North Callaway is familiar with tonight's opponent Montgomery County.
Not solely because the Wildcats are in the Eastern Missouri Conference and play the Thunderbirds (4-3, 4-2 EMO) every year, but also due to Montgomery County (5-3, 3-3 EMO) having a chance to meet North Callaway in district play like they did last season, when the Thunderbirds won both meetings.
The 2021 Wildcats have some similarity to the opponents North Callaway has seen so far, head coach Travis Blevins said, as Montgomery County isn't afraid to bring the pressure on defense.
This presents a potential problem Blevins wants to avoid: turnovers. Holding on to the football has been the focus for North Callaway this week and all season, Blevins said, as they are a big reason when the Thunderbird offense sputters.
"Defensively, they're going to bring a lot of pressure to try to get you off your game plan so we've trying to focus on what we've been short on as of late which is holding on to the ball," Blevins said.
In last week's 22-8 loss at Mark Twain, the North Callaway defense made plays that kept the Thunderbirds in the game and gave the offense a chance to find its footing. This didn't happen until later in the game so an offensive unit that can hold on to the football is the main thing Blevins wants to see this week before districts begin.
When the offense does click, North Callaway can explode for 40 points like it has done multiple times this season, including the Thunderbirds' previous home game in Week 7 against Wright City when they won 44-27.
Establishing a balanced offensive attack spread amongst several players is what North Callaway has tried to do, and Montgomery County has done that effectively this season in its spread offense.
Blevins said the Thunderbirds have had to defend several dual-threat quarterbacks this season, and the Wildcats' Adam Czerniewski is up there with the rest. Czerniewski throws for 175 yards per game while running for 101.7 yards per game.
"He runs the ball, but at the same time, he throws the ball all around, whether it is in bubbles or verticals," Blevins said. "He's a talented kid so we need to make sure we are all in the place we're supposed to be."
Montgomery County has relied heavily on Czerniewski in its rushing attack but incorporate Logan Hutcheson into it with his 77.4 yards per game and six touchdowns — the same amount of touchdowns Czerniewski has on the ground. On the perimeter, Czerniewski can use his strong arm to connect with receivers like Ty Leu — 73.3 yards per game and four touchdowns — for big plays.
Taking all this into account, Blevins said North Callaway has plenty to worry about tonight and can't look forward to districts yet so he wants his Thunderbirds to keep in mind he'd like to see everyone touch the football but whoever has it must hold on to it.
"I just want them to play unselfish and play for each other, and take care of the football," Blevins said. "I want to make sure we're not concerned about who's getting the ball and not getting the ball and make sure we're doing our jobs playing for a team in a family atmosphere."