ELDON — The California Pintos are coming off their first victory of the season in thrilling, last-second fashion and are hoping that sparks momentum for the rest of their season.
The Eldon Mustangs are still looking for the spark from that first win.
Eldon hopes to seize that momentum in front of a Homecoming crowd tonight by hosting California in Tri-County Conference play. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Eldon is coming off a rout from the conference's best, as the Mustangs lost to unbeaten defending Class 2 state champion Blair Oaks 56-6 last Friday to fall to 0-5 overall and 0-3 in the Tri-County.
Meanwhile, the Pintos scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds remaining to capture a seesaw 33-30 victory last Friday against Versailles in a battle of winless league rivals. California is now 1-4 overall and 1-2 in the Tri-County, snapping a 21-game losing streak with its Homecoming victory.
California first-year head coach Derek Scroggins said a winless Versailles squad could beat a lot of good teams, and feels Eldon is just as capable.
"It's a quality conference, which makes it fun," Scroggins said. "From top to bottom you get teams all the time that are battle-tested and end up being solid come playoff time. That's one of the nice parts about being one of the Class 2 teams in the conference — once you hit district you won't face any tougher team than you faced in the Tri-County Conference."
Eldon coach Chad Hult agrees.
"Our kids are understanding the process," Hult said. "After who we've played so far, they're seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel.
"Blair Oaks is really good. They're extremely talented. All their kids have the same body type and they play hard."
With its late-score heroics, California was able to hold off a stunning performance by Versailles quarterback Coby Williams, who accounted for 450 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
After Versailles took a 30-26 lead with 1:37 remaining, the Pintos returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tigers 30-yard line. California quickly drove down the field and, after converting a fourth-and-4 situation, California junior running back Tagen Higgins capped the biggest game of his career with a 6-yard TD run for the winning score.
Higgins scored four touchdowns against Versailles.
"It was nice, because the week we played Osage we learned how to compete and last week against Versailles we learned how to win," Scroggins said.
Pacing the run-first California offensive attack is Higgins and sophomore quarterback Calen Kruger — who moved from running back three weeks ago. Both Higgins and Kruger have around 350 rushing yards.
California doesn't throw it a lot, but when it does, senior wideout Clayton Winkler has been the Pintos' top receiver.
Pacing the California defense in tackles is junior middle linebacker Bryant Davis.
"The more film you watch you see their kids play extremely hard for coach Scroggins," Hult said of California. "They do a lot of option stuff. They've brought in another running back in (Higgins), who had been coming off the bench. They will throw it a little; they do some play-action. But they like to run.
"Defensively they're coming together as a unit. They have a bend-don't-break mentality and have done a good job forcing turnovers."
The Mustangs figure to get a boost this week with the return of fullback/linebacker Kaden Dillon — the team's leading rusher and tackler. Dillon missed the Blair Oaks game after being ejected from the previous week's game.
Dillon has 472 yards and five touchdowns and has caught four passes for 22 yards.
Also for Eldon, quarterback Dallas Hardy has rushed for 364 yards and five TDs while completing 11-of-33 passes for 126 yards.
"Dillon is a solid linebacker and solid running back and we're hoping to be able to contain him," Scroggins said. "Anytime you face a unique offense like the wing-T it's difficult to prepare for. And Eldon runs it pretty well. It definitely adds a level of challenge.
"On defense they bring pressure a lot. They have been predominately a three-man front and with that they are bringing a lot of guys."