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story.lead_photo.caption James Hutchcraft of School of the Osage runs with the ball during a game last month against Hallsville. Photo by Alison Schneider/Special to the News Tribune

OSAGE BEACH — It can be a bumpy ride through the Tri-County Conference schedule.

The School of the Osage Indians hit a big pothole last week and are trying to avoid another one tonight.

After falling to one state-ranked conference foe a week ago, Osage gears up for another as it travels tonight to Ashland for a challenge by an angry Southern Boone squad. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Osage stands at 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the league after falling behind early and losing to Boonville 35-14 last Friday. The Southern Boone Eagles, No. 8 in this week's Class 3 Missouri Media Rankings, come in smarting after their first defeat of the season last week to Hallsville 33-21 and are now 4-1 and 2-1.

The offensive juggernauts seemingly keep coming in the Tri-County this fall with high-scoring squads Blair Oaks, Hallsville, Boonville and Southern Boone peppering the schedule.

Osage was one of those offensive juggernauts a couple years ago and is trying to get back there.

"Our conference is very strong," Osage coach Devin Johnson said. "I've told the kids this has to be one of the best mid-size Class 3-Class 2 conferences in the state. And at the bottom of the standings you've got Versailles, which is maybe one of the best winless teams in the state. But that's what you want to prepare for Week 10."

Last week, Osage dug a big hole early, as Boonville fired out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. The Indians would score a pair of second-quarter touchdowns on quarterback Drew Edwards' touchdown passes to wideout Logan Havner and running back James Hutchcraft.

But the poor start came back to haunt the Indians, who were shut out in the low-scoring second half, which produced just one Boonville TD after intermission.

Edwards ended up completing 11-of-27 passes for 177 yards while Hutchcraft ran for 78 yards and caught two passes for 82 yards and Havner caught had seven receptions for 90 yards. Lineman Rudy Escobar paced the Indian defense with eight tackles.

Powered by senior running back Avian Thomas, Boonville had 297 yards of total offense and were able to overcome three turnovers. Thomas rushed for 132 yards and three TDs.

"A minute into the second quarter and we had given up 28 points," Johnson said. "We had put ourselves into some good positions defensively but just gave up big plays. Twice in the third quarter — once in the red zone — we had chances to make it a seven-point game."

It was a similar scenario for Southern Boone last week, as turnovers helped surging Hallsville grab a 20-0 halftime advantage. And the speedy Hallsville defense kept the Eagles off-balanced until senior running back Tristan John began to find running room and scored TDs on runs from 11 and nine yards out.

Later Southern Boone senior quarterback Tyson Smith found junior wideout Blake Dapkus in the end zone for a 29-yard TD to cut the Eagle deficit to five points with 5 minutes remaining.

However, Hallsville responded with a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive to end the Eagle comeback threat.

"They're good," Southern Boone coach Trent Tracy said of Hallsville. "They're fast and play with an edge. They have good team speed and offensively they have two very good running backs. We spotted them 20 points and had five really bad things happened during the game that cost us."

Coming into tonight's game, the Eagles are powered by Smith, who has completed 58-of-84 passes for 829 yards and eight touchdowns. He threw his first interception last week. Smith has also rushed for 181 yards.

John has rushed for 791 yards on 64 carries and has scored 17 touchdowns. Dapkus paces the squad with 22 receptions for 400 yards and four TDs.

Senior middle linebacker Ben Brookshire leads the Eagle defense with 59 tackles.

"They play very good on both sides of the ball," Johnson said of Southern Boone. "They're explosive offensively with a good running game. They don't give up big plays defensively and do a lot of good things.

"(Smith) is tough and (John) runs very well. They're good up front, returning three guys on the offensive line from a district championship team. Defensively, they're physical. They've allowed some yardage but keep everything in front of them. Their defensive line is one of the best in the conference."

Tracy said Osage is not far off from again being one of the conference's elite.

"Coach Johnson does a great job," Tracy said. "They did not have a lot of success last year but return a lot. If you watch film and pay attention, you can see they're a team that could easily be 3-2 or 4-1. They have good size up front, their quarterback is athletic and have a big fullback who also plays linebacker that's good. They play really hard."

Edwards has completed 43-of-87 passes for 598 yards, four interceptions and five touchdowns. Havner has caught 21 passes for 276 yards, while running back Jack Dulle has eight catches for 127 yards.

Hutchcraft paces the ground game with 340 yards and Dulle has run for 106.

Hutchcraft leads the Indian defense with 34 tackles while Escobar has 23 tackles and four sacks.

Last week, Osage lost three key players in the first half, as Dulle, running back/safety Connor Kinder and tight end/defensive tackle Matt McCubbin went down with injuries.

Johnson said all three were to be re-evaluated for tonight's game.

Osage is getting another injured player back this week in safety/wideout Tanner Goodrich, who has been out since Week 2.

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