MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs are looking to boost their odds of at least grabbing a share of the Eastern Missouri Conference title.
South Callaway will pursue that endeavor tonight when it travels to Bowling Green for an EMO showdown against the Bobcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs improved to 5-2 on the season after a 29-22 non-conference win against Cuba last week at home. South Callaway sits at 4-1 in the EMO, with its lone conference loss coming Sept. 18 at Montgomery County 41-20.
Bowling Green, meanwhile, is 4-3 overall after a narrow 24-22 home loss last week to Centralia, ranked fifth in Class 3. The Bobcats — who had their scheduled conference game last week against Louisiana canceled — are 4-0 in the EMO.
South Callaway coach Zack Hess is eager to see how his Bulldogs compare to Bowling Green, whose three losses this season have come against state-ranked opponents.
"I'm looking forward to see where we stack up against an undefeated opponent in the conference," Hess said. "Playing them on the road, we should have a little extra motivation.
"It should be a good atmosphere, it should be a lot of fun."
South Callaway will certainly be tested by the Bobcats' run-based offense, which features senior running back Michael Starks. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Starks carried the ball 28 times for 202 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Bobcats' 30-23 EMO victory Oct. 2 at North Callaway.
"(Starks) just has a smooth running style that's sneaky fast, and then he's got that breakaway speed," Hess said. "He's going to be tough to handle."
Bowling Green's offense is led by sophomore quarterback Dylan Dalton, who also had a short touchdown run against North Callaway.
"He's a smooth operator," Hess said. "He throws a nice, tight spiral — you can tell the ball just kind of jumps out of his hand. He's got a good arm."
The Bulldogs' defense allowed 289 yards of total offense last week, including 199 yards passing, against Cuba. Most of the passing total came in the fourth quarter as senior quarterback Mason Pfeiffer threw for three touchdowns in trying to rally the Wildcats.
Hess emphasized his defensive unit will need to limit the Bobcats on early downs tonight.
"We have to make them earn whatever they get," Hess said. "We can't give them one play where they turn around and hand it off, and then he (Starks) is running 80 yards for a touchdown. We can't let that happen.
"If they score touchdowns, it's got to be long, extended drives. I think for us to be successful, we have to win on first down. That's going to be really important. We need to get into situations where we anticipate and maybe dictate a little bit what they're going to do."
On the defensive side, Hess is planning to see Bowling Green line up in a 4-2 scheme.
"They like the four-down look, and I would too if I had the linemen that they have," Hess said. "Talented guys, big and physical, and they move well.
"Their defense is fast and physical, and they get after it and they play aggressive."
South Callaway will counter Bowling Green's running attack with an impressive ground game of its own, which amassed 366 yards last week. Senior running back Hayden Vaught rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, while junior running back Trace Helsel gained 126 yards and had one score.
Hess believes being on the plus side in takeaways will be pivotal against the Bobcats.
"I think winning the turnover battle is going to go a long way in a game like this," Hess said. "You definitely can't give them short fields, you want to try and keep their offense off the field.
"All of these things, it's a lot easier said than done. But if you can do that, then you're giving yourself a chance."