KINGDOM CITY — The North Callaway Thunderbirds have had this one on their minds for a while.
North Callaway will seek to slow down Bowling Green tonight when the Thunderbirds host the surging Bobcats in an Eastern Missouri Conference showdown. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
North Callaway is 3-1 on the season after securing its second straight win last week, a 22-14 triumph at home against Strafford in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Thunderbirds are also 2-1 in the EMO.
Bowling Green (3-2, 3-0 EMO) opened its season with consecutive losses to a pair of quality opponents who are now state-ranked — 47-19 to Oak Grove (Class 3, No. 7) and 13-0 to Palmyra (Class 2, No. 1).
The Bobcats, though, have responded with three straight EMO victories, the latest coming in a 35-0 shutout of Mark Twain at home last week. Bowling Green has outscored its opponents during that span by a combined 145-32.
North Callaway enters tonight's clash averaging 36.8 points per game while giving up 14.3. Bowling Green is putting up similar numbers, scoring 32.8 per contest and surrendering 18.4.
"We had this game penciled in as probably the biggest challenge of the conference season, before the season ever started," North Callaway coach Don Boulware said. "I mean, all the way back last winter, when we looked at who had what coming back (in the EMO)."
Boulware pointed out the Bobcats' run-based offense is protected up front by a "big, physical" line.
He added Bowling Green will run the ball out of the pistol formation, but mostly out of pro-I and power-I sets.
"They're not doing anything real fancy, they're just lining up and daring you to stop them," Boulware said. "Nobody in the EMO's been able to stop them, even slow them down.
"We feel pretty good about our defense, but we've got our work cut out for us."
The Thunderbirds gave up 258 yards of total offense to Strafford last week, but used a pair of fourth-down stands to shut out the Indians in the second half.
Boulware stressed North Callaway's defensive line will need to be able to match the Bobcats' aggression up front.
"We'll have to hold up against the physicality inside and not get overpowered, because they'll just come down and just (smash you)," Boulware said. "If they can stay in the I and pound you with the iso(lation), they'll do that all the way down the field.
"The quarterback sneak and then they'll mix in the toss. When they run it nine out of 10 plays, obviously you've got to stop the run."
From an offensive standpoint for the Thunderbirds, they generated 412 total yards last week. Senior running back Cody Cash and junior running back Trevor Ray provided scoring runs of 11 and 22 yards, respectively, while sophomore quarterback Braydn O'Neal connected with junior running back Manny Moreno on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Cash paced North Callaway with 89 yards rushing on 13 carries and Ray was next with 78 yards in 15 attempts. O'Neal was 11-of-14 passing for 190 yards and one interception.
Boulware believes the Thunderbirds will see either a 4-2 or 4-4 defensive scheme from Bowling Green tonight.
"We have to mix it up. We have to have a semblance of balance, not saying it has to be 50-50," Boulware said. "We've got to throw the ball more than Bowling Green's throwing it, to be effective.
"We can't attack people if they load the box with seven or eight people."