MOKANE — An eight-game winning streak had immense value in helping the South Callaway Bulldogs reach this stage.
That surge has suddenly diminished in worth for South Callaway as it enters the elimination phase of the season. The No. 2 seed Bulldogs host the No. 7 Hallsville Indians in tonight's Class 2 District 5 first-round contest. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
South Callaway (8-1) has not been in the right-hand side of the win-loss column since a season-opening 41-20 setback to Lafayette County. The Bulldogs are coming off a dramatic 33-32 overtime win against North Callaway in last week's Callaway Cup in Mokane.
Hallsville (3-6) is a member of the powerful Tri-County Conference that includes No. 1-ranked Blair Oaks, which is also the top seed in District 5. The Indians started the season 1-5 but have won two of their last three, including a 34-29 victory at Versailles to end the regular season.
South Callaway coach Zack Hess knows what the Bulldogs have earned to this point is irrelevant when it comes to extending their season beyond tonight.
"It's tricky because you feel good about the regular season and everything that we've accomplished. At the same time, it doesn't mean anything," Hess said. "I guarantee you that Hallsville doesn't care that we've won eight games in a row.
"To be honest, they play in a really tough conference. Any other conference that they're in, they may have won eight games in a row. I think our players understand that it doesn't matter, it's a one-and-done tournament and we've got to play well, and we've got to put the past in the past. We're 0-0 right now."
Senior quarterback Zane Parnell directs a Hallsville offense that is averaging 20 points per game, but combined for 83 points in its two most recent wins. Junior running back Cooper Crane lines up behind Parnell in the Indians' pistol formation.
"(Parnell) is a big kid that has a nice, easy, smooth delivery," Hess said. "He's not so much a running threat, but he's a very good pocket passer. He has good accuracy, runs their offense really well.
"(Crane) is the type of running back that will make you miss in a phone booth. What I mean by that is he's slippery. He's got good moves — he's not so much a run-you-over guy. He's going to make you miss and then he's going to get his yards. He keeps his feet moving, he sees the hole really well, he has great burst."
Junior wingback Mason Huskey will also share the workload with Crane, according to Hess.
"They do a good job of getting (Huskey) the ball, especially out on the edges," Hess said. " They had a few formations where he was lined up as a running back and just running the ball in between the tackles.
"He's just so fast into the hole, he kept his feet churning and moving, and got 7 or 8 additional yards after first contact."
Hess noted Crane and Huskey will put equal stress on South Callaway's perimeter and interior run defense. The Bulldogs surrendered 190 yards rushing against North Callaway last week.
"We have to read our keys," Hess said of the Hallsville matchup. "We told our guys, 'If you see this, this is how we're going to react.'
"The better that we can train our eyes to read and then react quickly, I think the better off we're going to be."
Hess explained the Indians will operate out of a 3-4, cover 2 scheme on the defensive side. Hallsville is allowing 27.1 points per game.
"They're big and physical up front, their linebackers get downhill really fast," Hess said. "Their corners are big, lanky, physical guys. Their outside (line)backers, their edge guys, don't really have pass drops.
"They're more on-the-line players and pass rushers."
The Bulldogs scored on five-of-six possessions in putting up 26 points in the first half last week. South Callaway, though, didn't score again against the Thunderbirds until senior quarterback Peyton Leeper's 6-yard touchdown run in overtime.
The week before, in a 41-21 EMO victory at Wright City, South Callaway produced only one offensive score in the second half — a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Wyatt Hager.
"Defensively, we haven't done a good enough job of getting off the field," Hess said. "We've let the other offenses eat up a lot of time, a lot of possessions, and haven't really given our offense as many possessions or as many opportunities to succeed.
"I don't necessarily see it as a huge issue right now. I just think if we do a few things better, I think it will correct itself."