KINGDOM CITY -- In the final Eastern Missouri Conference Callaway Cup game, the South Callaway Bulldogs became the first away team in eight seasons to win the Callaway Cup.
"Hats off to our kids," South Callaway football coach Stephen Wisch said. "We talked all week about starting faster, and they did that, right? They did a great job in the first half. And then we held on the second half and, again, North Callaway is a great football team. They're physical. They're a tough out, right? So we're really impressed with our kids."
Spreading out its offense and making stops on defense in crucial moments, South Callaway beat North Callaway 20-6 Friday at North Callaway's football field.
The first half proved decisive, with both teams scoring six points in the second half. Putting South Callaway in front was its execution on offense and forcing two turnovers on downs and two interceptions on defense -- all in the first half.
"We talked to our DBs last week, we put that film out there, right? Where Herman was able to throw the ball on us, and we knew that they were gonna get tested again," Wisch said. "And so, for us, it was coming out and accepting the challenge. So very impressed with our kids and glad they handled the opportunity."
North Callaway had the first drive and made it to South Callaway's 25-yard line before Lane Kimbley threw an incomplete pass to Cashton Holloway on fourth-and-4.
Following that up, the Bulldogs started their offense how they wanted to.
Capping off a five-play, 68-yard drive, South Callaway quarterback Tayber Gray sprinted down the left sideline for a 54-yard rushing touchdown -- the longest play of the game --with no tackle attempted. After running back Noah Kinney ran in the 2-point conversion, SC led 8-0 with 7:01 left in the first quarter.
"Owen and I are just really dynamic back there, honestly," Gray said. "Owen, big strong guy, at least gonna plow through for five yards every time, and then I can kind of get outside. All credit to my whole O-line, though. I wouldn't be here without them."
The Thunderbirds tried to respond on their second possession, but they only had one first down on a 13-yard rush by Riley Humphrey. Like North Callaway's first drive, Kimbley threw an incompletion on fourth down, giving the Bulldogs the football at their 32-yard line.
South Callaway drove down to the Thunderbirds' 32-yard line before turning it over to North Callaway.
On the Thunderbirds' first play of the drive, Isiah Shirley intercepted Kimbley's roughly 5-yard pass attempt. South Callaway couldn't capitalize on it, turning the ball over on downs at North Callaway's 26-yard line.
Kimbley was at his best on that drive, completing a 34-yard bomb to Holloway, North Callaway's longest offensive play, putting the Thunderbirds at South Callaway's 32-yard line.
"The passing game is coming along; Lane is doing a good job there, getting better at it," North Callaway football coach Kevin O'Neal said. "We're gonna continue to improve, and hopefully, we'll see those guys in districts."
After a couple of good runs by Humphrey and an 8-yard rush by Kimbley on third-and-9, the Thunderbirds' fourth-and-1 turned to a fourth-and-6 after an illegal procedure call.
Making matters worse, Kimbley was picked off by South Callaway defensive back Kolton Adrian. Instead of North Callaway getting a first down and potentially to the end zone, the Thunderbirds let South Callaway answer by scoring after the turnover.
"We've got to focus on us; we've got to get better as a team," O'Neal said. "I've got to get better at coaching."
Finishing a 13-play, 76-yard drive, Gray took it to the house for a 1-yard touchdown run. Gray gained most of his yards through the air during the possession, completing a 35-yard pass up the middle to Graden Pontius, a 4-yard throw to Shirley and a 10-yard lob to Pontius.
After the Bulldogs scored their final touchdown of the first half, North Callaway couldn't get anything going offensively before the break.
The Thunderbirds' lackluster offense in the first half was the nail in the coffin, as they only notched one touchdown in the second half.
Accounting for all five of North Callaway's touchdowns this season, Humphrey broke to the left of his offensive line for a 2-yard touchdown. Humphrey registered 27 carries for 120 yards -- 53.6% of NC's offensive yardage -- and a touchdown.
"Riley runs the ball hard all the time. We know we're gonna get that effort out of him," O'Neal said. "When teams load the box, I got to do better, coming up with some plays."
Since it was up by a score, South Callaway was methodical in its drive after the Thunderbirds scored.
The Bulldogs went on a 16-play, 65-yard drive that lasted 7:40 and ended in Rees tugging through a North Callaway defender for a 6-yard touchdown run. South Callaway's 2-point conversion was no good, and it led 20-6 with 2:22 left.
To make those plays happen, protection by the offensive line was needed. Senior leader offensive lineman Eli Benningfield, who helped SC to 289 yards of offense (225 rushing yards, 64 passing yards), explained what it took.
"O-line and like the running backs, they tie together very well," Benningfield said. "I feel like we have a very good line, very technical about what we do. ...Our quarterback is very, very snappy on his feet. And Owen (Rees), he's just a hammer on the ball. He doesn't stop. He doesn't care who's in his way. He's gonna hit him correctly."
North Callaway failed to get a first down on its final drive, and the Bulldogs ran down the clock.
With the victory, South Callaway earned the Callaway Cup bragging rights and beat the first district opponent it faced this season.
"We're trying to make sure we continue to put positive pressure and keep building, right?" Wisch said. "We got to keep getting better. And that's what that's what Monday is for."
Gray had the best offensive game for either team: The Bulldogs QB recorded 16 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns and completed 5-of-12 passes for 61 yards. SC's Pontius had a game-high 45 receiving yards from two receptions.
Defensively, North Callaway's Humphrey notched a game-high 8½ tackles, while South Callaway's Avery Foster and Rees had a sack apiece, and Lee Butcher forced a fumble.
In Week 4, South Callaway (2-1, 2-0 EMO) will take on Wright City (2-1, 1-0 EMO) next Friday in Wright City. North Callaway (1-2, 0-1 EMO) faces Louisiana (1-2, 0-1 EMO) next Friday in Louisiana, Missouri.