KINGDOM CITY — Montgomery County's multitude of playmakers are flooding the attention span of the North Callaway Thunderbirds' defense.
Unbeaten and state-ranked North Callaway visits neighboring rival Montgomery County tonight for an Eastern Missouri Conference clash between the Thunderbirds and the Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
North Callaway — which moved up one spot to No. 9 in Class 2 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings — remained perfect at 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the EMO with a 42-6 conference win last Friday at home against Bowling Green. Montgomery County — which has won two in a row — is 2-4 overall and 2-0 in the EMO after a 28-8 conference victory at Wright City.
What is creating the most anxiety for Thunderbirds coach Kevin O'Neal is the skill set — at least seven players — the Wildcats have at their disposal.
"I think their offense is designed not for just one person," O'Neal said. "There's not one specific guy that stands out — they have more team speed across the board than what we've seen.
"It's going to challenge us — all 11 (defenders) are going to have to play responsible, focused and disciplined football for us to slow down this offense."
Junior quarterback Ethan Abercrombie guides Montgomery County's offense, completing 30-of-65 passes (46 percent) for 372 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior backup Drew Murie actually has better numbers, having thrown for 540 yards, five scores and five interceptions on 44-of-86 completions (51 percent).
Senior running back Hyrum Bishop sparks the Wildcats' running game with 323 yards on 32 carries (10.1 average) and two touchdowns. Senior running back Elijah Robinson is next with 231 yards in a team-high 35 attempts (6.6 average) and three scores.
Montgomery County also boasts a trio of receivers who can break down a defense. Senior Colin Parrish has a team-high 29 catches for 368 yards (12.7 average) and five touchdowns, followed by junior Bailey Sontag with 18 receptions for 195 yards (10.8 average) and two scores.
Senior Devin Roark is close behind with 16 catches for 193 yards (12.1 average) and one touchdown.
"They have a lot of pieces to their offense — there's not one guy that you can focus on to shut down, like you can with a lot of teams," O'Neal said. "They'll run the ball to any one of those guys, they'll throw the ball to any one of those guys."
The Wildcats will be confronted by a tormenting North Callaway defense that has allowed a total of just 52 points on the season. The Thunderbirds forced two turnovers, came up with five fourth-down stops and tallied three sacks last week.
O'Neal stressed North Callaway's defensive unit will need to have a watchful, wary eye on the totality of Montgomery County's offensive talent tonight.
"This one gives us a different type of challenge than it has the last couple of weeks," O'Neal said. "With Bowling Green there were a couple of guys we could focus on, with Van-Far there were guys we wanted to shut down and with Wright City, guys we wanted to take away.
"With Montgomery County, there isn't a set guy that we can take away. We have to defend the entire field, defend the entire team."
O'Neal expects the Wildcats' 4-2-5 defensive alignment to stuff the line of scrimmage and unleash a barrage of blitzes, much like Bowling Green did last week in an effort to suppress the Thunderbirds' running game.
The Bobcats' strategy worked to an extent in the early going, but North Callaway eventually found stability on the ground in finishing with 357 yards. Senior running back Jordan Delashmutt piled up a game-high 247 yards and three touchdowns, while senior running back Dakota Brush picked up 111 yards and a score.
O'Neal did point out the Thunderbirds experienced some slight regression with their passing game. Junior quarterback Jadon Henry was 7-of-13 for just 110 yards and an interception, but did connect with Delashmutt on a screen pass that went for a 19-yard touchdown.
"I thought we took a little bit of a step backwards," O'Neal said. "I think our timing was a little bit off — we weren't getting the ball out on time, receivers' route-running wasn't the best, our blocking on the edge when we were spreading out wasn't the best.
"We just need to clean those things up. We need to be able to throw the ball, and we need to be able to do that with a lot of pressure in our face."