MOKANE — Almost three months later, the South Callaway Bulldogs and Mark Twain Tigers are finally getting the opportunity to face each other.
And ironically, instead of it being the season opener, the season is at stake for both teams.
The District 2 championship and a berth in the Class 1 state quarterfinals will be the prizes tonight when top-seeded South Callaway (6-3) hosts No. 2 seed Mark Twain (5-5). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs were scheduled to start their season Aug. 28 at home against Mark Twain, but the Tigers were forced to cancel the game due to COVID-19 issues.
Now, the two Eastern Missouri Conference opponents will square off to see which one continues in the state playoffs.
"Sometimes that's just how football goes," South Callaway coach Zack Hess said. "Football is just a crazy game sometimes and you end up playing a team twice, or whatever — it's just kind of how it worked out. It was meant to be that we were going to play them this year.
"It's always a fun atmosphere to get to play with something on the line, and it just adds to the game. We know they're going to be playing their best football and we've got to be ready to go for that."
The Tigers reached the District 2 title game with a 36-24 district semifinal triumph last week against No. 6 seed Louisiana.
Hess noted there is no mystery when it comes to Mark Twain's offensive intentions with its assertive, single-wing rushing attack.
"They have a system and it's run the ball down your throat," Hess said. "It's organized, but it's organized chaos, just in terms of the splits with their linemen, the down blocks and the pulls, and they've got more guys on one side of the ball than on the other side of the ball.
"It's a lot for a defense to have to identify and align to, and then pick out what the key is. It's not your traditional formations."
Mark Twain junior Landon Moss and senior Evan Torrence — who both line up at quarterback and running back — are responsible for the majority of the Tigers' offensive production this season. Mark Twain is averaging 20 points per game.
Moss has rushed for a team-high 866 yards (6.4 per carry) to go with seven touchdowns. Torrence has gained 734 yards (4.7 average) and also has seven scores.
"(Torrence) is just fast, shifty — a good runner," Hess said. "He's a physical player and a playmaker. (Moss) is the same thing as (Torrence), they're pretty much identical guys.
"They're just good running backs."
South Callaway's defense came up with three interceptions and limited No. 5 seed Paris to 235 yards of total offense — including 154 yards rushing — in the Bulldogs' 29-14 district semifinal victory last week at Mokane.
To acclimate his defensive unit with Mark Twain's offensive approach, Hess stressed a large share of time this week would be devoted to grasping the Tigers' tendencies.
"What we can do throughout the week is rep and practice aligning to formations, identifying the formations," Hess said. "We're trying to learn top run plays, even top pass plays.
"Then to take it a step further, we'll try to really coach up our defensive line. What kind of blocks can you expect? Who's going to block you? What kind of angle are they going to take and then how do we react to that? And try to defeat those blocks and play good defense."
On the defensive side for Mark Twain, which is surrendering 27 points per game, Hess explained the Tigers will line up in a 3-5-3 scheme.
"The thing I always say about Mark Twain is they seem to get better and better as the year goes on, on defense," Hess said. "I don't know what it is, but they get more comfortable with each other, they play faster."
The Bulldogs' offense showed some effects from a three-week layoff in their semifinal win, needing 15 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from Paris.
South Callaway ended up with 305 yards rushing, sparked by senior running back Hayden Vaught's 182 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Trace Helsel also supplied 70 yards and a score.
"I don't know if I want to say play keep-away, but we've got to continue to hold onto the ball and finish drives," Hess said. "The nice thing for us is that we see a lot of reps out of that (Mark Twain) defense because that's what we do.
"There's a level of familiarity there that hopefully will help us out."