T-Birds, Eagles to clash in District 6 title game

With the pressure off to reach the postseason, the North Callaway Thunderbirds and Southern Boone Eagles still have plenty of incentive.

North Callaway travels to Ashland tonight to battle Mid-Missouri Conference rival Southern Boone for the Class 3, District 6 championship (kickoff at 7). The Thunderbirds and Eagles are both 6-3 on the season, and each are 2-0 in district play.

Both teams qualified for the state playoffs with convincing victories last week. North Callaway manhandled Missouri Military Academy 55-0, ensuring its return to the postseason for the first time since 2004. Meanwhile, Southern Boone smothered Fulton 50-33 to make the playoffs for the first time in the program’s seven-year history.

North Callaway head coach Mike Emmons doesn’t expect his Thunderbirds or the Eagles to ease up tonight, considering that the outcome will dictate their respective playoff paths.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be holding anything back,” Emmons said Tuesday morning. “To be a district champion is a big thing. It gives you home-field advantage (in the first round of the playoffs), plus (decides) who you’re playing.

“I don’t think there will be a letup by anyone, saving up for the playoffs. This is a playoff game — it’s going to affect where you go and what you do.”

The North Callaway defense’s primary priority tonight will be figuring out how to slow Southern Boone’s punishing double-wing running game. The Eagles — powered by junior wingback Tyler Grethen’s 200 yards and two touchdowns — ran the ball 49 times for 350 yards against Fulton last week.

Emmons and his assistants spent time last summer extensively studying Southern Boone’s running attack, breaking down its intricacies while trying to gain a better understanding of how to defend it. The Thunderbirds’ coaches had their own painful example to examine — North Callaway’s 36-13 loss at Southern Boone last year.

The Eagles owned the ball for 36 of the 48 minutes while roughing up the Thunderbirds, running the ball an astonishing 65 times for 333 yards. Grethen rushed for 141 yards on 26 carries and scored three times.

“It was, of course, disheartening,” Emmons said. “It was a tailor-made night for them; we couldn’t hold on to the ball and they were just sludging through the mud and overpowered us.

“They were very good at what they did.”

Emmons explained that the double-wing offense appears to be coming back into vogue, and isn’t as simple as it seems.

“It’s not a pile of big guys running down the field,” Emmons said. “… It (double-wing) cycled out about 10 years ago and now it’s recycled back. This time … it’s done with a lot more advanced blocking schemes.”

Emmons stressed that North Callaway will need to be shrewd with its defensive coverages tonight.

“You can’t sit in the same (scheme) play after play,” Emmons said. “You have to show them different fronts and attack in different ways because they’ll fine-tune and adjust really quick if you don’t.

“… They’re going to have multiple blocking schemes and you have to understand (them). With each (defensive) scheme, there’s a counter-measure for them also, so it really becomes a cat-and-mouse game.”

The Thunderbirds are averaging a hefty 350 yards of total offense in their two district games, including a 42-14 romp over Fulton on Oct. 15 at Kingdom City.

Senior quarterback Tylar Walker — seeing limited playing time against MMA because of the sizable margin of victory — completed 3-of-4 passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wingback Ty Webster also rushed for a game-high 92 yards and scored on a 14-yard run.

Southern Boone — which is giving up 26.9 points per game — will line up in a 3-5-3 defensive scheme, according to Emmons.

“They’re a blitzing team; they’ll bring a lot of pressure from different spots,” Emmons said. “That’s a high risk-high reward type of thing. … We need to be aggressive with our offensive linemen.

“With all of those different blitzes, there can be a tendency for people to stand and catch (with their blocking techniques). But your linemen have to trust their zone steps and go full speed, and see what crosses their face.”

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