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story.lead_photo.caption A group of South Callaway defenders gang up to stop a Van-Far/Community ball carrier during last Friday night's game in Mokane. Photo by Daniel AuBuchon/Special to the Fulton Sun

MOKANE — South Callaway Bulldogs coach Zack Hess has given his defensive unit fair warning about the potential for the Cuba Wildcats' offense to pop.

South Callaway rides a two-game winning streak into its non-conference matchup tonight at home against Cuba. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Bulldogs improved to 4-2 on the season by defeating Van-Far/Community in a 62-12 Eastern Missouri Conference blitz last Friday at home. The victory was South Callaway's fourth in its last five games.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, slipped to the .500 mark at 3-3 overall after a 50-12 home loss to Centralia, ranked No. 5 in Class 3 this week.

Cuba has averaged 30.6 points in its three victories this season. The Wildcats' spread offense is led by senior quarterback Mason Pfeiffer and also features senior wide receiver Alan O'Neal.

"When you're playing a team that really thrives off of those chunk plays, we've got to make sure that that doesn't bite us," Hess said. "Those chunk plays come off the deep pass and also the scrambles with the quarterback.

"From a defensive standpoint, that's a huge challenge to play the pass but also to come up and play the run."

The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Pfeiffer has completed just 49 percent of his passes (45-of-92) this season in five games recorded on maxpreps.com, but has thrown for 862 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Pfeiffer tops Cuba in rushing with 471 yards (10.2 average) and four scores.

"He's got a really good arm and he will take off and run with the ball," Hess said. "He's just one of those really good dual-threat quarterbacks."

O'Neal (5-9, 160) leads the Wildcats' receivers with 21 catches for 483 yards (23.0 average) and four touchdowns. He also has 203 yards rushing and two scores.

"The guy that's most explosive is (O'Neal)," Hess said. "He'll line it up in the backfield and he'll play receiver. I think a lot of it just depends on maybe the play call or what they're wanting to do.

"They're going to try to get him the ball in different ways. He's one of those guys that we talked about with the team (Monday night), 'Hey, where's he at? Where's he lined up? Is he in the backfield or is he out (wide)?' We'll play defense off of that."

Junior running back Conner Gipson also has 284 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Cuba. Junior tight end Dylan Keogh has 10 receptions for 189 yards and three scores.

South Callaway's defense limited Van-Far to a sparse 112 yards of total offense last week, including just 64 yards rushing. On the season, the Bulldogs are allowing 20.8 points and 235.7 yards of total offense per game.

Hess noted preventing the possibility of big plays is all about the defense recognizing the circumstances and knowing the opposing offense's tendencies.

"I think a lot of it is situational, it really is," Hess said. "The passing downs, we have to understand where's the first-down marker, and then based off that information, what are their favorite plays?

"Then we can call a defense and then we can kind of anticipate what we're going to see."

South Callaway will pit its versatile running game — which piled up 519 yards last week — against a Cuba defense that is surrendering 34.8 points per game.

Senior linebacker Zack Minardi leads the Wildcats with 42 tackles, followed closely by Gipson with 41 from his linebacker position. Junior defensive end Brian DeClue has tallied a team-high 3.5 of Cuba's 10.5 sacks and O'Neal has two interceptions from his cornerback spot.

"We're going to depend on those guys up front and it really doesn't matter who's getting the ball," Hess said. "We expect whoever has the ball to gain those yards, again just based on the physical play from our offensive line that we need to have.

"We'll try to rotate some guys in there and keep guys fresh, but ultimately we're going to lean on those guys up front to continue to be physical and open up some run lanes."

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