WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons are inching closer to their fifth straight Tri-County Conference championship.
But behind the Falcons are three teams with one loss in conference play, and one of them is their next opponent.
In a battle of Class 3 state-ranked opponents, the top-ranked Falcons host the eighth-ranked Southern Boone Eagles tonight for Homecoming at the Falcon Athletic Complex. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
"This is a team that's going to take a chance," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said of Southern Boone. "This is a big game for them, this is a big game for us.
"We understand that and they understand that."
Blair Oaks (6-0) won its 21st consecutive game last Friday, recording its first shutout of the season 35-0 on the road against Hallsville.
"In high school football, it's hard to shut somebody out," LePage said.
Southern Boone (5-1) won 40-21 last Friday against School of the Osage. The Eagles suffered their only loss the week before that, losing 33-21 at home to Hallsville.
With last week's win, the Eagles continue to average 40 points per game.
"Southern Boone can score from many different angles," LePage said. "They're throwing and passing about equally the same. As far as being a balanced offense, they're very, very balanced."Southern Boone running back Tristan John is averaging a first down every time he carries the ball. The senior has 81 carries for 931 yards — an average of 11.5 yards — with 18 touchdowns.
"This is maybe the best running back we've seen to date, statistically, and it shows," LePage said.
In three games this season, John has had fewer than 10 carries, and he still surpassed 100 yards rushing in each of those contests.
"Where he's really successful is once he gets past the first level — which is the D-line into the linebacker zone — when he gets to the second level, he's at top speed," LePage said. "A lot of high school backs can't do that.
"He's had a lot of big runs, he's had a lot of opportunities."
Then there's the Eagles' passing game.
Senior quarterback Tyson Smith has completed 68-of-99 passes for 1,010 yards and 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions. In last week's win, Smith was 10-of-15 for 181 yards and four touchdowns.
"Their quarterback has thrown the ball under 100 times and has over 1,000 yards, so that's over 10 yards an attempt," LePage said. "When you start putting that into perspective, they're averaging 10 yards almost every time they do something on offense."
Smith's predecessor, Sam Stichnote, was a dual-threat behind center for the Eagles. Smith has shown he can run the ball as well, rushing for 85 yards on eight carries with a touchdown against Osage.
"Stichnote was more of a downhill, power, I-back Tim Tebow type of guy," LePage said. "This guy is more elusive and very quick. You're using him in the same standard, but it's not the same look.
"He'll make you miss and go the distance, whereas Stichnote would run over you and go the distance."
Junior Blake Dapkus is the Eagles' leading receiver with 26 catches for 509 yards and eight touchdowns.
"He and Smith have great chemistry between them," LePage said. "They're not afraid to throw it over the top. They'll throw the ball 40 yards down the field."
Junior Nik Post also has 20 catches for 208 yards for the Eagles.
Leading Southern Boone's offensive line is senior left tackle Tyler Frese (6-foot-1, 245 pounds), who made the all-conference second team last season.
"They have the ability to block up front, they have the ability to change the line of scrimmage," LePage said.
Defensively, LePage said Southern Boone will operate in a 4-2-5 formation, but they'll show some 4-3.
"They really take their safeties and corners and play them a little bit looser than they have in the past," he said.
Blair Oaks threw for 390 yards on just 12 completions against Hallsville, often throwing the ball downfield for big plays. LePage anticipates the Eagles will work on combating that with their secondary, which will be led by Dapkus and Smith.
Dapkus has 35 tackles and a pair of interceptions at cornerback.
"Those guys are very efficient in what they do," LePage said. "They play the whole game, but they have a really good understanding of what they're trying to accomplish."
LePage is also impressed with Southern Boone's linebackers. Junior Ben Brookshire leads the team with 71 tackles, including 23 tackles earlier this season in a game against Eldon. Junior Jakob McKee also has 43 tackles.
Up front, senior defensive end Reygan Whitt has 38 tackles, including a team-high four tackles for loss.
You're going to have to be able to block at the point of attack, they're very big and they're very physical," LePage said. "Their offensive line turns around and plays defensive line, they're very big and physical guys. Their linebackers run real well to the football."
LePage also noted Southern Boone's defense, which has held opponents to 23.5 points per game, will give up yards, but the Eagles are geared toward preventing the big plays. Southern Boone is allowing 310 yards of offense per game.
"They try to make you make a mistake, force you into a turnover, give the ball back to their offense and look to score," LePage said.
Blair Oaks' defense, meanwhile, is giving up just 172.5 yards per game. The Falcons are holding opponents to 11.7 points per game, and the first-string defense has gone 14 straight quarters without allowing a point.
Blair Oaks also doubled its season takeaways total last week, forcing four Hallsville turnovers in the second half.
"I think that that becomes infectious out of the defense, and that's what we saw this week at practice," LePage said. "They started attacking the ball more.
"It's one thing to stop people, it's another thing when you start taking the ball away. That's what our players really want to do now."
Notes: The three Tri-County state-ranked teams remained the same in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. In addition to Blair Oaks at No. 1 and Southern Boone at No. 8, Boonville (5-1) stayed put at No. 7 following a 48-21 win against Versailles. Hallsville (4-2) did not receive votes this week in Class 2. Friday's win was the Falcons' first shutout since their 54-0 win against Lathrop in last season's Class 2 state championship game. Blair Oaks won five games via shutout in 2018. LePage said junior running back Josh Bischoff will have surgery on his right knee, ending his season.