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story.lead_photo.caption North Callaway junior outside linebacker Manny Moreno (26) and senior safety Cody Cash (24) try to take Montgomery County junior running back Logan Hutcheson to the ground during the Thunderbirds' 50-49 overtime victory over the Wildcats last week in the Class 2, District 5 semifinals at Kingdom City. No. 2 seed North Callaway remains at home to face No. 1 Hallsville in the District 5 championship tonight. Photo by Amy Craghead/Special to the Fulton Sun

KINGDOM CITY — North Callaway head coach Don Boulware dismissed any concerns about how much emotional juice his Thunderbirds have left.

Invigorated by an electrifying 50-49 semifinal win over No. 3 seed Montgomery County in overtime last week, No. 2 North Callaway (7-2) now takes aim at No. 1 Hallsville (6-4) for the Class 2, District 5 title tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

"By the time we come in Monday, we've already shifted to prep for the next week," Boulware said Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think anybody is going to be flat (tonight)."

The Thunderbirds also received the added boost of getting to host tonight's District 5 championship after the game was moved from Hallsville due to Boone County's COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of spectators at an event.

"We like playing at home," Boulware said. "I just hope Hallsville doesn't outnumber us (with fans) in our own house. They're going to travel like crazy. We've got to show out."

Hallsville — which advanced with a 44-8 semifinal win at No. 5 seed Hermann last week — resides in the ultra-competititve Tri-County Conference. Three of the Indians' four losses this season came against state-ranked opponents — 34-28 to Centralia (No. 6 in Class 3), 51-16 to Palmyra (No. 1 in Class 2), and 55-16 to Blair Oaks (No. 4 in Class 3).

Hallsville is putting up a lofty 37.3 points per game behind a spread offense that relies on a wide assortment of sets, according to Boulware

"They'll run two-by-two (receivers), one-by-three, empty, tight end with open trips the other way," Boulware said. "They do so many schemes."

The Indians are guided by quarterback Tyger Cobb, a 5-foot-9, 140-pound junior. Cobb accounted for 300 yards of total offense (169 passing, 131 rushing), threw for three touchdowns and also ran for a score against Hermann last week.

"(Cobb) is athletic, he's a good runner," Boulware said. "He breaks tackles."

Cobb is complemented in the backfield by sophomore running back Harrison Fowler (5-11, 185). Fowler gained 131 yards and scored twice last week, while also catching a touchdown pass.

"They run him downhill, they run him on jets (sweeps)," Boulware said. "When you've got two good runners back there it's just tough to stop."

Boulware pointed out that North Callaway will be tested up front by a sturdy Hallsville offensive line that averages 250 pounds.

"We have to be gap sound, we have to really be good with technique," Boulware said. "Linemen tend to stand up and look in the backfield, and we do that against some people, you can get away with it.

"You do it against people that are this much bigger than you, you're going to get washed out. We have to strike with our hands and line up sound. We've got to be tough and hang in there."

The Indians, meanwhile, run out of a 3-3 stack on defense and are giving up 27.5 points per game.

"They get upfield a lot, which is good and bad," Boulware said. "If all you're doing is dropping back and throwing, and they're pinning their ears back and getting upfield, that's bad.

"But when you run counters and traps, you want these guys to get upfield. Because when they get upfield, they're easy to trap."

Spurred by an exceptional performance from sophomore quarterback Braydn O'Neal, the Thunderbirds amassed 444 yards of total offense last week against Montgomery County. O'Neal was 10-of-16 passing for 188 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

O'Neal also did it with his feet, rushing for 78 yards and scoring on runs of 28 and 25 yards.

"He showed poise and decisiveness, taking care of the ball," Boulware said. "He's really strong — he's benching 205, which for a 145-pound kid is pretty good, and he's fast.

"It's confidence and experience. You know how they say the game slows down for you, the more experience you get. I think it's slowing down for him and he's seeing the field well. When he rolls out, if there's an opening, he goes."

After a first-half shootout last week that saw North Callaway take a 34-21 lead into halftime, Montgomery County went to a more methodical approach in the second half. The Wildcats crafted 12- and 13-play scoring drives that used up almost 14 minutes combined.

When North Callaway got the ball back trailing 35-34 with about 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds had run just five offensive plays to that point in the second half.

Boulware emphasized that that will have to change tonight.

"Besides putting points on the board, we would like to maintain possession some," he said.

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Ryan Boland can be reached at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter @FultonSunSports.

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