KINGDOM CITY — The North Callaway Thunderbirds are hoping they can make Wright City pay for its fierce pass rush.
North Callaway will play a road game for the first time in three weeks when it travels tonight to Wright City for an Eastern Missouri Conference contest against the Wildcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Thunderbirds will be seeking to get back on track after a disappointing 30-23 EMO home loss last Friday in the final minute to Bowling Green. The setback stopped a two-game winning streak for North Callaway (3-2, 2-2 EMO).
Wright City suffered its third loss in a row last week in falling at Mark Twain 36-16 in a conference game. The Wildcats are 3-3 overall and 1-3 in the EMO.
Wright City's 3-3 stack defense is giving up 28.1 points per game this season, but has been shredded for an average of 42.3 during its three-game slide.
"They like to do a lot of blitzing," North Callaway coach Don Boulware said. "They'll bring eight (defenders) sometimes, they'll bring six a lot, and they're really getting upfield.
"They're kind of a gambling defense — if they guess right, they might hit you for a loss."
North Callaway will try to make that a costly venture for the Wildcats with a running attack that is averaging 231.6 yards per game. Senior running back Cody Cash — despite being held to 7 yards on only nine carries last week — paces the Thunderbirds with 468 yards rushing (11.7 average) and six touchdowns.
Junior running back Trevor Ray is right behind Cash with 440 yards rushing (8.3 average) and also has six scores. Ray gained a team-high 88 yards in 16 attempts and had a 5-yard touchdown run against Bowling Green.
"You gash them when they guess wrong," Boulware said of Wright City's affinity to blitz. "Or you get a block at the point of attack and you get to the second level, and there's nobody there because they blitzed themselves out of position.
"They've given up a lot of big plays — they did that last week against Mark Twain."
The Wildcats' spread offense has struggled to put up points during the last three games and has been shut out twice during that span — 54-0 by Bowling Green and 37-0 by Montgomery County.
Wright City is guided by three-year starting quarterback Hayden Beck, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior. Beck is 55-of-102 passing (54 percent) on the season for 584 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Beck has also rushed for 269 yards and a pair of scores.
"He's been doing it for a long time," Boulware said. "He's got a good arm and he's not afraid to take shots down the field. Now he's thrown some picks this year, but he's going to put it out there.
"Our DBs (defensive backs) are going to have a chance to make plays on the ball and they're going to have to make plays on the ball, because he's going to take shots."
Beck's top target is junior wide receiver Jake Smith, who leads the Wildcats with 18 catches for 297 yards (16.5 average) and two touchdowns. Fellow junior receiver Ian Wolff is next with 15 receptions for 188 yards (12.5 average) and one score.
Senior running back Dalton Wiser leads Wright City in rushing with 625 yards (5.1 average) and four touchdowns.
"His quickness and vision (is impressive)," Boulware said. "He's the strength of their offense right now. He sees the holes and gets through them."