WARDSVILLE, Mo. - Just because the Versailles Tigers are struggling doesn't mean the Blair Oaks Falcons are taking them lightly.
In fact, the very idea the Tigers are winless on the season makes them like the proverbial wounded animal backed into a corner.
"They've got nothing to lose, so you come out there and they play loose and fast and free," Blair Oaks coach Brad Drehle said of the Tigers. "They'll turn it loose and who knows what you'll see. Maybe you see halfback pass, maybe you see reverse, maybe you see reverse pass. You could see anything.
"You tell your kids to not allow them to gain traction and get momentum. If you do that, you probably take care of business. But if you don't, the next thing you know, you're in a dogfight."
On paper, the game appears to be a mismatch. Blair Oaks comes in ranked eighth in the state in Class 2 and is 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the Tri-County Conference. Versailles, meanwhile, is 0-7 overall and 0-5 in league play.
"There's all kinds of coach-speak like, "Respect all, fear none,' that kind of thing, and this is one of those games that falls into that," Drehle said. "You prepare for this one just like you do every other game. It's about habits. If you have the right habits and you do things the right way and play full speed and execute, everything takes care of itself."
Drehle said the Tigers' search for that first win could have them pulling out all the stops.
"Dodge Anderson and Kyler Turpin, we haven't seen them much on offense (this year)," Drehle said. "And they've been three-year starters at running back, from the time they were sophomores, and we haven't seen them touch the ball. ... I told the kids, "Don't be surprised if they end up in the backfield. We may walk over there and all of a sudden, they have two new kids back there. Be prepared to play.'
"In that instance, there's certain formation tendencies they have and we need to just play those and play at full speed."
One thing that should be a certainty with the Tigers is junior Michael Allen will get the start at quarterback.
"Their quarterback is a big kid, he's 6-4, 230 pounds," Drehle said. "He's a decent runner. He doesn't have great speed, but he's strong and physical with the ball.
"At 6-4, they throw a lot of screens with him because he can invite pressure into him and still get rid of the ball, some of the things we did with Travis Henke when he was here. Because of that, he provides you with a challenge. When you're throwing the football, if your kids get open, anything can happen. We've all watched ball games where maybe you shouldn't be in it, then all of a sudden you get a big pass play or two and here we go."
When Allen goes to the air, his favorite targets are junior Raine Ryerson and freshman Sean Varner.
The Tigers have played just one team to a single-digit deficit, losing their opener 35-32 to Knob Noster. Since then, they've lost by big margins to Fulton (44-33), Warsaw (40-16), School of the Osage (57-0), Eldon (56-0), Hallsville (45-0) and Southern Boone (48-6). In fact, their touchdown in the fourth quarter last week ended the Tigers' scoreless streak at 15 quarters.
Last week, the Falcons looked very good passing the ball early and then running it well late. Drehle wants to continue to get better.
"We should be getting to a point where we know what we do well," he said. "Our running game, we're still trying to find that. Our passing game, we've kind of found our niche a little bit. Our kids are doing a good job. We need to get better, and more consistent, with our run game."
If the Falcons can become the latest team to blow out the Tigers, it would give Blair Oaks a chance to rest their starters who have logged some serious playing time the past two weeks.
"It was a very physical game against California (two weeks ago), a long game," he said. "Our kids played 160, 180 snaps. That's two games worth of snaps, as most ball games are 90-100. So we played two ball games worth of snaps, then turned around last week (against Warsaw) and played another 180, 190 snaps. So you've played four games' worth of snaps in two games. It takes its toll."
Notes: Blair Oaks will look to do a better job the rest of the season of hanging on to the ball. The Falcons have fumbled 22 times this year, losing 14. Their opponents have 18 fumbles, but have lost just four. "We're still putting it on the ground too much," Drehle said. "We don't make too big of a deal out of it. The kids are still playing hard and finding ways (to win). But as we go down the stretch, you can't give away the ball." ... Blair Oaks won last year's game with Versailles 55-6.