MOKANE — With summer's aftertaste lingering on the first night of autumn, the state-ranked South Callaway Bulldogs are planning to run Mark Twain's defense to the point of exhaustion.
South Callaway will try to capitalize on humid conditions tonight when they host the Mark Twain Tigers in an Eastern Missouri Conference encounter for Homecoming. Temperatures are still expected to be in the low 80s when the matchup kicks off at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs piled up points and yardage in their 56-21 thrashing in conference play last week at Montgomery County. South Callaway — which is tied for 10th with Lafayette County in this week's Class 2 Missouri Media Rankings after a one-week absence — improved to 4-1 on the season and 2-1 in the EMO.
Mark Twain tumbled to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play after suffering its fourth consecutive loss last week — a 38-6 home setback to Bowling Green. The Tigers' defense has been under siege during the losing streak, giving up 42.3 points per game.
South Callaway head coach Zack Hess noted the Bulldogs' offense intends to keep the heat on Mark Twain tonight. The Bulldogs accumulated 395 yards of total offense last week, including 272 yards rushing.
"If we can wear those guys (Tigers) down, we want to get them moving around a lot on defense," Hess said. " We want to get out on the perimeter and attack the edges, and get those guys running back and forth."South Callaway relied on explosive plays to launch its outburst last week. Of the seven offensive touchdowns scored by the Bulldogs, four covered 30 yards or more.
Senior running back Kaden Helsel darted 80 and 54 yards for scores and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from junior running back Peyton Leeper, who was playing quarterback at the time. Senior running back Dalton Stone also delivered a 30-yard touchdown run.
Hess noted Mark Twain's defense has primarily operated out of a four-man front this season, but has also shown 3-4 and 3-5 looks.
"Up front they're big and physical — they're going to get after it on the line of scrimmage," Hess said. "Their linebackers do a good job of getting downhill and the (senior quarterback Lincoln) Talbott kid plays safety. It seems like he flies around all over the place."
Talbott steers the Tigers' run-influenced offense that is averaging a skimpy 8.3 points per game during their losing streak.
Through his first four games, Talbott has completed just 17-of-37 passes (46 percent) for 272 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He has ran the ball only 20 times for 55 yards and no scores.
The bulk of Mark Twain's offensive output comes from a pair of sophomore running backs, Jace Barton and Avery Epperson. Barton has gained a team-high 390 yards (4.8 average) and scored five touchdowns, while Epperson has rushed for 138 yards (4.1 average) and two scores.
"(Barton) is a little more elusive, a little more speedy," Hess said. "He can run between the tackles, but it seems like he gets a lot of his yardage on the perimeter.
"(Epperson) is more of a 'B' back, a fullback-type guy, a bowling ball-type kid. He's very physical, he plays linebacker on defense, he's just going to try to run you over."
The Tigers will contend with a South Callaway defense that surrendered a meager 44 yards rushing to Montgomery County last week.
"We're going to have to have great perimeter run fits, as well as interior run fits," Hess said.
The Bulldogs will be without senior wide receiver-cornerback Austin Meyer tonight after he injured his right knee last week. Meyer had a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
According to Hess, Meyer visited the doctor Tuesday and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday to see if there was any damage to his meniscus or medial collateral ligament. Hess said there was no timetable for Meyer's return.