The North Callaway Thunderbirds are no stranger to their next opponent, the Bowling Green Bobcats. The catch being that they usually meet during the regular season.
The longtime opponents will face off tonight, with one team moving on and the other not surviving to play another week.
North Callaway (6-4) travels to Bowling Green (8-2) - ranked No. 6 in the state - to take on the Bobcats in a Class 3 regional. Kickoff is at 7.
The two schools had played regularly up until this season. But wouldn't you know it, they both ended up squaring off anyway.
"Well, we had played them every year up until this year," North Callaway head coach Mike Emmons said Tuesday morning. "We stopped playing them and we ended up seeing them anyway."
The Thunderbirds come into tonight's game after a bruising 32-13 loss to Southern Boone for the District 6 championship. North Callaway surrendered 347 yards of total offense, all rushing, to the Eagles.
The loss gave the Thunderbirds the second-place spot in District 6 after a 42-14 win over Fulton on Oct. 15 and a 52-0 blowout of Missouri Military Academy the next week.
North Callaway will be without the services of sophomore starting offensive tackle Zac Eads, at least for tonight. Eads sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee against Southern Boone and although he is moving around better, Emmons will hold him out.
The Southern Boone game might be the last of the season for Eads, but Emmons has been putting that sense of urgency into all of his players since the beginning of district play.
"We try to approach every single game with the same mentality," Emmons said. "They know what looms at the end if you don't get the job done, so we tell them to get your money's worth every play because it could be your last one."
Bowling Green is plenty talented enough to make North Callaway's postseason run more of a short sprint rather than a long trot. The Bobcats are coming off a 14-1 season and a state runner-up finish in 2009.
Bowling Green defeated North Callaway 25-7 last season behind 248 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Ryan Cox.
Cox is no longer running the offense, but the Bobcats have been no less efficient in their option spread scheme. Senior quarterback Zach Pease leads Bowling Green this season with more than 1,000 yards both passing and running the ball.
Pease's twin brother, Jeff, joins him in the backfield at halfback to add another dimension to the Bobcats' attack.
"They are very fast and have a quarterback and his twin brother with exceptional speed," Emmons said. "They run an option spread game, so they're going to keep the ball a lot, but if we overcommit to him, they can definitely throw it."
North Callaway is making its first appearance in the state playoffs since 2004, meaning every player on the present roster will be getting their first taste of postseason play. Though none of them have made it this far into the season, Emmons is hoping his veteran players can keep even-keels through high and low points.
"You hope that senior leadership will overcome those things," Emmons said. "We have some seniors who are instrumental to our team, that know how to act and react to certain situations."
It is nice getting this far. But Emmons would like to keep the Thunderbirds' season going.
"It's a nice reward for a lot of offseason work," Emmons said. "We're very happy to be back in here and we hope to do something."