KINGDOM CITY -- North Callaway Thunderbirds running back Tucker Wright put on a show for their 2023-24 Hall of Fame inductees Mike Emmons and Terry Metcalf.
In his first game this season, Wright ran for 171 yards and scored two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion on 15 carries.
North Callaway needed that offensive production, leading to the Thunderbirds' first Eastern Missouri Conference win this season, beating the Mark Twain Tigers 30-14 Friday at North Callaway's football field.
Wright had an outstanding second half on the ground, which played a role in the Thunderbirds winning. Proving so, Wright rushed for 123 yards (71.9% of his total) and scored two touchdowns -- the same amount Mark Twain had in the entire game.
Trailing 8-6 at halftime, Wright and North Callaway's offense answered on its first drive of the second half.
The Thunderbirds went on an 11-play, 76-yard drive, which ended in a 34-yard touchdown run by Wright on a sweep down the right sideline. After Kyle Pennell ran in the 2-point conversion, North Callaway led 14-8.
Following Wright's touchdown, the Thunderbirds stayed in front for the remainder of the contest.
Wright consistently had 4-8-yard runs before he reached the end zone for North Callaway's final touchdown with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter. Icing the game, Wright found a hole on the left side of the field and dashed into the house for a 34-yard rushing touchdown; he also ran in the 2-point conversion.
"We did a good job in our first drive of the game, and then we kind of got a little stagnant trying to figure a couple things out," North Callaway football coach Kevin O'Neal said. "But having Tucker (Wright) back is going to help Riley (Humphrey) out tremendously. Tucker is another guy that runs the ball hard. I thought Kyle Pennell did a good job.
"I thought our offensive line up front did a good job, and our tight end Carter Moore did a good job blocking on the edge. They have a good defensive line. And so we had to be physical up front, and I thought I was proud of our guys and the new things that we put in offensively, how we executed."
Lane Kimbley also did well, throwing his first two touchdowns while completing 7-of-13 passes for 57 yards in his fifth game as North Callaway's starting quarterback.
"Lane is a leader of this team, and he's playing a position that he's never played before," O'Neal said. "So there's a huge learning curve there, and he made some strides forward tonight. Threw a couple of bad balls that were picked off on some reads, but man, he's a trooper. Just kept going out there and leading the team. He's been working hard, and I'm excited for him to get his first touchdown pass."
With 8:34 left in the first quarter, Kimbley put the Thunderbirds ahead on their first drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Collin Moore down the left sideline.
During the second half, Kimbley's final touchdown pass gave North Callaway its first two-possession lead with eight seconds left in the third quarter. For that play, Kimbley threw the ball back-footed while under pressure to Cashton Holloway for a 6-yard score; he then found Carter Moore in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to make it 22-8 Thunderbirds.
Leading up to that score, North Callaway running back Kyle Pennell found a gap on the right sideline for a 60-yard carry. Pennell's long run accounted for 75% of the Thunderbirds' yardage in that drive.
While North Callaway looked great offensively in the second half, it was down 8-6 at halftime because the Thunderbirds turned the ball over in half of their six possessions.
Mark Twain's Coden Miller picked Kimbley off twice, and Jacob Dotson recovered a fumble on a run by North Callaway's quarterback.
"We went back to our running game," O'Neal said. "We kind of threw the ball maybe a little bit too much in that first half, trying to find a little bit in the passing game. That's on me as much as anything. We got to get better at that. We were trying some different things, but we rallied the guys at halftime. I challenged them up front that we wanted to get back to being physical and running the ball. I think we did that."
The Tigers took an 8-6 lead with 9:23 left in the second quarter when Nolan Epperson found a receiver for a 32-yard touchdown; Hunter Miller ran in the 2-point conversion.
Epperson finished off Mark Twain's scoring with 4:32 left in the game, throwing his second touchdown pass as he completed a 70-yard bomb to Lander Armour down the middle of the field.
When it was all said and done, North Callaway played a complete game, tallying 380 yards (323 rushing yards, 57 passing yards) while holding Mark Twain to 146 yards (114 passing yards, 32 rushing yards).
The Thunderbirds' defensive leaders were Cooper Wortmann with a team-high six tackles, Pennell with two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, Jaiden Galbreath with a sack, Riley Humphrey with an interception and a pass deflection and Wright with a fumble recovery.
With North Callaway (2-3, 1-2 EMO) winning against Mark Twain (0-5, 0-3 EMO), it pleased its Hall of Fame game crowd and has a boost of confidence heading into next Friday's game at Van-Far (1-4, 0-4 EMO).
"To get on a streak, you got to win one first," O'Neal said. "So we talked to the guys about not being satisfied and enjoy the win. But come ready to work because we got a tough Van-Far team next week that we're going to play. We just have to continue to improve as a team every week."