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story.lead_photo.caption The Tipton Cardinals secure an onside kick during drills at recent practice. Photo by Carter Mulvihill / News Tribune.

TIPTON, Mo. — Tony Braby is in his 19th season as Tipton head football coach. Suffice to say, there aren't many firsts remaining for him at this point in his coaching career.

That's what makes tonight's game between the Tipton Cardinals and the Knob Noster Panthers so enticing. Despite being less than an hour apart, the teams have never met in Braby's tenure with the Cardinals. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. in Knob Noster.

Both teams are 1-2 and will be looking to get back to the .500 mark as they near the halfway point of the regular season. For Tipton, the game will be about fine-tuning some of the things it did well in its 26-12 win against Windsor in Week 3.

"We started out fast and got our option game and sweep game going on the perimeter," Braby said. "(Windsor) kind of widened out their defensive end play and forced us to come back inside.

"We were getting good runs up the middle with our fullback and it was just a little bit of everything was working."

As they've done in each of the first three weeks, the Cardinals will feature fullback Dakota Pace heavily in the run game against Knob Noster. The junior is both the team's leading rusher and tackler this season.

"It would be hard to convince me that (Dakota) hasn't been the defensive and offensive player of these first three games," Braby said. "He has a nose for the ball defensively and he's a tough, straight-ahead, physical runner who's a load to bring down."

Though the Panthers will be an unfamiliar opponent for the Cardinals, Braby thinks his team has already seen glimpses of what Knob Noster does in each of their past two games.

"I kind of compare them to a Windsor-type team," Braby said. "They're big, physical and have some good speed. We have to make sure we don't let them get on the outside and hurt us with their speed.

"Defensively, they really like to bring the house. They blitz a lot and try to get on top before you have a chance to get anything going passing-wise."

If there's one weakness on Tipton's defense, it's in the secondary. The unit struggled in a 42-8 Week 2 loss against North Callaway, and will be tested again tonight.

"(Knob Noster) likes to pass and spread it out," Braby said. " We're a little concerned about that. They haven't completed a whole lot, but they're not afraid of throwing down the field."

The Panthers are coming off a 62-7 loss to Butler in their last game. After a season-opening loss to Versailles, Knob Noster beat Lone Jack 30-14 in Week 2. It was the program's first win since Week 1 of the 2013 season.

Entering the year, Tipton was a young team with a small roster that was trying to get a grasp on the complex triple-option offense.

Almost a month into the season, the youth and roster size hasn't changed much. The offense, however, has taken more than a few strides forward.

"Week 3 was our biggest offensive production, but we're still a ways from being to where we'd like to be at," Braby said. "When we installed our offense, we thought we'd see better results the second half of the season and I think the kids are starting to pick it up.

"The line is blocking really well. It's still confusing at times for our quarterback, but when we get it down, I think we'll really be able to put up some yards and points."

When the Cardinals take the field tonight, the biggest thing going in their favor will be the team's self-belief. Last week's victory was the first varsity win for many of Tipton's players. They're ready to taste that feeling again.

"I think (the win) will have a huge effect going into this game," Braby said. "Looking at the players' faces after last game, you would've thought we won the state championship. The win meant that much to us."

Tipton at Knob Noster

Preview podcast: Tipton Cardinals Football Podcast [Knob Noster preview, Sept. 9, 2016]

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