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story.lead_photo.caption South Callaway quarterback Cole Shoemaker finds room to run during a win last month at Clopton/Elsberry. Photo by Shelley Sconce/Special to the Fulton Sun

MOKANE — Cullen Bruner's gaudy numbers would make a fantasy football enthusiast giddy.

South Callaway's defense will encounter its toughest mission of the season when the Bulldogs host the Marceline senior running back and the seventh-ranked Tigers in the Class 1 quarterfinals this afternoon. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

South Callaway (6-6) — which has won three in a row for the first time this season — advanced by defeating Brentwood 35-20 for the District 6 title in suburban St. Louis last week. It was the Bulldogs' first district championship since finishing as Class 2 state runners-up in 2014.

"We don't want to be satisfied with what we've done," South Callaway head coach Zack Hess said. "We've still got great opportunities out there — we've got to coach harder this week than we've ever had, we've got to play our best game on Saturday, we've got to have our best week of practice, all of those things.

"We met with the players (Monday) and watched film, and went through our scouting report. They were focused, they seemed in a good place and ready to attack the week and get ready for Saturday."

Marceline (11-1) — which owns an impressive nine-game winning streak — moved on with a 23-14 victory against Sweet Springs for the District 5 title.

The Tigers' lone loss came at rival Brookfield 14-7 in the annual Bell Game on Sept. 13.

"(Marceline) is a great program, just a lot of tradition," Hess said. "Where they are right now (state playoffs) is not anything new to them. They've got it going on, they do a lot of great things.

"They're well-coached — you can tell just by watching the film."

Getting back to Bruner, his offensive totals are simply dazzling. Of the Tigers' 38 rushing touchdowns this season, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Bruner is responsible for 30 of them while rushing for 1,738 yards (8.8 average).

In addition, Bruner has 18 catches for 300 yards (16.7 average) and two scores.

"He's very impressive and it's not surprising — I think their offense runs through him, it's designed for him," Hess said. "He's fast and he's shifty, and he doesn't go down on first contact.

"He's just a hard-nosed runner that has great balance and great acceleration. He just needs a little space and he can make something out of nothing. Then he gets out in the open and he's hard to catch."

If South Callaway's defense hopes to bridle Bruner, Hess said his players can't stray from their tasks. The Bulldogs allowed just 113 yards rushing against Brentwood.

"We have to be disciplined in our assignments," Hess said. "You see a lot of the times that plays break down for the other team and he gets some long runs are because of missed assignments.

"We've got to set the edge really well and we have to fit it up well on the interior, and we've got to get off blocks. We just have to be a little more aware of where he is — just the idea that he's their guy."

While he accounts for a large percentage, Bruner is not the exclusive source of offense for Marceline. Senior quarterback Alex McCauslin (5-10, 150) has completed 63-of-126 passes (50 percent) for 1,068 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

McCauslin also has 216 yards rushing and three scores. His primary target is sophomore wide receiver Wyatt Molloy (6-2, 175), who leads the Tigers with 22 catches for 481 yards (21.9 average) and eight touchdowns.

"(McCauslin) runs their offense really well," Hess said. "I think a lot of that, too, is that teams are so cautious about the run that maybe they lose their focus on other things.

"It's a credit to their offense, that's why they do it, they scheme guys open that way. He delivers a pretty ball."

Marceline's odd-stack defense — which hasn't allowed more than 16 points in a game this season — has tallied some noteworthy stats of its own with an eye-popping 26 sacks. Senior middle linebacker Colby Sims (6-0, 165) sparks the Tigers with a team-high 6.5 sacks and 143 tackles (104 solo), while senior linebacker Freddie Bascus (5-8, 150) has five sacks and 66 tackles (52 solo).

Sophomore outside linebacker Hunter Nelson (5-6, 145) is second on the team in tackles with 75 (50 solo), followed by Bruner third with 71 (57 solo) from the other outside linebacker position.

McCauslin tops Marceline with five interceptions from his cornerback spot and sophomore cornerback Sam Gillman has four. Molloy — also a cornerback — and sophomore cornerback Jaxon Schmitt both have three picks.

"You can just tell that they're assignment-sound, they're well-coached, they know what they're doing," Hess said of the Tigers' defensive unit. "They blitz hard, they don't double-gap when they blitz, their run fits are really good, they get downhill.

"All of the things that you want as a defense, they do it well."

South Callaway might look to duplicate the offensive blueprint — lengthy, time-draining scoring possessions — that framed its District 6 championship victory last week. The Bulldogs averaged 10 plays and 74 yards on their five scoring drives that all resulted in short touchdown runs by senior quarterback Cole Shoemaker.

South Callaway finished with 415 yards of total offense, with the majority of that production coming on 396 yards rushing on an astounding 64 carries.

"I think a lot of it, for us, is going to be how well we communicate up front, especially if (Marceline) is going to be aggressive and they're going to blitz," Hess said. "We've got to be able to communicate that and then still be able to run our offense.

"It doesn't matter if they're here or they're there, if that's our guy, then that's who we block. We've also got to do a good job of preventing or limiting negative plays. We've got to stay on the field."

Hess said the Bulldogs and their fan base are eager to host their first state playoff game since 2011. South Callaway bowed in that contest to Blair Oaks in a narrow 14-8 loss in the Class 2 sectionals.

"Just to play in the middle of the day — on a Saturday — and to do something a little bit different and making it this far, it'll be fun," Hess said. "We're looking forward to it.

In today's other Class 1 quarterfinals, No. 1 Lincoln (12-0) travels to Windsor (10-2), No. 3 Thayer (11-1) plays at No. 6 Valle Catholic (11-1), and No. 4 Mid-Buchanan (11-1) hosts South Harrison (11-1).

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