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story.lead_photo.caption North Callaway junior running back Cody Cash looks to slip through a hole at the line of scrimmage during the Thunderbirds' 26-23 win against South Callaway in the annual Callaway Cup rivalry game last Friday in Kingdom City. Photo by Amy Craghead/Special to the Fulton Sun

KINGDOM CITY — When North Callaway Thunderbirds head coach Don Boulware breaks down the O'Fallon Christian Eagles' spread offense, the level of potency leaps out.

Boulware and No. 5 seed North Callaway (7-2) travel to O'Fallon tonight to square off against No. 4 O'Fallon Christian (5-4) in a Class 2 District 5 first-round contest. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

"They have great talent at the skill positions," Boulware said of the Eagles. "They've got good receivers all the way across the board. They've got a quarterback that's a two-year starter, his dad's the offensive coordinator.

"These kids played youth football together and all went to Christian, so they've been together for a long time."

Quarterback Kaden McMullen — a 6-foot-4, 194-pound junior — has completed 93-of-163 passes (57 percent) this season for 1,560 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions as the Eagles average 22 points per game. McMullen has also rushed for 184 yards and five scores.

"He's got good size — a decent runner, not a great runner," Boulware said. "He's got a big-time arm and he's got big targets to throw to, with a lot of speed.

"He gets it out quick, usually the ball's out in three seconds, so we'd like to disrupt him, but it makes it tough when he gets it out quick."

McMullen's top target is junior wide receiver Kalin Black (6-2, 200), who has a team-high 41 catches for 781 yards (19.0 average) and four touchdowns.

"He's fast and has great body control," Boulware said. "He runs great routes, good moves. He'll be the best receiver we've seen all year, no question."

Freshman wide receiver August Billings (5-10, 160) also has 17 receptions for 188 yards (11.1 average) and one score for O'Fallon Christian. Senior wide receiver Zori Dotson (6-2, 202) is next with 10 catches for 219 yards (21.9 average) and two touchdowns.

Junior running back AJ Taylor (6-0, 200) leads the Eagles in rushing with 362 yards (10.1 average) and five touchdowns. Junior running back Sharrod Alexander (5-9, 170) follows with 303 yards rushing (6.3 average) and four scores.

The North Callaway defense gave up 221 yards of total offense, including 66 yards passing, in last Friday's 26-23 win against South Callaway in the annual Callaway Cup rivalry matchup.

The Thunderbirds expect to face a stiffer test with O'Fallon Christian's passing game tonight.

"They'll throw the deep stuff, then they'll throw the hitch routes and the now routes outside, and just get it to those athletes on the outside in space, and let them go make a play," Boulware said. "We've got to be really assignment-sound with our alignment.

"We're going to have to tackle in space. They make one guy miss and they're gone."

The Eagles — who are allowing 17.4 points per game — will operate out of a 4-2 alignment on the defensive side, Boulware said. Senior linebacker Blake Heuer (5-10, 180) has tallied a team-high 114 tackles (72 solo), while junior defensive tackle Cartrell Ecford-Green (6-1, 260) leads O'Fallon Christian with four sacks.

Alexander tops the Eagles with five interceptions from his cornerback spot and junior cornerback Colby Bolden (5-9, 150) is next with four.

"(Heuer) is very active and they'll blitz quite a bit," Boulware said. "They've got athletes in the secondary."

Senior quarterback Jadon Henry threw three touchdown passes last week and also ran for a score as North Callaway piled up 371 yards of total offense. Senior fullback Mason Wortman finished with a game-high 100 yards rushing on just eight carries as the Thunderbirds produced 228 yards on the ground.

"We're going to have to make some plays in the passing game, we're going to have to have a little success on the edge, but we're going to have to have success inside running the ball," Boulware said. "We need to win time of possession against these guys.

"They're explosive offensively — we need to keep the ball out of their hands."

North Callaway will put its five-game winning streak on the line against O'Fallon Christian.

"Our kids have confidence and they're playing well," Boulware said. "We're excited about going to St. Charles County and playing somebody we've never played before.

"It's going to be a challenge — they've got a ton of talent and a lot of speed. We think we're going to be ready."

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