Hornets' playoff hopes come down to matchup vs. Eagles

It was no misprint, mistake or misstep.

The Southern Boone Eagles erupted for a 92-28 blitz of Missouri Military Academy in a Class 3, District 6 mismatch last week. That's eight points away from 100 for all the math majors out there.

Either way, the number caught the eye of Fulton head coach Pat Kelley, who has to prepare his Hornets (0-8) to face the Eagles tonight in a District 6 encounter. Kickoff is at 7 at Ashland.

"That's an awful lot of points," Kelley said Thursday afternoon. "It's tough because, from my perspective, you never want to put that kind of score up on the board because it's an awkward situation for every one."

Kelley preferred not to delve too deep into his own feelings on the scoring barrage that Southern Boone put on. He'll just take to the task of preventing his own team from giving up that kind of absurd point total while keeping Fulton's playoff hopes alive.

"We're just trying to work on what we do and continue to get better," Kelley said.

The Eagles (5-3) are averaging 34.8 points per game and 335 yards rushing -- averages that were likely inflated by last week's outburst of 92 points and 521 yards on the ground.

Southern Boone benefitted from three 100-yard rushers last week, led by the 199-yard, two touchdown-performance from junior running back Tyler Grethen. Grethen leads the Eagles with 1,396 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

Southern Boone's no-frills running attack is so straight-forward that the usual "smash-mouth" moniker associated with such a scheme would be a gross understatement.

"Their formation is a true, what I like to call, a flying wedge," Kelley said. "Everyone is foot-to-foot and grinding downfield and that's probably the biggest thing that it's so tight and compact, and something we haven't seen in a long time."

From where Fulton is standing, tonight's matchup could either be coming at the best or worst possible time. The Hornets are coming off a 42-14 loss at North Callaway in last week's District 6 opener.

They surrendered 40-plus points for the sixth time in eight games this season and the Thunderbirds carved up Fulton's defense for 282 yards rushing.

On a larger scale, it was the second straight week in which Kelley felt his defense couldn't keep up with the offense. The first five games were quite the opposite in his eyes. Despite surrendering 200 points in the first half of the season, he wasn't disappointed with the effort or the execution.

"We'd played, in my opinion, pretty decent defense in that first half up till the Kirksville game (a 17-7 loss), then we didn't play good defense against Mexico or North Callaway, but then our offense kind of picked it up," Kelley said. "So that makes it kind of tough and hard to figure out, but right now our goal is to go out and play the best we can on both sides and worry about the score later."

Now, Kelley will hope that the Hornets can put together the kind of game he's wanted out of them the entire season. One where the offense keeps pace with the defense with little to no breakdown. If such a game would happen, the timing of it couldn't be more crucial.

"We're trying to keep things as even-keeled as possible at least from an emotional standpoint," Kelley said. "We've made some strides offensively in the last few weeks."

With a win, the Hornets would be 1-1 in district play and have an inside track to one of the top two spots to make the postseason. The Thunderbirds host MMA tonight and would lock up a playoff spot with a win.

On a larger scale, a Southern Boone win would provide the school with its first winning season and first playoff appearance in the seven-year history of the football program.

"They've ebbed and flowed a little bit, and they've come in the last few years and found the right personnel with the right offense and have had a great past two seasons," Kelley said.

Meanwhile, the Hornets are -- for all intents and purposes -- in a one-game playoff. With a win, Fulton will host MMA next week for a postseason berth. Lose and next week is a game in which the winner takes pride and nothing else.

"It's been a long, long hard year and you know it's an opportunity to not erase all of it, but still end on a bright note," Kelley said. "It's do-or-die and there hasn't been a lot of talk about it because everyone knows."

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