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No. 6 Bulldogs try to extend playoff run

Photo by Stephanie Backus.

— South Callaway head coach Tim Rulo believes that making a deep playoff run means pulling out all of the stops.

The No. 6 South Callaway Bulldogs and Mark Twain Tigers — both coming off their first-ever postseason victories — square off in a Class 2 sectional at Center at 7 p.m. Monday.

South Callaway, which is in the playoffs for the third year in a row, easily conquered Clopton/Elsberry 41-21 in regional play last Wednesday night at Mokane. Meanwhile, Mark Twain pulled out a last-second, 20-14 home victory over Blair Oaks.

Whichever squad takes that next, unprecedented step in the playoffs has to be willing to take chances, according to Rulo.

“Now it’s just going to be the team that wants it more, gets after it more and, honestly, creates their own luck,” Rulo said Friday night after the Bulldogs’ practice. “You’ve got to create turnovers, you’ve got to come up with big plays at big times — don’t be afraid to do a little razzle-dazzle maybe on offense or special teams.

“You’ve got to create that extra momentum that’s going to get it (a win). Ultimately, again, these teams are all good; if they weren’t good, they wouldn’t be here. … Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to take care of those opportunities.”

Rulo noted that Wednesday night’s victories bring credibility for the fledgling programs that he and Mark Twain head coach Matt Hudson are nurturing.

“For us, we were able to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been able to make the playoffs, now let’s try for something better,’” Rulo said. “It’s just so important to be able to have a vision of what that (postseason success) looks like.

“I think it’s going to be a great night for football.”

There is no mystery about what to expect from the Tigers’ wishbone offense, which relies almost exclusively on its running game.

Mark Twain generated all of its offense on the ground — 325 yards on 62 carries — in its sectional victory over Blair Oaks. Senior running back Steven Phillips served as the stimulus for the Tigers’ robust rushing attack, gaining a game-high 204 yards on 29 carries while scoring all three Mark Twain touchdowns.

Phillips provided the game-winner when he scored on a 2-yard run with 7 seconds left in the game.

“He runs hard, looks good in the open field,” Rulo said. “He seems to be a patient runner … and they give him enough touches. You might be able to tackle him or pin him on one play, but that doesn’t mean the next play he’s not going to be able to break it for a long run.”

South Callaway’s defense allowed about 370 yards of total offense, including 120 rushing, in the regional win over Clopton/Elsberry. In attempting to throttle the Tigers’ wishbone Monday night, Rulo explained that the Bulldogs — which faced no-huddle, spread offenses with their last three opponents — will have to depend on a straight-ahead, aggressive strategy.

“You have to get your guys out at the point of attack,” Rulo said. “That means … getting them flying, getting them downhill, they can’t run side to side. Their offense does not try to nickel-and-dime you, try to get outside.

“It’s very much downhill, smash-mouth, so we’ve got to be able to match that intensity, that physicality.”

Mark Twain mostly ignores throwing the ball when it comes to its offensive game plan. Quarterback Skyler Jameson did not have a completion in eight pass attempts against Blair Oaks and was intercepted twice.

Still, Rulo stressed that South Callaway’s secondary won’t be able to relax Monday night.

“I’d be surprised if they try to throw it eight times anymore,” Rulo said. “Their passing numbers — in my mind — have dwindled throughout the season, simply because: a) they don’t need to, or, b) it’s not nearly as effective for them.

“If anything, it probably puts more emphasis on your defensive backs because they can’t fall asleep back there. They have to make sure that they’re alert and they’re really checking their keys on run or pass, and what the play is.”

The Bulldogs’ offense — which erupted for scores on six straight possessions — displayed some diversity against Clopton/Elsberry. Five players scored South Callaway’s six rushing touchdowns, led by two from junior tailback Hunter Leeper.

Leeper broke off scoring runs of 25 and 5 yards. Junior Konrad Kemper — sharing time at quarterback with sophomore starter Jason Kimminau — also raced 34 yards for a touchdown. Senior tailback Bryan Lechner scored from 2 yards out, while Kimminau and junior tailback T.J. Buchholz added a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs.

The Bulldogs accumulated 383 yards of total offense, with 289 coming from their own prolific running game.

“Ultimately (when you have so many players involved), it kind of spreads that wealth around,” Rulo said. “Nobody can focus on one guy, you’re getting (production) from multiple different positions.

“… (An opposing defense) can’t sit there and say, ‘Oh, we’ve just got to watch (senior wide receiver) Will (Brandt), or we’ve just got to watch Bryan.’ They have to account for every guy there.”

Rulo pointed out that Mark Twain will probably line up in a 4-4 defensive scheme. The Tigers surrendered 265 yards of total offense, but only 91 rushing, and forced one turnover in their victory over Blair Oaks.

“It’s just going to be a matter of recognizing what they’re going to do defensively and try to take advantage of it,” Rulo said.

• • • • •

•Notes: The Tigers’ four losses this season came in the ultra-competitive Clarence Cannon Conference — 42-28 to Centralia, ranked No. 3 in Class 2; 13-6 to South Shelby, No. 5 in Class 1; 38-8 to Clark County, which bowed to No. 4 Macon 28-7 in a Class 2 regional, and 24-0 to Brookfield. Centralia, which demolished Monroe City 54-18 in regional play, matches up against Macon in a sectional showdown Monday night. South Shelby — which advanced with a 67-22 regional blowout of Scotland County — plays Schuyler County in a sectional game.

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