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Branson to go at QB for T-Birds if Haubner can’t

KINGDOM CITY — The North Callaway Thunderbirds may get a bigger sample size from freshman quarterback Cole Branson as soon as tonight.

With junior starter Jake Haubner’s status in doubt due to a sprained ankle, Branson could be called on again tonight when North Callaway (2-4) travels to St. Louis to face Brentwood (3-3). Kickoff is at 7.

Branson was unflappable last week at home against Hermann, stepping in for Haubner after he injured his ankle while trying to recover a fumble early in the third quarter. The 6-foot, 160-pound Branson responded admirably by running for three short touchdowns as the Thunderbirds bumped off the Bearcats 32-28.

His 1-yard TD scamper with 15 seconds left in the third quarter broke a 20-20 tie and put North Callaway in front to stay. Branson also scored from 1 yard out with 3:51 to play in the game, extending the Thunderbirds’ lead to 32-20.

Branson’s final statistical line was not overly impressive, but the end result mattered most. He added a 2-yard touchdown run and finished with just 13 yards on nine carries after being sacked three times. Branson — who is also North Callaway’s placekicker — completed 5-of-7 passes for 55 yards.

“We kept our play-calling with him limited, but he did a very good job of it,” Thunderbirds head coach Mike Emmons said Wednesday afternoon. “… When he did need to throw it, he was very decisive about what he was doing. He executed well.”

Emmons noted that if Branson was experiencing any anxiety after entering the game for Haubner, it wasn’t apparent.

“I imagine he was nervous, but he’s fine,” Emmons said. “He’s a gamer, a very big competitor. He was pretty calm about it all.”

Emmons explained that Branson took all of the snaps with the first-team offense at Tuesday’s practice, but that he hoped to increase Haubner’s workload Wednesday and Thursday.

Based on Haubner’s availability in practice, Emmons said that it would likely be a gametime decision tonight on whether he would be able to play.

Before leaving last week’s game, Haubner was 4-of-12 passing for 49 yards and that included a 23-yard touchdown pass to junior split end Vance Allen. Haubner also had two carries for minus-3 yards.

If North Callaway has to turn to Branson again tonight, Emmons stressed that there will be no limits to the offensive game plan.

“He knows everything … so we’ll expand and do the whole playbook,” Emmons said. “He’s very capable of doing that.”

Brentwood enters tonight’s game coming off a 46-8 loss to Lutheran South last week, which stopped the Eagles’ three-game winning streak.

In its three losses, Brentwood’s defense has been manhandled for 43.3 points per game. Emmons expects the Eagles to blitz often out of their 3-5 alignment. Brentwood has recorded 20 sacks this season, topped by five from 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior tackle David Rivera.

“They’re going to try to cause something to happen by their actions, and they’re pretty good at it,” he said.

The Thunderbirds amassed 294 yards of total offense against Hermann, including 170 rushing. Junior wingback Levi Morland led North Callaway with 38 yards on 13 carries.

Emmons pointed out that the Thunderbirds can’t sit back and be passive when Brentwood blitzes.

“With a high-blitz team … you need to understand the scheme, where they’re going to attack you at, and you can’t stand and catch those blitzes,” Emmons said. “… You have to do a lot of zone-blocking schemes, to where you attack in your area and not wait for some (defender) in particular.”

The Eagles’ offense is directed by junior quarterback Jordan Groth (6-2, 195), who has completed 43-of-79 passes this season for 469 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.

Senior wide receiver Dan Lynch (5-7, 145) leads Brentwood in rushing with 511 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries. Lynch is also the Eagles’ leading receiver with 21 catches for 174 yards and two scores.

Senior running back Ricardo Owens (5-9, 165) is second behind Lynch with 410 yards rushing and three touchdowns in 46 attempts.

North Callaway’s defense surrendered 319 total yards last week, with all but 2 yards of that output a product of Hermann’s passing game. The Thunderbirds forced three turnovers and logged five sacks.

Emmons said that North Callaway’s defensive unit will need to immediately recognize and acclimate itself to Brentwood’s various offensive schemes. The Eagles will run out of the double-wing, but will also line up in triple-receiver and wildcat looks.

“We have to identify quickly and get into the way we deal with each formation and keep attacking,” Emmons said.

• • • • •

•Notes: North Callaway was originally scheduled to play at Barat Academy in the St. Louis area tonight, but Barat dropped the game. The Thunderbirds were able to fill the open date when Brentwood agreed to play them.

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