Bulldogs sunk by slippery start

— South Callaway head coach Tim Rulo had cautioned beforehand that his Bulldogs could not afford to stumble at the start.

South Callaway had run just two offensive plays -- that's right, two -- and was already down 12-0 to state-ranked Tipton in Friday night's confrontation between unbeaten teams.

The Bulldogs were not able to recover and the Cardinals, capitalizing on a fumble on the opening kickoff and an interception on South Callaway's first possession for their two quick scores, coasted to a 28-0 victory.

South Callaway, which was off to its best start in school history, committed five turnovers in slipping to 6-1. Tipton (7-0) -- ranked No. 2 in Class 1 -- broke out for 281 yards rushing and received four touchdown runs from junior halfback Aaron Ray.

"It's just simple football math -- you can't turn the ball over, you can't have those unforced penalties, stuff like that," Rulo said. "Those are effort mistakes; I didn't feel like we weren't holding on to the football well or anything like that.

"It was simply a matter of guys trying really hard, they wanted to make plays. We weren't all pulling on the rope at the same time. We just made too many mistakes -- special teams, offense, some issues with defense."

The Bulldogs put themselves in a predicament at the outset Friday night. Senior wide receiver Will Brandt made a strong return on the opening kickoff, but the ball popped out of his hands and the Cardinals recovered it at South Callaway's 39-yard line.

Eight plays later, Ray busted up the middle and into the end zone from 4 yards out to put Tipton on top 6-0 with 7 minutes, 42 seconds to play in the first quarter. The Cardinals missed the extra-point attempt.

The Bulldogs' ensuing possession got off to a favorable start when junior back Hunter Leeper ran for 9 yards. However, sophomore quarterback Jason Kimminau's pass over the middle on the second play was picked off by Tipton senior defensive back Cameron Backes.

After a personal-foul penalty against South Callaway for a late hit was tacked on at the end of the interception, the Cardinals found themselves at the Bulldogs' 36. Tipton needed just four plays to extend its lead when Ray scored on another 4-yard run with 5:00 left in the quarter.

South Callaway's first-half deficit would have been even larger had it not been for some moxie shown by its defense. The Bulldogs recovered a Tipton fumble inside their own 10 early in the second quarter and then forced the Cardinals to turn the ball over on downs at South Callaway's 17 with 2:45 remaining in the first half.

However, a three-and-out and a short punt gave Tipton the ball at the Bulldogs' 39. South Callaway's defense limited the damage when it held the Cardinals to a 28-yard field goal by Backes with :03 to go, sending Tipton into halftime with a 15-0 lead.

"I think coach (defensive coordinator Jed) Leeper and the defense did a great job," Rulo said. "They made some adjustments early on, they figured out what they wanted to do."

The Cardinals stretched their lead to 22-0 on the first possession of the third quarter when Ray supplied his third 4-yard touchdown run of the game. Tipton then assembled a scoring drive that lasted almost 7 minutes in the fourth quarter, topping it off on Ray's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:27 to play.

Ray was the featured back in the Cardinals' running attack Friday night, piling up a game-high 140 yards on 20 carries. Senior halfback Burt Barbour also supplied 66 yards in just six attempts.

"They have just so many weapons," Rulo said. "They do a great job of sustaining blocks. We felt like our linebackers couldn't go and make all of the plays we wanted, so instead our secondary is having to make those plays.

"That's not really what we want. When your secondary is leading you in tackles, that's not a good thing."

The Bulldogs -- shut out for the first time this season -- managed just 125 yards of total offense. Kimminau completed just 6-of-15 passes for 57 yards and was intercepted twice. He was also sacked three times.

Junior back T.J. Buchholz paced South Callaway with 42 yards rushing on 11 carries, while Brandt finished with three catches for 35 yards.

"We could never sustain any drives, that was the biggest issue," Rulo said. "They kept getting us in long-down situations."

The Bulldogs will follow up Friday night's loss with another tough test when they travel to state-ranked Blair Oaks to start Class 2, District 9 play this week. The Falcons (6-1) -- ranked No. 7 -- shut out Eldon 40-0 on Friday night.

"We're really going to find out a lot about our team," Rulo said. "You're never excited about a loss. ... If anything, I'm excited to see how they're going to respond. Tipton showed us that we still have some things to work on, which we knew.

"They just made those evident, so now we just have to take care of business."

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