Friday Football: Blair Oaks overcomes early woes to rout California

CALIFORNIA -- It wasn’t a great start for the Blair Oaks Falcons, but the finish was near-perfect.

Still, the start Blair Oaks had Friday night against the California Pintos had Falcons coach Ted LePage a little concerned.

“I thought California came out ready to play,” LePage said. “I felt like we were a little flat in warmups.”

The sluggish start led to the Falcons’ first deficit of the season, but Blair Oaks rebounded in the second quarter and cruised to a 52-14 victory at Riley Field.

“California took advantage of some situations, but we turned around, coaches made the adjustments and the players adapted,” LePage said.

So why the concern with a 38-point victory?

“I’m disappointed because we’re capable of (playing well),” LePage said. “You’ve got to perform to what your talent (level) is. In the first half, we were trying to ease into the football game instead of coming in kicking and screaming.”

Blair Oaks’ offense opened the game with three incomplete passes and a punt just 36 seconds into the contest. On their second possession, the Falcons got the ball inside the Pintos’ 5-yard line, but a turnover on downs kept the game scoreless.

“We can’t ease into it,” LePage said. “Because there are going to be times where we can’t make adjustments.”

Take, for example, the Pintos’ ensuing offensive possession.

California used a hurry-up offense -- snapping the ball between 10-15 seconds after the end of the previous play -- to take a 7-0 lead on a 14-play, 98-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Brooks Volkart.

“It is hard to prepare for,” LePage said of California’s hurry-up offense. “You’re trying to emulate their speed, but then you’re not getting quality reps at practice. That being said, we’re a better team than what we showed earlier. We were missing tackles, we were running past stuff. We were doing things that were uncharacteristic of us.”

Aside from that drive and Ayden Bryant’s 65-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, the Blair Oaks defense only allowed 110 yards on California’s other possessions.

After Bryant’s touchdown grab with 5:37 to go in the second quarter, California did not make another first down.

“I really feel like in the second half, we settled down and just played Blair Oaks football,” LePage said.

The Pintos were held to 91 yards rushing and averaged just 2.3 yards per carry.

“They earned every yard they got,” LePage said. “In the first half, they ran pretty well on us. In the second half, I don’t know if there were too many positive yards. And that’s something we can build on.”

LePage was pleased to see the in-game adjustments from his players and coaches Friday night. The adjustments also allow for more dialog during Saturday’s morning film review session.

“It’s good for when we go watch film, because we can say, ‘Here’s play No. 5 and here’s play No. 75. What’s the difference?’” LePage said.

“When we go back and look on film, we’ll go, ‘What changed?’ You have to be able to play for the entire length of a football game. You can’t just play for a quarter, you can’t just play for a half.”

Blair Oaks’ run defense wasn’t its only strong area in Friday’s win.

For starters, quarterback Dylan Hair rushed for a school single-game record of 351 yards on just 18 carries. He had 294 yards rushing -- aided by runs of 66, 79 and 76 yards -- in the first half.

“You just have to tip your hat off to Dylan, because he made some plays ordinary humans don’t make,” LePage said.

The special teams unit prevented California kickoff returns with well-placed squib kicks. Jake Hagner also blocked a punt late in the first quarter that set up the Falcons’ go-ahead touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter.

“I thought the punt block by Jake Hagner was awesome,” LePage said. “That’s a game-changing play.”

Nolan Laughlin capped the game with his second career field goal, splitting the uprights from 26 yards with 2:50 to play.

“We want to score touchdowns, believe me, but being able to kick a field goal really helps you lengthen the field,” LePage said.

Despite failing to score on its first two possessions, the Blair Oaks offense had 624 yards of total offense.

Aside from Hair’s record-breaking performance, the Falcons began to take what the Pinto defense gave them.

“In the second half, they were going to give us 5-yard passes, so we took them,” LePage said. “We need to quit trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Joey Wilde caught six passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, while Alec Wieberg had three receptions for 52 yards and a score. Hagner added a 41-yard touchdown grab.

Hair accounted for three rushing touchdowns and Hayden Lackman -- who had 17 carries for 77 yards -- scored the Falcons’ first touchdown on a 5-yard run.

“This team is really fun to be around because they work together so much,” LePage said.

Kilmer completed 11-of-24 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown. Blair Oaks linebacker Brady Kerperin snagged an interception on the Pintos’ opening possession, as the Falcon defense has had at least one interception in every game this season.

California (1-3, 0-2 Tri-County Conference) hosts School of the Osage on Friday. The Indians (1-3) won their first game of the season this weekend, blanking Eldon 28-0.

Blair Oaks (4-0, 2-0 Tri-County) returns home to play Boonville on Friday. The Pirates (3-1) are also 2-0 in conference play after beating Southern Boone 18-14.