WARDSVILLE — With last Friday's 41-0 win against the California Pintos, the Blair Oaks Falcons won their fifth straight Tri-County Conference championship.
They also won their 47th straight regular-season contest, and they took control of Missouri's longest active winning streak at 24 games.
Those numbers are prolific, but the Falcons are ready to hit the reset button. Tonight is the start of district play, when every team starts over with a clean slate.
Blair Oaks begins Class 3 District 5 play as the No. 1 seed, set to host the eighth-seeded St. James Tigers. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
"I've really changed my tempo on that the last couple of years, that this is the time of year you start turning it loose and you start having some fun," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said.
"I tell our players if you give me everything you've got, you give the coaches everything we've got, we're going to work here tirelessly. We have six weeks left of the season, hopefully, and if we have six weeks left, we'll give you everything we've got and more."
St. James (0-9) is coming off a 35-0 loss last Friday to Pacific. The Tigers averaged just 4.3 points per game during the regular season, scoring six touchdowns in nine games.
"These guys want to win, they have a desire to win this game," LePage said. "From that perspective, they haven't had much success in the win-loss column, but you see them getting better week to week to week."
LePage expects the Falcons will see the Tigers' best effort of the season tonight.
"They're coming in and playing the No. 1-ranked team in the state," he said. "What have they got to lose?"The Blair Oaks defense has gotten used to facing an option offense during the past couple weeks. St. James will change things up, but the Tigers run an offense the Falcons have already seen a couple times this season.
"They run a wing-T offense, but they do it out of a shotgun, so it's a little bit of a different look," LePage said. " They try to spread the field, they try to put the ball down the field. It looks like they're trying each week to create something that's going to make them make that next step."
The St. James offense is led by senior quarterback Rustin Branum (6-0, 160 pounds), who has completed 20-of-67 passes for 276 yards with 10 interceptions.
Freshman Cody Wilfong (5-9, 150) got the bulk of the carries last Friday for the Tigers, finishing with 12 rushes for 56 yards. Senior Logan Saxbury (5-8, 140) has 117 yards rushing on 27 carries this season.
"There have been predominantly three guys who carry the ball: the quarterback and two running backs," LePage said. "But they'll bring the wing, they'll hand it off to the wing when he comes around. We saw that out of Maryville, the tight end wing. It's a counter play, it's a double handoff."
Senior Rustin Branum has accounted for 436 of St. James' 839 yards rushing this season, but he has missed the last two games for undisclosed reasons.
If the Tigers throw the ball, their top target has been Saxbury, who has 16 catches for 135 yards. Sophomore Logan Sparks (6-5, 200) has a team-high 167 yards receiving on just 11 catches.
"It seems like they've been very inaccurate in their throwing game," LePage said. "We're going to try hope to keep that going for another week."
Defensively, St. James operates out of a 4-3 front. A few weeks ago, LePage said he saw the Tigers use a 3-4 defense, so as usual, the Falcons are preparing for as many defensive looks as they can.
"They went to a 4-2, and then they went to a 4-1. We've seen them in about just every front you can imagine," LePage said. "I think their basis is they want to be in a 40-front, they want to try and make you go sideline to sideline. When they were in a 30-front, people were able to penetrate pretty effectively."
Branum, also a linebacker, leads the Tigers with 94 tackles. He finished with a team-high 17 tackles against Pacific.
"It looks like the right side of their defense is their strong side defense," LePage said.
Sophomore linebacker Peyton Maylee (6-0, 165) had an interception and two fumble recoveries last Friday. He's second on the team with 62 tackles.
LePage is more concerned about Maylee on kickoff return, where he averages 27.7 yards per return.
"When he touches the ball, he's electric," LePage said. "He's a young man you want to try and keep the ball away from on the defensive side, and when he's on offense, we're going to try to do some things to keep the ball from getting to him."
Saxbury plays safety, where he had 15 tackles against Pacific.
"He looks a little bit like more of an outside linebacker," LePage said. "He's a very hard-nosed guy, he looks like he runs fairly well."
Leading the defensive line is junior end Cody Deluca (6-0, 170), who has 52 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
St. James is one of five teams in the district that is fairly unfamiliar for Blair Oaks. The other two teams are conference foes, Eldon and School of the Osage.
St. James is a member of the Four Rivers Conference.
"This is going to be a unique experience that we're going to get some opportunities to play against people we don't know from Adam," LePage said.
With the No. 1 seed, Blair Oaks claims home-field advantage throughout the district tournament.
"The last statistic I saw was 82 percent of No. 1 seeds end up winning their district," LePage said. " Once the playoffs get going and you grow some confidence, you really don't care who you play or where you're playing, but early on, I think it really helps to have the familiarity of playing at home and playing somebody you've never seen before."
Notes: Blair Oaks (9-0) remained No. 1 in Class 3 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. The Falcons will hold the top ranking in the state until the final poll comes out following the state championship games. With Ladue's 36-35 loss last Friday to Kirkwood, the Falcons now own Missouri's longest active winning streak at 24 games. Blair Oaks is atop the district standings with 47.91 points to claim the No. 1 seed, well ahead of the 41.36 points from No. 2 seed Buffalo (7-2). The winner of the Blair Oaks-St. James game will play either Salem (6-3) or Osage (3-6) in the district semifinals next Friday. Tonight's other first-round matchup are Buffalo versus No. 7 Eldon (1-8) and No. 3 Springfield Catholic (6-3) versus No. 6 Logan-Rogersville (2-7). Kyler Griep will miss tonight's game with a shoulder injury. Cade Stockman will move over and take Griep's place at inside linebacker, while Ian Nolph will take over for Stockman at weak-side linebacker. Griep leads the area with 100 total tackles this season. LePage said Adam Hughes is still suffering from a knee injury and Nico Canale will continue to start in his place on the defensive line. Josh Bischoff, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Eldon in Week 5, underwent surgery on his knee earlier this week.