MOKANE — With his defensive unit dealing with all sorts of difficulties, particularly at the point of impact, South Callaway coach Zack Hess wants the Bulldogs to take it personally.
South Callaway — which has been gouged for almost 100 points and 800 yards of total offense combined the past two weeks — will attempt to finally crack the win column when it hosts the Mark Twain Tigers tonight in an Eastern Missouri Conference game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs (0-3) surrendered 478 yards of total offense and were roughed up in a 53-21 loss at Montgomery County in last Friday's Eastern Missouri Conference opener. The week prior, in a 40-27 home loss to Hermann, South Callaway allowed 315 yards of total offense.
"It's part of a mindset, it's part of we've got to wake up and do things better," said Hess, who also serves as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator. "We've got to do what we've been coached to do.
"A lot of it just comes down to pride. We've got to take more pride up front and we stress that a lot about winning the line of scrimmage. In the past, we've done a good job of that, but for whatever reason, we're missing assignments, we're not playing physical, we're playing too high."
Mark Twain is 1-2 overall and has dropped two in a row after falling at home to Bowling Green 26-14 in last Friday's EMO opener. The Tigers' single-wing rushing attack has traditionally operated behind a stout offensive line.
Senior quarterback Ryan Spoonhower directs the Mark Twain offense and the backfield features 6-foot, 185-pound senior running back Jace Barton. Fellow senior running backs Avery Epperson (5-10, 200) and Logan Perrigo (6-1, 150) are also part of the rotation.
"They run a lot of buck sweep, they run a lot of power," Hess said. "They're just going to try to work you over on the offensive line, and for us that's something that we've been struggling with, so we've got to shore that up and fix that, and make sure that we don't give up big rushing plays.
"They (running backs) are all very physical, they hit the hole really hard. They're going to try and run you over."
The Tigers' defense has also been exploited during the past two games, giving up a total of 78 points. Hess noted Mark Twain went with an odd-stack scheme against Bowling Green's spread offense last week.
Barton and senior Phillip Marti (6-2, 245) are expected to anchor the Tigers' defensive line, while their linebackers include Epperson and seniors Mathias Bridges (6-0, 225) and Ben Rule (5-10, 150).
"They've got three linebackers that run to the ball pretty well," Hess said. "Their defensive line is quick off the ball, their outside (line)backers do well in space, and their defensive backs are pretty good as well."
South Callaway was limited to a meager 54 yards of total offense in the first half last week as Montgomery County raced to a commanding 34-0 halftime lead. The Bulldogs' three scores came late in the game after the Wildcats began to pull their starters.
Senior running back Devin Borghardt gained 141 yards rushing on only nine carries and had touchdown runs of 44 and 65 yards in the fourth quarter. South Callaway ended up with 322 yards of total offense, including 268 yards rushing.
The Bulldogs will get a boost tonight with the return of junior running back Hayden Vaught, who injured his knee during a summer camp in Branson. Hess stressed Vaught will be gradually worked back into the mix.
"He'll be in there a little bit, not as much as he probably normally would," Hess said. "We're trying to get his feet wet and see how he does. We'll try to phase him in slowly.
"You can't teach speed and that's one thing we kind of lack. Having another guy back there will definitely help."
Hess believes his squad is close to correcting the ragged course its season has taken to this point.
"Our players are in a good frame of mind to have a turnaround here," he said. "We're not pointing fingers, we're not doing any of that stuff.
"We're going to stick together through good times and bad times, and get this thing turned around."