Coach (Tim) Rulo does a great job with scenarios,” Drehle said. “It’s, ‘If you’re doing this, we’re going to do this.’ They’ll get up at the line and because they don’t go at a fast pace, he’ll no-play you and get set and see where you’re at and then call a play.”

The Bulldogs have five players with six or more rushing touchdowns.

“They’ve got some kids who can score from anywhere on the field,” Drehle said.

The two biggest options at running back are Hanger and senior Garner Rudroff. Hanger has rushed for 706 yards on 61 carries with a team-high 10 touchdowns, while Rudroff has 466 yards on 107 carries with seven scores.

“The speed to the edge is a big part of it — Hanger and Rudroff can really run,” Drehle said. “They’re better at the line of scrimmage as an offensive line than they were last year, I think they’re closer to what they were two years ago.”

Junior quarterback Troy Hentges has rushed 73 times for 405 yards and nine touchdowns, and has completed 52-of-95 passes for 946 yards and 12 scores. His favorite target is Rudroff, who has 15 catches for 361 yards and five touchdowns.

The winner of today’s game will face the District 5 winner — either Palmyra or Bowling Green — at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals. If Blair Oaks wins, it would travel to either Palmyra or Bowling Green. If South Callaway wins, it would host Palmyra or play at Bowling Green.

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