No. 10 Bulldogs eye return to postseason, set to host Wildcats

— Once again, newfound success is steering the South Callaway Bulldogs into unfamiliar but satisfying territory.

South Callaway kicked off Class 2, District 9 play last week by surprising state-ranked Blair Oaks 7-6 at Wardsville. It was not only the Bulldogs' first-ever win over a ranked opponent, but it was also their first victory in a district opener in the program's 13-year history.

The Bulldogs -- who now have extended their best-ever start to 7-1 -- will look to build off that breakthrough win tonight (kickoff at 7) when they host Montgomery County. The Wildcats (3-5) bowed to Hermann 40-22 in last week's other District 9 contest.

South Callaway also experienced another milestone Wednesday when it came in at No. 10 in the Associated Press' Class 2 state poll. The Bulldogs have never been ranked before.

A win tonight over Montgomery County would secure a third straight trip to the state playoffs for South Callaway.

"We do control our own destiny," Bulldogs head coach Tim Rulo said Wednesday night. "To be in the driver's seat means that you have to take advantage of the opportunity you've been given. We really need to understand that, and I hope our guys can fathom that.

"... You don't want to have to be dependent on other people. So we need to take care of business now in week two and week three of districts."

Rulo will be in the uncomfortable position tonight of matching strategies against one of his former assistants in Montgomery County head coach John Klekamp, who served as assistant head coach at South Callaway last season.

"It's going to be really tough," Rulo said. "(John) and I have talked multiple times throughout the season. It's not something you want to see, when you've coached with a guy and you've gone to battle with him, and you've shared great moments with kids.

"It's really hard to look across now and see him on the other side."

Rulo explained that Klekamp -- a Montgomery County native -- was deserving of a chance to be a head coach.

"He was well-qualified for it; we were grateful that we got him even for a year, to be honest," Rulo said. "He's a very good coach."

Rulo realizes that Klekamp's familiarity with the Bulldogs' system could give the Wildcats an advantage.

"It definitely does, I can't deny that," Rulo said. "We're going to have to be crisper and sharper because, ultimately, he is going to know our stuff. We've got to perform at a level that can nullify his knowledge of what we have."

Montgomery County continues to run a no-huddle, spread offense that has become a staple over the years. The Wildcats are averaging 24 points per game.

"They definitely have athletes; Montgomery County has always had athletes," Rulo said.

South Callaway is coming off what was arguably -- considering the quality of opponent -- the best defensive effort it has ever produced. The Bulldogs bedeviled Blair Oaks into committing five turnovers while allowing just one score, a 2-yard touchdown run by Derek Otto on fourth-and-goal with 7 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game.

"After those (four South Callaway) turnovers when we put our defense in horrible positions, they answered the bell," Rulo said. "They did a great job. ... Time and time again, we put them in awkward positions based on turnovers, and they made plays.

"They created their own turnovers, they stopped them on fourth down, those kind of things."

Rulo pointed out that the Bulldogs' defense can't give up plays that go for long gains tonight.

"You can't let up a play over 25 yards because, ultimately, that plays into their hands," Rulo said. "You've got to make them complete multiple passes down the field, make them earn those extra yards after the catch."

South Callaway's lone score last week came on a spectacular one-handed catch by senior wide receiver Will Brandt on a 31-yard touchdown pass thrown by junior quarterback Konrad Kemper with :24 remaining in the first half. Sophomore Jason Kimminau -- the Bulldogs' other quarterback -- added the extra point for what proved to be the difference in the outcome.

South Callaway will have to restore its running game tonight after it was limited to 77 yards by Blair Oaks. Junior back T.J. Buchholz led the Bulldogs with just 23 yards on 13 carries.

Rulo noted that running the ball effectively on early downs serves a two-fold purpose -- it makes the Bulldogs less predictable and keeps them out of predicaments.

"The more we're able to run the ball successfully, the more it sets up the pass," Rulo said. "Right now, we run the ball to set up the pass. So if we're not running the ball, again it makes it easier (for the opponent) for them to understand what we're going to do when it's third-and-long.

"We've got to be able to run the ball well. We need to be able to put ourselves in better running-down positions -- second-and-short, third-and-short."

Rulo also announced that he will continue to platoon Kimminau and Kemper at quarterback. Kimminau will remain the starter, but Kemper will see his share of snaps.

Kimminau has struggled the last two weeks, throwing five of his nine interceptions during that span. He completed just 2-of-10 passes for 40 yards and was picked off three times against Blair Oaks, while Kemper was 3-of-4 for 70 yards and the touchdown pass to Brandt.

Kimminau has thrown for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.

"Jason has done a good job managing this offense; we're 7-1, so there's no way I'm ever going to pull the carpet out from underneath Jason," Rulo said. "I know he's unhappy with his interception totals, but again, those aren't his fault.

"If we're not able to run the ball, we're putting him -- as a sophomore quarterback -- into desperate situations. ... Konrad is able to bring his own element to the game. He's a 190-pound kid who runs hard and can throw the ball well, too. We just have to maximize both of their (skills)."

Blair Oaks (6-2), which dropped out of the state poll this week, visits Hermann (3-5) in tonight's other District 9 game.


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