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story.lead_photo.caption North Callaway defensive end Ben Bondurant (54) and linebacker Christian Griffith (25) team up to take down Wright City running back Branden Contreras during the Thunderbirds' 14-6 Eastern Missouri Conference loss to the Wildcats last Friday in Kingdom City. Photo by Amy Craghead/ Special to the Fulton Sun

KINGDOM CITY — Staring at a third straight opponent his squad has historically dominated, North Callaway coach Don Boulware is trying to curb the Thunderbirds' swagger.

North Callaway got away with it two weeks ago by rallying for a 46-29 Eastern Missouri Conference victory at Clopton/Elsberry.

That wasn't the case last week when the Thunderbirds had their two-game winning streak toppled in a 14-6 EMO home loss to Wright City.

North Callaway (2-2, 1-1 EMO) takes to the road tonight for a trip up Highway 54 to Vandalia and a conference matchup against the Van-Far/Community Indians, a series the Thunderbirds have monopolized. Kickoff, originally scheduled for 7 p.m., has been pushed up to 6 p.m. due to the threat of inclement weather.

Boulware stressed his squad is in no position to disregard any foe.

"I think the last two weeks our kids thought that we've always beaten Clopton, we've always beaten Wright City," Boulware said. "I told them, 'Wright City is 2-1 (at the time), just like we are, and they've got 21 seniors — they're not a team to be taken lightly.

"We just have to worry about us, more so than the opponent. We want to fear nobody but respect everybody — that's very cliché, but that's true. You've got to respect everybody — everybody in this conference has good athletes, and Van-Far is no exception."

The Indians are 1-3 on the season and have lost two in a row, dropping to 0-2 in the EMO after a 41-0 home loss to Clopton/Elsberry last week.

The controls of the Van-Far/Community spread offense are handled by senior quarterback Verdell Johnson. Senior fullback Morgan Slatten will join Johnson in the Indians' backfield, while senior Garret Schmidt and junior Julian Holtkamp will both line up at wide receiver.

North Callaway's defense allowed 197 yards of total offense last week and shut out Wright City for the better part of three quarters. That unit will be challenged tonight in attempting to bottle up Johnson, Boulware cautioned.

"We've got to keep him in the pocket, he likes to get outside," Boulware said. "When he gets on the edge, he's very dangerous. He's going to outrun most people.

"We can't let him escape outside into space, because that's where he really hurts you. A lot of his big plays are broken plays, where he just scrambled and got outside, and outran people."

The Thunderbirds will look to get their running game back on course after being limited to 113 yards (2.8 per carry) last week as Wright City jammed the line of scrimmage with as many as nine defenders at times.

North Callaway's lone score came on sophomore running back Trevor Ray's 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Senior fullback Mason Wortman finished with just 67 yards on 18 carries and Ray followed with only 47 yards in nine attempts.

To loosen up running lanes, Boulware stressed the Thunderbirds have to see more productivity from their passing game. Senior quarterback Jadon Henry struggled through a poor outing last week, completing just 4-of-10 passes for a sparse 43 yards and was intercepted three times.

"We pare down our number of pass plays and we maybe tweak a few," Boulware said. "Part of it's the protection, part of it's the receivers running routes, part of it's Jadon not being accurate or getting happy feet and not trusting his pocket.

"It's all those things. We just need more reps on the passing game — with attention to detail — to make sure that our routes are better, that we're giving Jadon a good chance on each play to make a simple read."

Boulware said Van-Far/Community will likely go with a three-man defensive front and walk its linebackers up to the line of scrimmage. Slatten, playing at linebacker, and senior lineman Max Roed anchor the unit, while Holtkamp and fellow junior Tony Garland patrol the secondary.

"They've got some good personnel and they're very active," Boulware said.

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