KINGDOM CITY — The North Callaway Thunderbirds' running game is certainly revved up right now.
North Callaway is averaging a vigorous 364 yards rushing in two consecutive wins and will look to remain in top gear when the Thunderbirds play an Eastern Missouri Conference home game tonight against the Wright City Wildcats. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
North Callaway sits at 2-1 on the season after rallying for a 46-29 win at Clopton/Elsberry in last week's EMO opener. The Thunderbirds overcame a 22-16 halftime deficit and went in front to stay on the first of senior fullback Mason Wortman's three 1-yard touchdown runs late in the third quarter.
"We didn't play a great first half," North Callaway coach Don Boulware said. "(Clopton/Elsberry) came in ready to play, more than us, and I think our kids thought they were going to have an easy time of it.
"It wasn't a great game, it wasn't our best game, but I was really proud of the fact that against some pretty stiff adversity at halftime, we came in and pulled together, and pulled out a victory."
The Thunderbirds' running attack — triggered by Wortman and junior running back Cody Cash — is a major reason behind North Callaway's recent momentum.
Wortman gained 142 yards on 23 carries last week as North Callaway amassed 353 yards on the ground as a team. Cash delivered a game-high 145 yards rushing and a 67-yard touchdown run in 12 attempts.
Sophomore running back Trevor Ray added 68 yards on just nine carries and scored on a 10-yard run.
In the Thunderbirds' 60-16 blitz of Tipton on Sept. 6 in Kingdom City, Wortman broke out for 137 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Ray added 94 yards and Cash had 55 yards and one score.
Boulware pointed out the trio of backs have benefited from crisp blocking by North Callaway's offensive line.
"What we're trying to do is make the defense defend more gaps up front," Boulware said. "It brings more people into the box, but there's more gaps to defend and we try to keep our (offensive line) splits fairly healthy — two or three feet up front.
"It helps us to run inside more when we do it that way."
Wright City is also 2-1 overall after prevailing in its EMO opener last week at home, a 38-18 triumph against Van-Far/Community.
Boulware is not sure what to expect from the Wildcats' defense. Wright City worked out of a three-man front in its first two games before showing a four-man look against Van-Far/Community.
"We've got to be able to block both of them," Boulware said. "They're going to blitz — they like to pressure with linebacker blitzes and confuse you with changing the fronts and changing the alignments."
The Thunderbirds received some good offensive news with Boulware announcing senior starting quarterback Jadon Henry is expected to play tonight. Henry sat out the second half last week after taking a hit to the head late in the second quarter while playing defense at his outside linebacker spot.
Henry passed most of the concussion tests, according to Boulware, but still had a headache and sensitivity to light, so he did not return to the game as a precaution.
As far as Wright City's offense is concerned, the North Callaway defense will be confronted with another big arm tonight in sophomore quarterback Hayden Beck. The Thunderbirds survived a 366-yard, three-touchdown passing performance by Clopton/Elsberry quarterback Shawn Yates last week.
Beck's numbers so far this season aren't overly impressive. He has completed just 43 percent of his passes (29-of-67) for 299 yards and only two touchdowns, while throwing seven interceptions.
"He can wing it — their protection has broken down at times and he's put some balls up for grabs," Boulware said. "He's got size and he's a good athlete, and he's got a really strong arm.
"He can stretch the field — he can throw it from sideline to sideline and he can wing it deep."
To curb Beck and the Wildcats' passing game, Boulware noted the North Callaway secondary will need to disrupt the routes taken by Wright City receivers.
"We've got to align right and use better technique," Boulware said. "When they (receivers) are out wide, we want to take away the slants, and the posts when they're in tighter.
"There's certain combination routes you like to run on certain sets, and we have to be aware of those."