CALIFORNIA, Mo. — On the surface, a matchup between 2-6 California and 7-1 School of the Osage might not seem like the most enticing of regular-season finales.
But in reality, both have a lot to gain when they take the field at 7 p.m. today.
California is currently in a four-way battle for the all-important No. 4 seed in Class 2 District 4. With less than two points separating California, Versailles, Stockton and El Dorado Springs, a win against a ranked Class 3 opponent in Osage would go a long way in giving the Pintos an inside track to host a district game.
Going into tonight's game, the Pintos are seeded seventh and would head to Fair Grove to open districts.
"We've got a lot to play for," California coach Marty Albertson said. "It's not conference, of course, but it's district seeding. If we could get an upset win this week, we could almost move clear to fourth, beating a 7-1 team.
"It's a big game for us. Hopefully the kids will understand that and play hard."
For the Indians, a win would certainly lock up a top-two seed in Class 3 District 3, and could put them in position to earn the district's No. 1 seed should undefeated Owensville slip tonight at St. Clair.
After a 6-0 start to the year, Osage fell 40-16 at Blair Oaks in Week 7, but bounced back in a big way last week with a 32-6 win against Eldon.
The Indians boast a talented offense led by quarterback Zach Wheeler and running back Nick Riley. Wheeler has thrown for more than a 1,000 yards this season and has a pair of capable targets in wide receivers Jason Edwards and Drake Gaines.
Riley has gained more than 500 yards on the ground this season and is one of the top backs in the Tri-County Conference.
For California, tonight will be the third game in a row against an opponent with a litany of options at the skill positions. The Pintos are hoping to learn from their recent lopsided losses to Southern Boone and Blair Oaks.
"Their offense is not a whole lot different from what we've seen, especially last week," Albertson said. "They have two great receivers and they have a good running back. They do a lot of different formations and try to get you out of sync and out of position.
"We just have to be diligent on our assignments and stay with who we have and not let all the motion and all that stuff get in our head."
Offensively, the Pintos continue to revolve around quarterback Jacob Wolken. Last week, Blair Oaks made a concerted effort to stop the junior on the ground. While Wolken didn't have his most efficient rushing output with 72 yards on 17 carries, he still proved to be effective.
Like the Falcons, Osage will likely key in on Wolken, which should open up things for running back Cory Friedmeyer. The junior averaged 8.5 yards per carry last week and consistently gashed Blair Oaks after getting the pitch on the read-option.
"They're going to key on Jacob," Albertson said. "Any team that watches our film will do that, so there's going to be an opportunity for Cory to get some yards."
Osage's push to focus on stopping the run game will likely force Wolken to throw, which is something he's used to by now. Five of Wolken's six touchdown passes have come in the past three weeks, and tight ends Jackson Trachsel and Jacob Adams have become more integral in California's offense of late.
Trachsel, a senior, has caught touchdowns in each of the past two games, including a 31-yard scoring grab in the first quarter against Blair Oaks.
"That pass came off of our option where we fake the run and pick up and throw it," Albertson said. "If we can get the option going, it sets the pass up. Hopefully when we're in double tight, we can do that again."
District uncertainty aside, California will also have the added pressure of tonight being Senior Night. With a handful of players who might be stepping onto Riley Field for the final time, the Pintos will try to turn that pressure into motivation.
"All of them want to see the seniors go out with a home field win," Albertson said. "Hopefully the intensity will be a little bit higher than last week. The seniors are going to remember the game for the rest of their lives, so there's no need to hold back."
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