MOKANE — The South Callaway Bulldogs are hoping familiar elements help translate into the first win of 2019.
South Callaway is set for its home opener tonight when it welcomes the Hermann Bearcats (1-0). Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs will attempt to bounce back after suffering a 19-14 loss at Lafayette County in last week's season opener in Higginsville.
"It's always exciting to get to play at home, for sure," Bulldogs coach Zack Hess said. "Especially after spending two-and-a-half hours on a bus, in the rain, last week. We're definitely not going to overlook that.
"Just to be in our routine that we have at home, and all of the things that we do that lead up to the game, that helps get us focused and mentally ready to go. That's going to be a big advantage for us. Getting to play on our turf, the same field that we practice on every day — just that comfort level, I think, is really important."
Herman will be making its initial road trip after kicking off the season last week with a 30-12 victory at home against Montgomery County.
Senior quarterback Chase McKague is back to operate the Bearcats' flexbone offense, which was held to 124 yards rushing in a 21-6 loss to South Callaway last season in Hermann. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound McKague managed to gain a meager 15 yards in that game and accounted for the Bearcats' only score on a 1-yard touchdown run.
"(McKague) is just as important as anybody else," Hess said. " He's really good at just kind of riding it and letting the defense collapse, and then he'll pull (the ball) and run right around the defense.
"He's just an athletic kid, makes good decisions and runs their offense well. He throws well on the run, which is part of their offense, and just distributes the ball really well."
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Hermann's rushing attack is built again around senior fullback Trent Gleeson (5-11, 205). Gleeson finished with 83 yards rushing in the 2018 loss to the Bulldogs.
"He's a fantastic runner — runs hard, he's a big bowling ball," Hess said. "He'll run you over. You give him another year of growing and getting stronger in the weight room."
Hess explained being in position to match up with the Bearcats' offensive schemes will be critical for the South Callaway defense tonight. The Bulldogs surrendered 284 yards of total offense — including 270 yards rushing — to Lafayette County last week.
"If we do not (identify) the formations and line up properly, then they're going to have a huge advantage on us based on their formation," Hess said. "That's going to be No. 1 — formation recognition is going to be huge for us and then aligning properly off of that.
"If we can do that, then to finish that out is how well can we tackle and just get to the ball?"
Hess pointed out Hermann's defensive unit will move in and out of odd and even fronts, but he believes the Bearcats will apply constant pressure out of a 3-4 scheme tonight.
Gleeson and McKague anchor the heart of Hermann's defense at linebacker.
"(Head coach Andy Emmons') linebackers are going to be blitzing on almost every play — just very aggressive, very physical on the line of scrimmage," Hess said. "He's going to get after it up front on defense and their game plan is going to be to stop our run and try to make us pass the ball."
South Callaway accumulated 206 yards of total offense last week, including 160 yards rushing. Sophomore running back Jasper Rees sparked the Bulldogs by picking up 63 yards on 16 carries, followed by senior running back Devin Borghardt with 49 yards in 13 attempts.
Senior quarterback Cole Shoemaker finished 4-of-6 passing for only 46 yards and was intercepted once. Shoemaker delivered South Callaway's first score on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs' ability to profit tonight offensively will be influenced by how they counter the Bearcats' defensive looks, according to Hess.
"A lot of it just depends on what are they giving us and then what plays can we run to maximize the chance of having success on that play," Hess said. " Cole is doing a good job of putting us in good spots with different plays — based on alignment — and that's not going to change this week."
Notes: In the wake of the loss at Lafayette County, South Callaway received votes with just two points in Class 1 in the Missouri Media Rankings released earlier this week. The Bulldogs had 13 points in last week's preseason poll.