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story.lead_photo.caption South Callaway quarterback Cole Shoemaker looks for an opening to run through at the line of scrimmage during the Bulldogs' 40-27 loss to Hermann last Friday in Mokane. South Callaway opens Eastern Missouri Conference play tonight at Montgomery County. Photo by Shelley Sconce

MOKANE — South Callaway coach Zack Hess is not going to overly invest in one game, especially with his Bulldogs still chasing their first victory.

South Callaway will attempt to check that box tonight when the Bulldogs begin the defense of their Eastern Missouri Conference championship with a visit to Montgomery County (1-1) and a matchup against the Wildcats. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

South Callaway tumbled to 0-2 after a 40-27 loss to Hermann in last week's home opener.

"You don't want to put everything into one game," Hess said. "You don't want this next game — even if we don't win it — to define the season. Then all of a sudden, now the kids are thinking, 'Well, let's just coast.'

"At the same time, you want to go out and prepare, and have a good week of practice. You really are just trying to do something a little bit better, something a little bit different, maybe a little extra something throughout the week that's going to propel you and make a little bit of difference in the game."

Montgomery County is riding a little momentum after securing its first win of the season last week, a 35-13 triumph at home against Winfield.

The Wildcats' offense is centered once again around quarterback Ethan Abercrombie, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior. Abercrombie has both of Montgomery County's rushing touchdowns this season and has gained a team-high 104 yards (5.2 average) on 20 carries.

Abercrombie has completed just 42 percent of his passes (21-of-50) for 319 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

"He's very impressive, even from last year to this year," Hess said. "It just seems like he's gotten a little stronger of an arm feeling real comfortable back there, just slinging the ball deep downfield.

"On top of that, he's a really good runner too. He's one of their better running backs — they run the offense through him with their quarterback draws or their quarterback-lead plays."

Hess pointed out that South Callaway's defense will seek to confine Abercrombie and rattle him when he looks to throw the ball.

"If you talk to most defensive coaches, they would probably tell you that you've got to keep him in the pocket," Hess said. "You've got to try and make him uncomfortable in the pocket, not let him have great vision downfield or give him time to pick you apart."

Sophomore wide receiver Drake Smith (5-11, 175) leads the Wildcats with six receptions for 59 yards. Senior wide receiver Bailey Sontag returned to the lineup last week and had five catches for 58 yards.

Carson Parker — a 6-8, 220-pound senior tight end — also has four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.

"(Sontag) is a really good athlete — they've got some designed plays to get him the ball out in space," Hess said. "(Parker) can go up and get the ball. He's tall, he's a big boy.

"They do good stuff with him — he'll widen out and be a perimeter blocker, he'll run good routes."

Hess stressed the Bulldogs will need to shore up their pass coverage after allowing 187 yards through the air against Hermann.

"There's just too much space when they're defending receivers — they've got to tighten it up," Hess said. "We have to tackle better on the perimeter, as well."

When Montgomery County's defensive unit is on the field tonight, Hess expects to see either 4-3 or 4-4 alignments. Junior linebacker Kyle Yelton (5-11, 210) has a team-high 21 tackles, followed by senior linebacker Aaron Milner (5-9, 215) and senior safety Marlando Parker (5-7, 155) with 15 apiece.

"They play real aggressive on the line of scrimmage — they've got some big boys, too," Hess said. "Their linebackers are downhill real fast, real fast.

"They're not really scrape players or perimeter players, they're right in your face. They are aggressive with their blitz packages. They move guys around — outside (line)backers kind of move around and flip sides based on strength."

Hess said the Bulldogs will utilize a deliberate offensive approach in an effort to limit the Wildcats' possessions. South Callaway rushed for 223 yards as a team last week.

Senior running back Nick Mealy gained 79 yards on 12 carries for the Bulldogs. Sophomore running back Jasper Rees also had 79 yards in just seven attempts.

"We're going to try to eat up some clock — time of possession's going to be a big deal, and get first downs and finish drives," Hess said. "Those three things, if we can do those well, we'll be OK, and not turn the ball over."

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