WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons return a starting quarterback who was deemed the best at his position in Class 3 last season.
The Versailles Tigers return a starting quarterback who is quickly making noise this season at the Class 2 level.
The Falcons' Nolan Hair and the Tigers' Coby Williams will go head-to-head for the second time in their careers as the two teams meet in a Tri-County Conference battle tonight at the Falcon Athletic Complex. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Williams, a junior, accumulated 307 total yards — 159 rushing, 148 passing — last Thursday in the Tigers' 30-22 upset win against then-Class 3 No. 9 Southern Boone.
"He's making people miss, he's running around people, he's running by people, he's throwing the ball over the top of them," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. " He just makes it look so easy. I think that's the biggest compliment I can ever give a football player."
Williams threw for 1,545 yards last season, including 138 yards and a touchdown pass in a 34-14 loss to the Falcons. In that game, Hair exited in the first quarter with a lower leg injury that sidelined him for the next five weeks.Through three games this season, Williams is 32-of-56 passing for 363 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. The dual-threat quarterback is also Versailles' leading rusher with 70 carries for 450 yards and six touchdowns.
"He gets out of the pocket so well," LePage said. "He has a presence of where he's at on the field. Last week, he looked to throw it, and just when you thought he was going to throw it, he tucked it in and he got a 32-yard touchdown run out of it."
With this week's defensive scheme, LePage said the key to stopping — or at least slowing down — Williams is to control the line of scrimmage. Blair Oaks will continue to use its three-man front against the Tigers.
"Most defenses are geared around stopping the run and reacting to the pass," LePage said. "Not a lot of defenses are geared on stopping a dual-threat quarterback. That's why you see him give (teams) so much trouble."
Williams' top target this season has been senior wide receiver Wyatt Espinosa, who has 13 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
"The Espinosa kid jumps out on film," LePage said. "He's long, he's lean and he plays defensive end for them also. You can see that there's a chemistry between him and the quarterback."
Senior running back Michael Trotter returns to the backfield after playing as a fullback last season. He has 110 yards rushing and a touchdown after averaging 6.5 yards per carry in 2017.
"He's kind of like their quarterback," LePage said. "Nobody's tackling him and he's running around guys. They make it look very fluent and efficient on offense."
The Tigers are averaging 31.7 points per game, but the defense is allowing an average of 37 points. Versailles (2-1, 1-0 Tri-County) opened the season with a 68-30 loss at Knob Noster.
Trotter leads the Tigers' defense at linebacker with 44 tackles, including 30 solo stops. He was an all-conference second team linebacker last season with 141 tackles.
LePage said Versailles runs a four-man front and tries to funnel everything to Trotter.
"He runs around and he runs sideline to sideline very well," LePage said. "We have to account for him, but we have to be able to run our offense though."
Junior defensive end Dallas Waller was effective last weekend for the Tigers. He finished with 2.5 of Versailles' seven tackles for loss.
In last Friday's 31-0 win against Boonville, Blair Oaks (3-0, 1-0 Tri-County) gained 288 yards rushing in the rain.
"Friday night, we showed we can run the football, even when they know we're going to run the football," LePage said.
Blair Oaks has shown it is capable of throwing the ball, but the Falcons were held to 169 yards passing between Hair and backup quarterback Cade Stockman in last year's win against the Tigers.
LePage said Espinosa and Williams, a cornerback and a safety, respectively, can cover sideline to sideline in the secondary.
"They try to force you into throwing the ball deep, but then they disguise it well enough where they can cover it up with the speed they've got back there," he said.
Regardless of whether the Falcons' go through the air on stay on the ground, LePage said in order to win tonight, it all comes down to controlling the line of scrimmage.
"I thought our attention to detail on the offensive and defensive lines was as good as it has been this year," LePage said of last week's game. " We watched Boonville, and they had some physically imposing offensive and defensive linemen. I felt like our guys got to the level that they needed to do to win the line of scrimmage."
Nothing changed for the Falcons in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. Blair Oaks stayed put at No. 2 in Class 2 with 105 points, while top-ranked Lamar kept all 12 first-place votes. District 5 foe North Callaway is one spot outside the top 10. Southern Boone dropped one spot to No. 10 in Class 3 after last week's loss to Versailles. This week will be the first time Blair Oaks will not receive bonus points for playing a team in a higher class. Through three weeks, the Falcons lead the District 6 standings with 54.67 points, while North Callaway is No. 2 with 46.33. LePage said junior linebacker Kyler Griep injured his elbow in the JV game earlier this week at Boonville and is questionable for tonight's game.