MOKANE, Mo. — The state-ranked South Callaway Bulldogs are starting to study the "bigger picture" as district play quickly approaches.
South Callaway will make the long trip to Clarksville tonight for an Eastern Missouri Conference encounter with the Clopton/Elsberry IndianHawks. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs fell one spot to No. 10 in this week's Class 2 Missouri Media Rankings despite picking up their third straight win last week, a 47-12 victory at home against Bowling Green. South Callaway is now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play.
"We're wanting to prepare well for this week, but also prepare well for down the line in a few weeks," Bulldogs head coach Zack Hess said. "You just emphasize that and hold (the players) accountable when you get on the practice field, in the meetings and then (the game)."
It would be easy for South Callaway to dismiss Clopton/Elsberry, which is struggling. The IndianHawks suffered their fifth consecutive loss in a 62-24 blowout at Wright City last week, plunging to 2-5 on the season and 0-5 in the EMO.Clopton/Elsberry is giving up 44.6 points per game while only scoring 24.6, but Hess emphasized his players can't get caught up in the numbers.
"In our meetings (Monday), we told the team that we weren't going to sugarcoat anything, we'd be very honest with them — this is where we're at, this is where they're at, and these are the expectations," Hess said. "We're going to play Bulldog football and we always talk about that phrase, 'the faceless opponent.'
"It doesn't matter who we're playing, we have to play our game and really try to reach our goals. That's really all the mindset that you have to have going into that game."
Sophomore quarterback Shawn Yates has been responsible for the bulk of the IndianHawks' offensive output this season. Yates has completed just 44 percent of his passes (81-of-184), but he has thrown for 1,178 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He is also Clopton/Elsberry's leading rusher with 623 yards (5.2 average) and three scores. Yates' top target is senior wide receiver Blake Kendall, who has 13 catches for 388 yards (29.8 average) and six touchdowns.
"I think you see a younger version of the (Stephen) Talbert kid (former IndianHawks' quarterback)," Hess said in reference to Yates. "He's young, he's still learning — they run the same system as designed for their quarterback.
"They plug a guy in there that they feel like can get the job done. At the very least, he's gaining really good experience this year and he's only going to get better."
South Callaway's defense blanked Bowling Green in the first half last week, but then surrendered a pair of lengthy scoring drives to the Bobcats during the final 24 minutes. The Bulldogs gave up 249 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers.
Putting pressure on Yates when he looks to pass and reducing his running options will be focal points for the South Callaway defense tonight, according to Hess.
"The way that we run our underneath coverages is kind of built-in, the way that we tell our linebackers to press the quarterback when he gets outside the pocket," Hess said. "You could put in a spy coverage or do something schematically to help out with that dual-threat portion."
Hess pointed out that Clopton/Elsberry has shuffled through an assortment of defensive looks this season in an attempt to cause "confusion" for opponents, but the futile numbers appear to tell a different story.
"I think their coaching staff is doing a good job of being creative with their defense and some of the things that they do to cover up for their lack of depth or lack of athleticism," Hess said. "They're running a lot of different fronts on defense — odd front, even front — they stand up their D-line sometimes to bring pressure."
The Bulldogs' offense got off to a blazing start against Bowling Green, scoring on each of its first four possessions in building a 27-0 halftime lead. South Callaway, though, didn't produce any points on its next four series and committed two turnovers, before getting back on track with three straight scores.
Senior tailback Kaden Helsel ran for two scores and also caught two touchdown passes as the Bulldogs amassed 465 yards of offense.
"It's just about consistency, having that mindset that we're going to score on every possession," Hess said.