MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs needed some time to rediscover their rhythm and rid themselves of the Paris Coyotes.
South Callaway senior running back Hayden Vaught rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns and the top-seeded Bulldogs finally took control in a 29-14 win over No. 5 Paris in the Class 1, District 2 semifinals Friday night.
"You could tell Hayden was the fastest guy on the field," South Callaway head coach Zack Hess said. "When he gets to the edge, he just outruns people — he's fun to watch."
The Bulldogs protected a 14-6 advantage before pulling away behind 15 points in the fourth quarter. South Callaway — which was returning from a three-week layoff — raised its season record to 6-3 while reaching the District 2 championship.
"It was a combination of us being really rusty and Paris being better than what our kids were mentally prepared for," Hess said. "The guys overcame some mistakes, battled through and kept fighting, and it paid off in the end."
Vaught carried the ball 14 times as the Bulldogs accumulated 305 yards rushing. Junior running back Trace Helsel supplied a team-high 18 attempts in gaining 70 yards and scoring a touchdown, while junior quarterback Sam Buckner ran for South Callaway's other score.
"I actually thought we moved the ball really well and were able to run the ball pretty well," Hess said.
The Bulldogs' defense, meanwhile, had three interceptions and held Paris (4-7) to 235 yards of total offense, including 154 yards rushing.
"The defense did a really nice job," Hess said. "If you don't get behind the sticks, Paris will run for a first down and then you have to start over.
"We kind of got them out of their bread-and-butter (running the ball)."
South Callaway will host No. 2 seed Mark Twain (5-5) in the District 2 title game next Friday night. The Tigers advanced with a 36-24 semifinal victory at home over No. 6 seed Louisiana on Friday night.
The Bulldogs were scheduled to open their season at home Aug. 28 against Mark Twain in an Eastern Missouri Conference matchup, but the Tigers were forced to cancel that contest due to COVID-19 issues.
"It's going to be a tough game," Hess said of Friday night's championship clash. "Mark Twain always seems to be playing good football at the end of the season — they do it at the right time.
"There are a lot of things we're going to have to prepare for."
Ryan Boland can be reached at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter @FultonSunSports.