MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs are seemingly in a sweet spot to start fresh, despite a sub-.500 record and two narrow losses to end the regular season.
South Callaway (3-6) sits as the No. 2 seed in Class 1 District 6 and will host the No. 7 Westran Hornets (2-7) in a first-round matchup tonight. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
"We really hit home the fact that we're zero and zero right now," South Callaway coach Zack Hess said. "We're in the postseason, we're in the tournament, it's one-and-done.
"We just kind of said, 'Hey, if you guys are willing to keep working hard, let's go win this.' We're just excited about what could happen, but again, you've got to make it happen. I think the team, overall, is in a good spot."
Westran also wrapped up the regular season with back-to-back losses in being shut out by a combined 58-0. The Hornets' two victories came at Salisbury, 40-15, in the Aug. 30 season opener and at Schuyler County, 25-20, on Oct. 11.
Westran's spread offense — which averages just 13.6 points per game — is led by freshman quarterback Austin Dean. Dean is 15-of-26 passing (58 percent) in four games this season for 222 yards, only two touchdowns and five interceptions.
"He's a game manager, he runs their offense well," Hess said. "He doesn't make a ton of mistakes, but they don't ask him to do a whole lot."
Senior wide receiver Seth Berrey has a team-high 24 catches for 208 yards (8.7 average) and one score in eight games.
The Hornets' primary source of offense comes from junior running back Kolby Dale, who has rushed for 990 yards (6.1 average) and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
"I would liken him to a (South Callaway junior running back) Hayden Vaught," Hess said. "He's fast and shifty, just like Hayden — he puts his foot in the ground and goes.
"He's tough to bring down. He's not a big bowling ball-type of kid, but he's somebody that we're going to have to make sure that we leverage well and swarm really well."
The Bulldogs allowed 371 yards of total offense, including 228 yards rushing, in a 26-23 loss last Friday to North Callaway in the annual Callaway Cup rivalry showdown in Kingdom City.
Hess emphasized the task tonight for the South Callaway defense is to restrict Dale and put more of Westran's offensive responsibility in Dean's hands.
"We've got to dial in on No. 34 (Dale) and make sure that he doesn't get any breakaway carries on us," Hess said. "We want to force No. 5 (Dean) to throw the ball and do stuff that they don't necessarily want to do."
The Hornets' defense — which is surrendering 26.7 points per game — will work out of a 4-4 scheme, Hesss said.
Junior linebacker Ryan Starr sparks Westran with a team-high 92 tackles (48 solo) in eight games.
Junior defensive tackle Dilland Guthrie has logged 2.5 sacks for the Hornets, while Starr and senior middle linebacker Ghunner Martin both have two.
Sophomore defensive back Leyton Bain has a team-high four interceptions.
"They're athletic on the back end and then you add in No. 56 (Starr) to the mix there as a good defensive player, they've got guys on all levels that make plays," Hess said.
Hess said the Bulldogs need more scoring punch on offense after accumulating 221 total yards last week, including 155 yards rushing.
South Callaway drove inside North Callaway's 10-yard line on each of its first two possessions in the third quarter, but came away with just three points — a 26-yard field goal by freshman kicker Caleb Pezold.
"We've got to do what we've done (in moving the ball), but the thing that hurt us last Friday and we've got to do a better job this Friday is finishing drives," Hess said. "I don't know if you mix up your play calls a little bit differently or maybe it's a mindset thing with our guys.
"We can't take no for an answer — we've got to get the ball in the end zone."