South Callaway football comes back to beat Van-Far

South Callaway celebrates after beating Van-Far Friday at Van-Far High School in Vandalia. Bulldogs coach Stephen Wisch started his head coaching career with a victory against an Eastern Missouri Conference opponent. (Robby Campbell/Fulton Sun)

VANDALIA -- Down 14-0 at halftime, the South Callaway Bulldogs flipped a switch, coming back to beat the Van-Far Indians in the first game of SC coach Stephen Wisch's head coaching career.

Showing resilience, South Callaway took down Van-Far 21-14 in its season/Eastern Missouri Conference opener Friday at Van-Far High School.

After totaling 38 yards of offense from 10 plays in the first half, the Bulldogs notched 231 yards from 32 plays in the second half.

"We told them breathe, right?" Wisch said. "We're gonna get the ball. We're gonna go down and score. We're gonna stop. We're gonna score again, and then just a new ballgame, right? Believe, believe good things are gonna happen, right? Believe we're gonna take care of business."

South Callaway quarterback Tayber Gray helped kickstart the Bulldogs' resurgence in a big way, dodging Van-Far's defense for a 75-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs' third offensive play of the second half; Cole Brewer's extra point attempt was good, cutting SC's deficit to 14-7.

Gray not only scored SC's first touchdown this season, but it was also their longest offensive play of the game. The Bulldogs' quarterback maintained his dominance on the ground, finishing with 18 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

Following the Bulldogs' first scoring drive, South Callaway forced a fumble on the Indians' first offensive possession and started its second drive of the second half at the 50-yard line.

Keeping its momentum going, South Callaway took the lead for good after its 10-play, 50-yard drive.

Leading up to the touchdown, the Bulldogs had two 10-plus yard plays: Owen Rees ran for 10 yards to start the drive and Gray rolled right for a 14-yard pass to Kolton Adrian two plays before South Callaway scored.

The Bulldogs' senior leaders finished the drive, as Gray ran for nine yards before Rees bulldozed his way up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run. South Callaway returned to Gray, who ran it in for the 2-point conversion and gave the Bulldogs a 15-14 advantage.

Staying consistent on both sides, the Bulldogs forced a Van-Far three-and-out on its second drive of the second half. The Indians only had one first down in the third quarter.

Taking advantage of Van-Far's offensive woes, South Callaway made it three straight scoring possessions. The Bulldogs concluded their impressive scoring streak with a six-play 61-yard drive.

Gray answered the bell for South Callaway again, as he broke free for a 48-yard touchdown.

"Tayber Gray, senior running the ball in, and then two senior receivers Noah Kinney and Isiah Shirley, having great effort, downfield blocks, probably three or four cuts into the play," Wisch said. "That only happens because all three of those guys and the other, obviously the players that got to that point, they continue playing. We talk a lot about this idea of Bulldogs finish; today was a great example of that."

Trailing 21-14, Van-Far couldn't come back, registering just 16 yards after the Bulldogs' last touchdown.

Van-Far recorded three yards on its final offensive play, a Nikos Connaway completion. The play didn't end there; the Indians receiver fumbled the ball, and South Callaway recovered it.

A Van-Far coach threw his hat and yelled at the referee, pleading for the Indians to have the ball instead of South Callaway after the fumble.

For the final 4:12 of the contest, the Bulldogs had the ball and chewed up the clock to zero.

South Callaway had to be pleased with what transpired, as Van-Far fans felt that way before halftime.

Indians all-conference running back Gage Gibson had an excellent first half for Van-Far, rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Gibson's -- Van-Far's -- longest run of the match was his 33-yard touchdown.

"Coach (Lucas) Gibson and Van-Far do an amazing job," Wisch said. "So first off, hats off to them. They're an incredibly physical football team. They want to run the ball; they want to punch you in the mouth. Obviously, that's not fun to experience."

The Indians' most lengthy play overall was Connaway's 35-yard touchdown to Gibson. Rees came a split second from sacking Connaway on the play, but Van-Far's quarterback dumped it to Gibson for his and the Indians' second score.

While Rees didn't get the sack on that play, he did on the first half's final play, stuffing Connaway for a 6-yard loss. He also had a team-high eight tackles and forced a fumble.

Bulldogs defensive end Levi Summers recorded six tackles and a forced fumble, and Avery Foster had two tackles and a sack.

South Callaway senior captain Eli Benningfield also did well, tallying five tackles while protecting a Bulldogs offense that ran for 253 yards. He shared what it took mentally to help South Callaway come back.

"I can't stand to lose. I hate losing," Benningfield said. "I'm a very competitive person. And I think that ties along with a lot of other people on the team, especially the people that were playing tonight. I don't think they like to lose. And I think the first half, the first game, you're a little nervous. We got that out of the way and were ready to play."

Helping the Bulldogs win the game was them turning the ball over once, while Van-Far did twice.

Connaway intercepted Gray for the Indians' forced turnover. The Bulldogs quarterback had the last laugh since his team won.

The result was the icing on the cake for Wisch, who achieved a thrilling victory against an EMO opponent in his first game at the helm.

"Anytime you get a win is a good thing, right?" Wisch said. "We were talking about that winning is fun. Winning is a lot more fun than losing, right? And so that's awesome. Again, now, take a deep breath, right? Relax for about 12 hours and then worry about Week 2."