The state-ranked Thunderbirds will seek more of the same from their destructive defensive unit when they travel to Van-Far for an Eastern Missouri Conference game tonight. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
North Callaway — which climbed one spot to No. 8 in this week's Class 2 state media rankings — completely throttled Wright City's passing game last week in a 43-7 EMO rampage at home. The Thunderbirds, winners of five in a row, sacked senior quarterback Sean McDonald six times and limited the Wildcats to a sparse 25 yards of total offense.
"You're not going to see a whole lot of stats from the defensive tackles (junior Mark Isgrig and sophomore Will Jeffries), but those guys played assignment football and allowed our linebackers to get through and create havoc," O'Neal said. " (Senior outside linebacker) Adam Reno — not a whole lot of stats again — but took away some receivers, just completely took them out of the game.
"I think it shows up in the numbers at the end so hats off to those kids. Coach (defensive coordinator Ross) Rosenbaum did a great job of motivating them all week, encouraging them and installing a good game plan, and I thought our kids executed it."
The Thunderbirds — in their third year in Rosenbaum's system — have surrendered a feeble total of 59 points this season, which translates to just 9.8 per game. North Callaway (5-1, 4-0 EMO) has also tallied a pair of shutouts.
"(Senior outside linebacker) Austin Edwards, (senior inside linebacker) Tanner Pezold, (junior inside linebacker) Jordan Delashmutt, (junior cornerback) Dawson Wright, all of those guys have started in this defense for three years now," O'Neal said. "(Rosenbaum) talks about it all the time, how those guys are like more coaches out on the field.
"Those guys know exactly what's going on, they know how he wants the defense to operate and everything is just plugging in at the right time."
The Thunderbirds will confront a Van-Far offense — which operates out of a double-wing, double-tight end set — that is averaging 28.8 points per game. The Indians (4-2, 2-2) halted a two-game losing streak last week with a 30-6 EMO home victory against Clopton/Elsberry.
"They've got a couple of athletes that they're trying to feature with the ball," O'Neal said. "They'll do some motion and try to do some misdirection, and confuse defenses."
While Van-Far primarily runs the ball, O'Neal noted the Indians will sporadically interject a few passing plays into their attack.
"We've got to make sure we get our fits and our run support is there from the safeties," O'Neal said. "Then our corners, in a week like this, can get stuck looking in the backfield.
"We've got to make sure that they still continue to defend the pass, because they will sneak one in there every once in a while. We can't fall asleep on the outside."
On the defensive side, O'Neal explained Van-Far will work out of a 5-2 base alignment. The Indians gave up only one score last week to Clopton/Elsberry after being shredded for 92 points combined the previous two games in losses to Bowling Green and Wright City, respectively.
"I imagine they're going to blitz us quite a bit to stop our run game, and try to match up man-to-man with our guys on the outside," O'Neal said. "We want to establish the run game early and then probably work on our passing game as the game goes on."
North Callaway amassed 387 yards of total offense, including 296 yards rushing, in rolling past Wright City last week. Reno gained at least 200 yards for the second straight week, finishing with exactly 200 and an 11-yard touchdown run on 24 carries.
Edwards — from his wide receiver spot — provided a 40-yard touchdown run and sophomore backup running back Bradley Berry scored on a 3-yard run. Delashmutt, from his running back position, added a 1-yard touchdown run.
Sophomore quarterback Tully Thomsen also connected with Wright, at his wide receiver spot, on a 19-yard touchdown pass.
"We're coming along — you see a couple more (different) plays from us each week," O'Neal said. "We're getting more guys involved as we go.
"Those pieces are starting to develop."