BOWLING GREEN — The South Callaway Bulldogs were dealt a humongous hit to their psyche.
The blow was administered by the Bowling Green Bobcats in the form of a punishing 55-14 thrashing of South Callaway in what was expected to be an Eastern Missouri Conference showdown Friday night.
The emphatic loss abruptly halted the Bulldogs' three-game winning streak as they slipped to 5-3 on the season and 4-2 in the EMO. The Bobcats improved to 5-3 overall and remained perfect in conference play at 5-0.
"We talked about it all week that this was going to be a very physical game," South Callaway head coach Zack Hess said. "We felt like our strength was our offensive and defensive line up front, and our experience with those guys being physical.
"Tonight, we just were outmatched in terms of physicality and it really showed."
The Bulldogs did very little Friday night with the 231 yards of total offense they managed to muster and committed three turnovers, two leading to scores by the Bobcats. Meanwhile, South Callaway's defense was gouged for a season-high 472 total yards — including 385 yards rushing — by Bowling Green.
"They were moving the ball at will — the line of scrimmage moved offensively and defensively on both sides, just the wrong way," Hess said. "We weren't giving much resistance up front, and whenever you do that, it's kind of hard to sustain drives, it's kind of hard to get off the field."
The Bobcats got off to a fast start and didn't relent, covering 81 yards in eight plays on the game's opening possession to break on top. Sophomore quarterback Dylan Dalton capped off the drive on a 1-yard touchdown run with 8 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first quarter, but Bowling Green failed on the two-point conversion attempt.
The Bobcats increased their lead to 14-0 with 2:30 to go in the quarter when junior running back Cooper Kiel raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Bowling Green added the two-point conversion on a pass.
Senior running back Michael Starks' 4-yard touchdown run and senior kicker Ryan Korte's extra point then made it a three-score advantage for the Bobcats with 10:12 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs finally interrupted Bowling Green's scoring binge on their next series. Junior quarterback Sam Buckner's 1-yard touchdown run punctuated a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive and sophomore kicker Caleb Pezold's extra point brought South Callaway within 21-7 with 3:56 to play in the first half.
The Bobcats, though, immediately replied with an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive to build their lead back to three scores. Dalton scrambled for 16 yards on fourth-and-12, then promptly followed with a 20-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Owen Niemeyer with :38 left in the half.
The Bulldogs received the ball to start the second half, but fumbled on the third play and Bowling Green returned it to the South Callaway 1. Starks scored on the next play and Korte's PAT boosted the Bobcats' lead to 35-7 at the 10:17 mark of the third quarter.
"There were just those 'almost' plays those momentum types of plays that we didn't make enough of," Hess said. "Mentally, it got away from us — it was just hard to generate any momentum whenever we missed opportunities."
Michael Starks delivered another 1-yard touchdown run with 3:14 to go in the quarter and sophomore running back Marcus Starks' 8-yard touchdown run with 11:48 remaining in the game put Bowling Green up 49-7.
Buckner accounted for the Bulldogs' other score on a 17-yard touchdown run with 6:12 to play.
Kiel closed out the Bobcats' scoring on a 56-yard touchdown burst with about 2:00 left.
Buckner topped South Callaway with 61 yards rushing on 13 carries, followed by senior running back Hayden Vaught with 57 yards in eight attempts. Junior running back Trace Helsel supplied 50 yards on eight carries.
The Bulldogs finish the regular season next Friday night with an EMO matchup at Wright City. The Wildcats (4-4, 2-4 EMO) stopped a four-game losing streak with a 55-20 conference romp at Louisiana on Friday night.
"We can either take our butt-kicking here and allow it to motivate us, and come back and get back to work," said Hess, "or we can mull over it and let it have a negative impact.
"That's what we want to stay away from. I think (the players) will be OK, we'll recover all right. We knew this was going to be a tough game, but we didn't play, obviously, up to the standards that we want."
Ryan Boland can be reached at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter @FultonSunSports.