MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs went about their business, which translated to a second consecutive district championship and a return to the state playoffs.
Senior running back Hayden Vaught scored a pair of touchdowns and No. 1 seed South Callaway secured the Class 1, District 2 title with a convincing 26-6 win over the No. 2 Mark Twain Tigers on Friday night.
With the victory, the Bulldogs (7-3) move on to the Class 1 state quarterfinals next weekend. Mark Twain ended its season with a 5-6 record.
"I'm just so happy for the players," said South Callaway head coach Zack Hess, who also recorded his 50th career win Friday night. "They had a great week of practice and they took it out on the field tonight, and they executed.
"They didn't let the moment be too big for them, they didn't make mistakes in terms of turning the ball over. They were cool, calm and collected, and they got the job done."
The Tigers opened the game with a 16-play drive that consumed a little more than 9 minutes and carried them inside the Bulldogs' 10-yard line. However, senior quarterback Evan Torrence fumbled into the end zone following a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-2 and South Callaway senior cornerback Hunter Martin-Hay scooped the ball up and brought it out to the Bulldogs' 4.
The contest remained scoreless until late in the second quarter, after South Callaway recovered another Mark Twain fumble at the Tigers' 37. Six plays later, junior quarterback Sam Buckner scored on a keeper from 2 yards out and sophomore kicker Caleb Pezold added the extra point with 4 minutes, 21 seconds to play in the first half.
Mark Twain recovered the Bulldogs' ensuing onside kick at the Tigers' 48 and moved 32 yards in seven plays to the South Callaway 20. The Bulldogs' defense, though, forced Mark Twain to turn the ball over on downs at the South Callaway 18 with 1:09 left in the half.
The Bulldogs quickly added to their lead on the opening possession of the third quarter, covering 62 yards in just five plays. Vaught topped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run and Pezold's PAT put South Callaway on top 14-0 with 9:59 to go.
After a short punt by the Tigers from their own end zone following their second series in the quarter, Bulldogs junior running back Trace Helsel scored two plays later on a 12-yard touchdown run at the 2:13 mark. Pezold's extra-point attempt was blocked.
South Callaway then increased its advantage to 26-0 when Vaught darted 57 yards for a touchdown with 6:33 remaining in the game.
Vaught finished with a game-high 120 yards rushing on 12 carries. He was coming off a two-touchdown, 182-yard performance in the Bulldogs' 29-14 semifinal victory over Paris on Nov. 6.
Helsel also gained 54 yards in nine attempts Friday night as South Callaway produced 257 yards of total offense, including 231 yards rushing.
"We were just able to move the ball better, we just had more rhythm (in the second half)," Hess said. "I know coach (offensive coordinator Tucker) Bartley was trying to call plays in a little bit quicker, just to try to establish more of a tempo."
The Bulldogs lost their shutout when Mark Twain junior quarterback Payton Hawkins connected with sophomore running back Lakoda Preston on a 29-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 3:24 to play.
South Callaway's defense forced three turnovers — two leading to points — and limited the Tigers to 215 yards of total offense. Mark Twain finished with 157 yards rushing.
"I was real proud of our defense, real proud," Hess said. "We talked about going into the game trying to win on first down, and it's just so hard to put back-to-back downs together against this team because they're such a good running team.
"We got (three) turnovers and kind of put a little pressure on them that way. Our alignment, our effort, our tackling, all of that, I was just real proud of how they handled themselves tonight."
South Callaway will now get the chance to host a state playoff game for the second year in a row when it squares off against the third-ranked Thayer Bobcats (10-1) in the Class 1 quarterfinals at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
Thayer advanced by overpowering second-ranked Hayti 52-22 in the District 1 title game Friday night.
"It's exciting when you can play on a Saturday afternoon and it's not something we're used to doing," Hess said. "Anytime you make it that far, you know that you're doing good things.
"I'm excited for that opportunity for the players to get to play a great program like Thayer, that's well-coached. They do things really well — it's going to be a huge challenge, but one we're excited about."
Ryan Boland can be reached at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter @FultonSunSports.