This rivalry series is getting a playoff sequel.
A district title was on the line in last year's postseason debut. The consequence of tonight's installment will be a chance to play for a championship.
The No. 3 seed North Callaway Thunderbirds (7-3) return to Mokane for a Class 2, District 5 semifinal clash with the No. 2 South Callaway Bulldogs (9-1). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
North Callaway put on a fierce second-half comeback before falling short in a dramatic 33-32 overtime loss at South Callaway in the annual Callaway Cup rivalry game Oct. 19. The Thunderbirds went for two points and the win after scoring on the first play of their overtime possession, but failed to convert.
North Callaway and South Callaway set up tonight's showdown by holding on for tight quarterfinal victories last week.
The Bulldogs endured in a stirring 28-27 home win over No. 7 seed Hallsville, denying the Indians' two-point attempt with 18 seconds left in the game. The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, avenged a previous loss to Montgomery County this season, outlasting the No. 6 seed Wildcats 22-20 in Kingdom City.
South Callaway head coach Zack Hess is anticipating another competitive and entertaining contest between the Bulldogs and Thunderbirds tonight. South Callaway has won nine in a row, while North Callaway stopped a three-game losing streak last week.
"That's kind of the cool part about this game — it adds the playoff aspect to it," Hess said Tuesday morning. "I think it boils down to what team is going to be mentally tough and be able to play physical, and just get after it and want to keep going.
"You've got playmakers on both sides, it'll be fun."
North Callaway head coach Kevin O'Neal and the Thunderbirds were the playoff beneficiaries in 2017, defeating Hess and the Bulldogs 38-20 for the District 5 title in Kingdom City.
"(South Callaway's) kids play hard — the way you're supposed to — and we play hard," O'Neal said Tuesday afternoon. "The last two years, man, we've played three pretty amazing football games. That's what's going to happen Friday night.
"We'll do our best and I know they're going to bring their best, and it's going to be a good high school football game."
O'Neal and Hess would both probably like a do-over for a bothersome half of play by each of their teams from the first meeting this season. North Callaway misplayed the game's opening kickoff — allowing the Bulldogs to recover the ball — and South Callaway proceeded to score on five of its six first-half possessions to craft a 26-6 halftime lead.
"Defensively, I wasn't super-upset with our effort," O'Neal said. "I just don't think we played well in (defending) the passing game. We gave up big plays, chunk yardage that we didn't need to give up.
"Offensively, we weren't physical enough up front like we needed to be. I think we came out a little bit flat on the line."
Owning a comfortable lead at the break, the Bulldogs were moving toward another possible score on the opening series of the third quarter when senior kicker Tyklen Salmons' 40-yard field-goal attempt was blocked. The play sparked the Thunderbirds and short-circuited South Callaway's momentum.
North Callaway rallied for 20 unanswered points to force overtime, tying the game at 26-all with :48 to play in regulation.
"We didn't play the last two quarters the way that we started the first two quarters," Hess said. "We came out with a lot of energy, we were dialed in, we were on the ball and then we got up, and we just frittered (the lead) away.
" If we can just maintain that enthusiasm throughout the game, we might not put ourselves in the situation that we did in the second half."
While the Bulldogs and Thunderbirds both have their share of offensive skill pieces, tonight's focus will be on the expected duel between South Callaway senior quarterback Peyton Leeper and North Callaway senior running back Jordan Delashmutt. The pair combined for six of the nine touchdowns scored in the regular-season game.
Leeper rushed for 84 yards and three touchdowns — including runs of 1 and 13 yards — on 20 carries. He accounted for the Bulldogs' overtime score on a 6-yard touchdown run.
Leeper also connected with senior wide receiver Dylan Paschang on a 47-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Delashmutt countered with a game-high 154 yards rushing and two scores in 22 attempts. His 78-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter made it a one-score contest and then he launched himself into the end zone from 1 yard out on fourth down to help tie the game late in regulation.
Leeper and Delashmutt followed up by delivering standout performances last week. Leeper rushed for 171 yards and two scores (43 and 15 yards), and threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Paschang in South Callaway's victory over Hallsville.
Delashmutt gained 157 yards and had a 46-yard touchdown run in North Callaway's triumph over Montgomery County.
O'Neal stressed that the Thunderbirds have to be disciplined with their run fits if they hope to restrict Leeper.
"You have to have everybody running their lanes," O'Neal said. "That's the biggest thing with Leeper — when he takes off running, your pursuit angles change tremendously on somebody like that, just because of the way he runs the ball.
"We've spent a lot of time with our defensive line. If they're upfield and trying to chase him from behind, it isn't going to happen."
Hess emphasized that it will require multiple defenders by the Bulldogs to take Delashmutt off his feet.
"You've just got to keep coming at him," Hess said. "You have to be physical with him and swarm him. You can't depend on one guy making a tackle every play because it's not going to work."
Notes: South Callaway will be without senior running back Bradyn Belcher tonight, according to Hess. Belcher suffered a high ankle sprain in last week's victory over Hallsville, despite scoring the go-ahead touchdown on an 8-yard run with 3:57 left in the game. "He's in good spirits, he's fine, he's just not going to be able to go," Hess said. "It hurts not having a big bruiser back there. He plays physical, he sets the tone. We'll just have to overcome that." Junior running back Nick Mealy will replace Belcher. In tonight's other District 5 semifinal, the top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Blair Oaks Falcons (10-0) host the No. 4 seed Father Tolton Trailblazers (4-6) in Wardsville. Blair Oaks advanced by demolishing No. 8 seed California 70-0 last week. Tolton moved on by easing past No. 5 seed Hermann 59-20.
Ryan Boland can be reached at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter @FultonSunSports.