WARDSVILLE — Tonight is a big game for the Blair Oaks Falcons.
It's not only a state-ranked clash against the Southern Boone Eagles with the Tri-County Conference title on the line, it will also be the 500th game in Blair Oaks football history.
"This year has been a blessing," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "So any time we get a little extra motivation to play a football game, it's a good thing. With it being the 500th game, we want to represent Blair Oaks in such a positive fashion that we need to play our best football game."
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Ashland.
Blair Oaks, now in its 45th season of football, has an overall record of 347-152. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Falcons are 123-18 with seven district championships.
LePage previously coached at Blair Oaks from 2001-05. In his first season with the Falcons, he led them to their first-ever win in the state playoffs.
"That was the step, with the community not only seeing how much football could be in the postseason, but the players seeing how much more work you have to put in to win in the postseason," LePage said. "Once they started doing that, it started to build, and it's just been a continuous pipeline of great players.
"I tell our players that you're representing more than just yourself out there, you're representing a lot of people who have put forth a lot of work to make this thing pretty special."
Tonight is Homecoming at Southern Boone, making it a big game for the Eagles as well.
"They're undefeated in our conference, we're undefeated in our conference," LePage said. "They're a big, big rival of ours. This has to be our best game of the year."
Southern Boone (4-2, 2-0 Tri-County) is coming off a 52-13 loss last Saturday at Tonganoxie, the No. 3 team in Class 4A in Kansas. Both of the Eagles' losses this season have been against state-ranked opponents.
"They went three hours, had to play a great team in a different location in a different time setting," LePage said. "So you know this week they're going to bounce back really well."
Southern Boone's offense is powered by senior quarterback Chase Schupp and senior wide receiver Blake Dapkus.
Schupp is 68-of-112 passing (60.7 percent) for 1,062 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, both coming against Tonganoxie. Dapkus has caught 33 of those passes for 657 yards and six touchdowns.
"When you look at it, 42 percent of their offense is between Schupp and Dapkus connecting," LePage said. "There's no secret that they're going to get the ball to Dapkus. Their quarterback throws a great deep ball."
LePage said Southern Boone's passing game will be similar to what the Falcons saw three weeks ago against Valle Catholic. The Eagles average 191.7 yards passing per game.
"We're going to have to be on our toes," LePage said.
Luckily for the Falcons, they have a few receivers who can try an emulate Dapkus in practice against the first-string defense.
"He can have catches, but you can't let him have runs after catches," LePage said of Dapkus, who had six catches for 121 yards and two scores against Tonganoxie. "That's where he is different from a lot of the teams we've played."
Southern Boone had plans to enter this season with a running-back-by-committee backfield, but senior Alex Switzer has emerged as the team's leading rusher with 88 carries for 410 yards and five touchdowns.
"They want him to carry the ball," LePage said. "It's very similar to the last two years. He's hard-nosed, has a neck roll on and is a blue-collar running back that's just going to bring it downhill."
Schupp leads the offense with six rushing touchdowns, while senior running back Ben Brookshire has 194 yards rushing and three scores.
"They have a wide array of offense," LePage said of Southern Boone's one-back spread offense. "When they're not throwing the ball down the field, they're really looking to run it, they're really looking to stay balanced."
Southern Boone's offense has averaged 28.8 points per game, but the Eagles have allowed nearly as many points at an average of 27 per game. Tonganoxie running back Tyler Bowden, who has committed to play at Pittsburg State, had 23 carries for 273 yards and seven touchdowns against the Eagles.
Southern Boone operates out of a 3-4 defensive front, but LePage noted the Eagles switched to a 4-3 defense last weekend due to Bowden.
"Their big linemen on offense turn around and play on defense," LePage said. "They did a really good job of controlling the line of scrimmage last week, so we may see more of a four-man front than we were anticipating prior to watching Tonganoxie."
Dapkus is a returning all-conference player on both sides of the ball. As a safety, he leads the Southern Boone defense with 41 tackles.
"He can really anticipate where the play is going to go," LePage said. "Once he makes a decision, he gets there, and he gets there in a hurry."
Brookshire was also an all-conference player last season at linebacker. He has 34 tackles and an interception.
"They have a great supporting cast," LePage said.
Senior safety Nik Post and junior cornerback Tate John each have two interceptions. Senior Caleb Perkins leads the defensive line with five tackles for loss and four sacks.
Southern Boone has held opposing offenses to 240.2 yards per game.
"It's not a defense that gives up a lot of big plays," LePage said. "It's a defense that forces you to take the ball and go 3-5 yards. Most high school teams can't do that, they don't want to be patient."
Southern Boone has 68 players on the roster, a record for the young program that began playing varsity football in 2004.
"It's remarkable the way they fill guys in from year to year that look like the guys from the previous year," LePage said. "Trent Tracy and his staff do such a great job."
Notes: Blair Oaks (6-1, 4-0 Tri-County) remained at No. 4 in Class 3 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. The top three in the rankings stayed the same as well, with Lutheran North at No. 1, Valle Catholic at No. 2 and Odessa at No. 3. Southern Boone dropped one spot to No. 9 following Saturday's loss. Blair Oaks has not lost in the overall series against Southern Boone, winning all 15 games. The Falcons won last year's contest 40-0. Through seven games, Blair Oaks is averaging 50.4 points per game and holding opponents to 11.1. Southern Boone's other loss was its season opener, a 32-20 decision against Odessa, the defending Class 3 state champion. Tonight's game will be LePage's 97th as Blair Oaks head coach. In his eight seasons leading the Falcons, he has an 81-15 record. LePage said Brysan Jeffries will return to his starting spot at left guard after missing the past two games with a broken hand. James Thomson, who started in Jeffries' place, will remain in the rotation on the Blair Oaks offensive line.