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story.lead_photo.caption North Callaway quarterback Braydn O'Neal looks downfield for a receiver during last Friday night's game against South Callaway in Mokane. Photo by Amy Craghead/Special to the Fulton Sun

KINGDOM CITY — After a showing that wasn't particularly crisp, North Callaway coach Don Boulware has his Thunderbirds doing a deep dive on details.

Looking to regroup after a 21-6 loss at South Callaway last week in the annual Callaway Cup rivalry game, North Callaway returns home for an Eastern Missouri Conference contest against the Clopton/Elsberry IndianHawks tonight. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

The disappointing loss left the Thunderbirds at 1-1 both overall and in the EMO.

"We've got a lot of things to shore up," Boulware said. "We've got to just clean up what we do — so much time you worry about adjusting to the other team, you kind of lose track of taking care of things in-house.

"Just little things — breaking the huddle sharp, running up to the line, not talking in the huddle, not bickering back and forth at one another, just hustling, a sense of urgency being ready to play when the ball's snapped."

North Callaway will encounter a Clopton/Elsberry squad that picked up its first victory of the season last week, a 51-34 EMO triumph at Mark Twain. The IndianHawks are also 1-1 both on the season and in conference play.

Junior quarterback Lucas Martin — a first-year varsity starter — directs the Clopton/Elsberry offense, which is averaging 36 points through two games.

"He's got a strong arm and they just throw it up and let those big receivers go up and get it," Boulware said.

Boulware was referring to the IndianHawks' two massive tight ends — seniors Zakk Eivins (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and Gabre Hill (6-4, 205). Eivins finished with more than 400 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches last season.

The Thunderbirds' senior cornerbacks — 6-2 Lane Wortman and 6-1 Wyatt Raithel — will be tasked with helping to cover Eivins and Hill.

"I'm still nervous when they throw up a jump ball to those guys," Boulware said. "We want to get pressure on the quarterback and not give him time to set his feet and throw."

Clopton/Elsberry's 4-3 defense is led up front by Eivins and senior Jacob Wolanski (6-1, 225) at the end positions, and senior Riley Walker (6-2, 240) at tackle. The IndianHawks are surrendering a lofty 37.5 points per game to this point.

"For some reason, they've always scored a bunch of points but given up a bunch of points," Boulware said. "That's kind of been their mojo. I'm not sure why that is — the system they run, the type of kids they have."

North Callaway's offense is badly in need of a swift repair after red-zone issues cost the Thunderbirds three scoring chances in last week's loss to South Callaway. Sophomore quarterback Braydn O'Neal was intercepted twice in the end zone and North Callaway also turned the ball over once on downs inside South Callaway's 10-yard line.

The Thunderbirds' lone score came on junior running back Trevor Ray's 1-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

North Callaway amassed 346 yards of total offense, paced by Ray's game-high 97 yards rushing on 10 carries. Senior running back Cody Cash — the Thunderbirds' leading rusher — managed just 51 yards on only six attempts.

O'Neal completed 14-of-23 passes for 192 yards.

Boulware and his assistants moved quickly to address the red-zone difficulties during Monday's practice.

"We've got to score in the red zone and sustain some drives," Boulware said. "We've had our share of big plays but we're not getting the consistent five, six yards, moving the chains like you'd like, controlling the ball.

"We did a horrible job in the red zone last week. We've got to get points when we get down in the red zone. The first thing we did (Monday) was go red-zone offense, trying to send a message."

Boulware believes his squad has learned a valuable lesson about the importance of the finer points.

"There was a lot more sense of urgency in practice and a lot better effort, and a lot better execution," Boulware said. "I think the kids took what we told them in the classroom to heart when we went out on the field.

"Hopefully that carries over to Friday night."

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