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WARDSVILLE, Mo. - At this point in the season, when you're one of just eight football teams in your class still playing, you'll do whatever it takes to stay alive.
For the Blair Oaks Falcons, that means doing whatever it takes on both sides of the ball.
When the Falcons (11-1), ranked eighth in the state in Class 2, travel to Palmyra for a 1:30 p.m. game today against the ninth-ranked Panthers, they're going to throw in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
It's a move that served them well in their previous game, a 17-7 win against South Callaway in the district final. In that contest, the Falcons put a wrinkle in their offense by splitting time between Jordan Hair and Haydn Lock at quarterback.
Hair, a sophomore, has been a dangerous option with his arm all year. Lock, a senior, is in the midst of a record-setting season at receiver, but has proven to be an impressive runner when taking snaps.
"Against our option game everybody is loading the box (to handle running back Caleb Bischoff inside) and running the safeties down the alley hard at Dominic (Jamerson)," Blair Oaks coach Brad Drehle said. "You have to have that third option in there.
"Jordan has been a tremendous player for us all year long. My goodness, he's sitting on the verge of a couple school records as a sophomore. But his strength is not running the football. So we've got to do something that brings that third element in there, and Haydn does that."
It's a move made in part to avoid second-guessing yourself later on.
"You don't want to leave anything to chance. You've run all the scenarios and it's, "If things aren't working, what can we do?'" Drehle said. "Our kids deserve a chance, they've worked their (behinds) off. So it's, "What can we do (as coaches) to give them an opportunity to win?' If Haydn does that, he'll play. If Jordan does that and we can do things with him, he'll play. I don't have a formula. ... We're going to go in and do a little bit of both and whatever works is what we're going to roll with."
Much of it comes from Lock having an outstanding senior season.
"He's a senior and he can make plays for us," Drehle said. "We talked about that back when we put Justin Eiken (at quarterback) in the beginning. It was, "You've got a 1,000-yard receiver, all-state receiver, and you're going to put him at quarterback? What are you doing that for?' But my point was, if I put him at receiver and I move him to running back or do this or that, he's going to touch the ball 15, 20 times a game. If I stand him at quarterback and we take 60 snaps, he's going to have his hand on every one of them.
"That's how I'm looking at Haydn right now. He's our guy. The ball needs to go through his hands as much as we can. If I can get four or five pass attempts thrown at him and we can run 15, 20 plays of offense through him at quarterback, good for us."
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons will try to do whatever it takes to slow down a surging Palmyra squad. The Panthers haven't had a game decided by less than four touchdowns since Week 2. They're outscoring opponents by an average of 44-8 this year, although it's even more lopsided during the past nine games - they're winning by an average of 46-3.
"They're a senior-dominated team," Drehle said. "This is a team they've been building for and waiting for for a long time."
Of the 22 starting spots, the Panthers' 15 seniors hold down 20 of them. Three of those seniors are the main options on offense - quarterback Brock Butler and running backs Caleb Kizer and Josh Hultz.
"They've got three really good skill kids, a quarterback and two running backs, a lot like what we were a year ago," Drehle said. "I don't think they're as physical at those positions as the three kids we had a year ago, but they're very good, they're very talented. Butler can go from anywhere, and so can Kaiser. And Hultz is a very physical runner. He's a true fullback-type of kid."
Kizer leads the squad in rushing (1,279 yards on 112 carries, 11.4 avg.) and rushing touchdowns (23), while Hultz is second in yards (973 on 140 carries, 7.0 avg.) and third in touchdowns (9). Butler is third in yardage (894 on 130 carries, 6.9 avg.) and second in scoring (17 TDs).
Butler has also completed 40-of-79 passes for 892 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, the bulk of Palmyra's passing numbers came in one game - 8-of-20 for 164 yards in a 24-21 win against Centralia in the second game of the season. For the rest of the year, the Panthers have averaged fewer than six passes per game.
"Butler is a lot like (Craig) Winkelmann from Hermann, similar build, similar everything," Drehle said. "He's been playing two or three years as a starter. This is his year, he's very confident in what he does and he's going to make some plays with his feet and a few with his arm. ... He's got a little bit of a swagger about him as he stands in."
One other thing the Falcons will need to prepare for is some interesting formations from the Panthers, especially when it comes to special teams.
"We're going to see swinging gate (on conversions) and they're going to run plays out of it," Drehle said. "They're going to make us defend them down there and go for two.
"They do some crazy things in their punt game and everything else. So they make you defend the entire night."
The winner will advance to play either Lafayette County or Lawson in the state semifinals next Saturday.