MOKANE — South Callaway coach Zack Hess is hoping his Bulldogs don't buy in to a blurry view of the Montgomery County Wildcats' 0-2 start.
South Callaway — invigorated by its first victory of the season last week — hosts Montgomery County tonight in the Eastern Missouri Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Wildcats remained winless after a 57-26 loss at Winfield (2-0), which received a vote in this week's Class 3 Missouri Media Rankings. Montgomery County started its season with a 28-12 home loss to Hermann.
"I think the scores and their record is deceiving," Hess said of the Wildcats. "Hermann is a good team, but Winfield is a very good team and their quarterback is outstanding.
"I think (Montgomery County) is going to be fired up, I think they're going to be ready to play, I think they have high expectations there, I think they have a lot of returners. Their roster numbers are really good — I still believe that they feel like they're better than 0-2 and what's transpired the first two weeks."
The Bulldogs (1-1) are certainly feeling better about themselves after a dominating 21-6 victory last week at Hermann.
"I think they (players) take a deep breath, they know that they can do this and now we're just going to go out and try to get better," Hess said.
Montgomery County's spread offense has put up twice as many passing yards (441) as it has rushing (220) in two games, but Hess noted those numbers are likely a product of playing from behind.
Quarterback Ethan Abercrombie — a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior — has completed just 14-of-33 passes (42 percent) for 243 yards and two touchdowns in directing the Wildcats.
"He's like a running back, back there," Hess said. "He's pretty stout and fast, and they use him in the run game. He's got a really good arm — it just presents a challenge having to contain him in the run game while also being able to defend the pass."
Abercrombie has shared the ball equally among a trio of receiving targets. Seniors Devin Roark (127 yards, one TD) and Colin Parrish (103 yards), and junior Bailey Sontag (109 yards, one TD) each have eight catches.
"(Sontag) is like 6-3, he's huge and a very good athlete — he'll go and high-point the ball well," Hess said. " That's kind of a mismatch for our secondary — we're just going to have to play the man really well, play great technique.
"(Parrish) is kind of a slot receiver for them, but he's really quick. (Roark) is more of a stout guy, he's another slot receiver, more of a short, intermediate (route) kind of guy."
Senior running back Elijah Robinson leads Montgomery County with just 83 yards rushing and one score on only four carries. Most of Robinson's output came on an 80-yard touchdown burst on the first play of the game against Winfield.
South Callaway's defense was emboldened last week by an outstanding performance as it held Hermann to 124 yards rushing. Hess stressed the Bulldogs' intent tonight is to lock down running lanes and force the Wildcats into throwing situations.
"We have to win on first down and we have to understand their unique way of run-blocking, and be prepared for that," Hess said. " They do a great job with their leverages and that's our biggest challenge.
"We have to be assignment-sound, make sure that we don't get too far upfield, that we try to squeeze and then we can also adjust our alignments a little bit to help counter that."
Hess explained Montgomery County has moved to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme similar to the one South Callaway encountered against North Callaway last season. Senior linebacker Blake Eoff has a team-high 19 tackles for the Wildcats and senior strong safety Hyrum Bishop is next with 17.
Junior linebacker Blake Yelton and junior free safety Marlando Parker each have 14 tackles.
"They're very aggressive up front with their four down linemen and their two linebackers that blitz a lot — that could present some challenges there," Hess said. "With the five defensive backs, it just makes it really tough to get anything out on the edges."
South Callaway will seek to batter Montgomery County's defense with a running game that generated 235 yards against Hermann. Senior quarterback Peyton Leeper picked up 150 yards and scored on two long runs.
"I think there's opportunities for us in their defensive scheme to take advantage of some things," Hess said. "In doing that, they're taking away other things that we like to do.
"We just have to be smart and I know coach (offensive coordinator Tucker) Bartley will have a good plan."