South Callaway's offensive production Friday night at Cuba would explode in the second half.
After an 8-6 halftime lead for the Bulldogs, South Callaway would then score 28 points to win 36-22 to earn an above-.500 record for the first time this season. Senior running back Trace Helsel would lead the South Callaway offense again as he would finish with a season-high 263 yards on 18 carries and four touchdowns, which account for all the Bulldogs' second-half points.
Head coach Zack Hess said it was another great night on the ground and up front, with South Callaway's 334 rushing yards, but he thought the play on special teams made a big difference against a Cuba team that didn't have trouble racking up the yards at times on the ground — with its 293 rushing yards.
The Wildcats (0-7) returned four of junior Caleb Pezold's kicks four only 21 yards. Hess said South Callaway's special teams unit had some players, like senior Chrisjen Davis making key tackles and sophomore Levi Summers providing some airtight coverage, helped the Bulldogs win the field position battle.
"I think special teams might have been the difference (Friday)," Hess said. "Caleb Pezold has gotten better and better throughout the season, and it has been a lot of fun to watch him progress. Kickoff coverage was really good, and we didn't punt (Friday)."
Junior Jacob Martin would run in the first touchdown for South Callaway (4-3) with about five minutes left in the second quarter to make it 8-6.
Hess said the Bulldogs could have scored on their first drive of the game when they were within the 5-yard line but fumbled the ball to lose possession at around the 2-yard line. Right from the beginning of the third quarter, though, the Bulldogs and Helsel would explode with about a 57-yard run to make it 14-6. Helsel scored two more times before time ran out in the third quarter — from three yards with 8:08 to go and from 21 yards with 1:12 to go — to make it 29-6 South Callaway after three.
South Callaway busted out the big plays in the second half, including four Helsel runs of at least 20 yards and a 37-yard passing hookup between usual running back Martin and Davis after senior quarterback Sam Buckner pitched the ball to Martin. Being able to wear down Cuba on the line was vital to the Bulldogs' success, Hess said. The offensive line had its second straight good performance with the difference this time being the Wildcats loaded the box more to better contain the South Callaway running attack, which wouldn't work thanks to the players up front.
"Cuba's defense had like nine or 10 guys in the box," Hess said. "They were just loading and stacking the box, and we were still able to have a lot success running the ball. Again, it all starts up front with our offensive linemen. Caleb Pezold, (junior) Kyle Dickinson, (junior) Tanner Marty, (sophomore) Eli Benningfield and (sophomore) Landon Adams were just nails up front."
Cuba would finally answer with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run from Conner Gipson and a two-point conversion from Dylan Keogh, making it 29-14.
It was déj vu later as Gipson scored for the third time on a run and Keogh would convert the two-pointer, but that was with seconds left in the fourth and after another South Callaway touchdown to make it 36-14.
There were some lapses defensively as South Callaway initially had a hard time tackling Cuba's physical and stout runners, Hess said. The Bulldogs made adjustments of going lower on Cuba's Gipson, Keogh and Brian Declue and better swarming the ball as Hess acknowledges South Callaway has a roster focused more on speed rather than power.
Cuba's final touchdown occurred with only seconds left and was too little, too late after South Callaway's fifth and Helsel's fourth touchdown after a 43-yard run to give the Bulldogs the insurance and their fourth 30-point game in the previous five weeks.
Now that their final regular season road game is done, Hess said the Bulldogs can improve in more aspects, like being more dangerous in the passing game, before this week's home game against Eastern Missouri Conference juggernaut Bowling Green (6-0, 5-0 EMO).
"We just have to keep improving and keep figuring out ways we can attack on the perimeter and also in the pass game to get some explosive plays there as well," he said.