MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs are surging in the right direction, while the Wright City Wildcats are tumbling the wrong way.
For that reason, South Callaway coach Zack Hess knows his Bulldogs can't afford a letdown tonight when they travel down Interstate 70 to Wright City for an Eastern Missouri Conference matchup with the Wildcats. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
South Callaway (6-1, 4-1 EMO) possesses a six-game winning streak after a 69-0 blowout of conference opponent Van-Far/Community last Friday in Mokane. Wright City (2-5, 1-4), meanwhile, is mired in a four-game losing streak following a 54-19 EMO loss at Bowling Green.
"We're competing against ourselves," Hess said. "We're in a race against time to be hitting on all cylinders, to be a well-oiled machine, to be playing our best football at the end of the season.
"I think we're trending that way, we've just got to keep working. We can't become complacent, we can't be looking ahead. I think so far we're doing a good job of that."
Freshman quarterback Hayden Beck directs a Wildcats offense that averages 20.1 points per game. Beck has completed 51 percent of his passes (84-of-166) for 1,289 yards and eight touchdowns, but he has also been intercepted nine times.
"(Beck) has got a good quarterback frame and he's got a pretty strong arm," Hess said. "Those other things that make quarterbacks great, he's going to develop over time — just the pocket awareness and the accuracy.
"He's not really a scrambler, he definitely wants to stand tall and throw it."
Beck's top targets are a pair of junior wide receivers — Jeremy Cundiff and Will Janowski. Cundiff has a team-high 33 catches for 598 yards (18.1 average) and four touchdowns, while Janowski is close behind with 28 receptions for 518 yards (18.5 average) and four scores.
Hess said South Callaway's defensive priority tonight will be its pass rush and breaking down the pocket to rattle Beck and disrupt his timing. The Bulldogs have eight sacks on the season, led by junior outside linebacker Nick Mealy's two.
"We want to get in (Beck's) face a little bit, make him uncomfortable and hopefully he'll make a mistake," Hess said. "The more we can condense the pocket and make it small, get him feeling uncomfortable back there, that's going to play to our favor."
Hess also understands South Callaway can't overlook Wright City's running game. Senior running back Jayden Mahaney has gained 734 yards (6.2 per carry) and scored eight touchdowns.
"We have to make sure that he doesn't get running downhill," Hess said. "That's when he's dangerous. He's patient in looking for a hole, and so a lot of their plays are designed to start in and then kind of work out.
"If we can clog everything up and then contain him on the outside, I think we'll be in a good spot."
The Wildcats' defense is giving up 36.7 points per game, but has surrendered an average of 46.5 during its skid. Hess is planning for Wright City to most likely line up in a 3-4 scheme.
Junior middle linebacker Shane Vehige has posted a team-high 75 tackles for the Wildcats, followed by senior middle linebacker Ryan Charlesworth with 52. Senior defensive end Riley Womack has four of Wright City's nine sacks and Janowski has a team-high five interceptions from his strong safety position.
"Wright City has always been traditional, and even this year, they've always had good athletes," Hess said. "I would expect their athletes to be fast, to be aggressive."
Senior quarterback Peyton Leeper threw two touchdown passes and also ran for two scores last week as the Bulldogs produced 433 yards of total offense. Senior running back Bradyn Belcher scored on a run and also caught a touchdown pass, while junior running back Braden Lallier scored on a pair of runs.
Hess hopes prime field position can be a boon for the South Callaway offense tonight.
"With short fields, you can be more aggressive and you can really open up your playbook and do different things," Hess said.