Mike Emmons was both baffled and chagrined.
After what Emmons termed North Callaway's "best week of practice we've ever had," the Thunderbirds were abused by Hermann senior quarterback Lucas Budnik on Friday night.
Budnik passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns -- two going to junior wide receiver Justin Wurtz -- and the Bearcats built a 28-7 halftime lead while easily pushing aside North Callaway 34-21.
The game was not as close as the outcome might indicate. Thunderbirds senior quarterback Tylar Walker, returning after a two-game absence due to a deep thigh bruise, threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to make the end result appear respectable.
North Callaway, which has lost two straight and three of its last four, slipped to 3-3 on the season. Hermann -- celebrating its homecoming -- stopped a three-game losing streak to improve to 2-4 overall.
"In the first half, we couldn't get our defense off the field -- we couldn't tackle, we couldn't make plays," Emmons said. "Every time we would pin them back, we would give them something big. Offensively, we really didn't get anything going, either.
"I told the kids that I don't know if it's a certain person's fault, but we're all going to take it (blame) as a team. ... It's a little puzzling when you have such a great week of practice. I was really expecting the kids to perform well."
Budnik, despite being picked off twice, completed 21-of-36 passes. His first touchdown pass covered 50 yards when Wurtz slipped free behind the Thunderbirds' secondary, made the catch and raced down the middle of the field and into the end zone with 6 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-23, Budnik hooked up again with Wurtz to extend the Bearcats' lead to 28-0 with 4:01 to play in the first half. Budnik -- who two plays earlier was sacked for an 11-yard loss -- evaded North Callaway pressure and found Wurtz in the right corner of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass.
Budnik then accounted for Hermann's final score on a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Philip Wright at the 3:14 mark of the third quarter.
"He (Budnik) threw 10 times better than we've seen him throw all year," Emmons said. "He played a heckuva game. ... We just gave up some big passes at crucial times."
Wurtz finished with 10 catches for 133 yards, both game highs, while Wright had five receptions for 82 yards.
Hermann also displayed an effective running game to complement its passing attack. Sophomore back Armando Matech's 5-yard touchdown run with :15 remaining in the first quarter made it 14-0, then junior back Dalton Grosse followed with a 14-yard scoring run with 6:50 to go in the first half.
Matech rushed for 50 yards on 17 carries and freshman back Chris Hug also gained 50 yards in 13 attempts.
"They didn't do anything that we didn't prepare for all week," Emmons said.
Walker, limited by lingering effects from his injury, ran the ball just one time Friday night and lost 6 yards on the final play of the first half. Forced to throw the ball in catch-up mode, he was 14-of-32 for 192 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
His 4-yard scoring pass to senior back Zak Kee with 1:16 left in the first half made it 28-7 at halftime. Walker's fourth-quarter touchdown passes went to senior wide receiver Jacob Henricks for 17 yards and senior wingback Taylor West for 7.
"Tylar was (rusty)," Emmons said. "He has some kinks to work out, but it was good to have him back."
West led the Thunderbirds with five catches for 96 yards and 80 yards rushing on eight carries. Junior wingback Ty Webster also had five receptions for 56 yards, while Kee rushed for 58 yards on seven carries.
North Callaway, ending a two-game road trip, returns to Kingdom City to play Barat Academy for homecoming this week. Barat lost to Winfield 42-21 on Friday night.
"We can't play half a game," Emmons said. "We'll figure out if it was X's and O's, or if it was performance, or if it was both. We'll look at every one of us, including (coaches)."
*Notes: North Callaway and Hermann renewed what at one time was a bitter rivalry after an 11-year absence. A 14-6 win by the Thunderbirds at Kingdom City in 1999 sent North Callaway to the state playoffs and ended a four-game losing streak to the Bearcats.