WARDSVILLE — The end of the regular season is near, and the Blair Oaks defense is on a roll as the postseason approaches.
The Falcons will try for their third straight shutout tonight when they visit the School of the Osage Indians in Osage Beach. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Blair Oaks is coming off a 40-0 Homecoming win last Friday against Southern Boone.
"Their attention to detail last week was very, very good on the defensive side of the ball," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "They really wanted to show that they could play with this offense."
Blair Oaks (7-0) has shut out opponents in seven of 22 games since LePage took over as coach. Meanwhile, the first-string defense has yet to allow a point since Week 3 at Boonville, which calculates to 18 consecutive quarters.
"It shows what we can do when we're all on the same page, pulling together," LePage said. "We applauded our players, but we said, 'Hey, how much better can you get?' Each week we challenge them, and they rise up to the challenge.
"I think they're excited about where we're going, but we know there's more to be done."
The Falcons will face an Osage team that is averaging just 12.7 points per game, but only Hallsville has been able to shut out the Indians this season.Osage (2-5) is coming off a 34-13 loss to Versailles, which won its first game of the season. The two teams are joined by Eldon and California with 1-4 records in Tri-County Conference play.
Osage trailed Versailles just 14-13 in the second quarter, but the Tigers shut down the Indians in the second half.
"It just seems like something goes wrong," LePage said. "There's a bad snap or an ill-advised penalty. It's more they're stopping themselves, and we want to make sure we don't give them any life in that aspect."
LePage expects to see Osage run multiple offensive sets, and with multiple quarterbacks.
Sophomore Brockton McLaughlin (6-foot, 155 pounds) is more of a passing quarterback, but senior Drew Edwards (6-2, 180) will be more of a dual threat. He has thrown for 804 yards and rushed for another 155 yards.
LePage compared Edwards to Blair Oaks' Cade Stockman, as both have played quarterback and linebacker this season.
"We have to make sure that we don't allow them to move the ball down the field throwing on us," LePage said.
Last Friday against Versailles, Osage had 44 rushing plays to just 13 passing attempts, primarily operating in a split-back veer.
"Webb City makes a living out of it," LePage said. "It's a unique offense to stop."
Senior running back James Hutchcraft (6-2, 220) leads the Indians with 536 yards rushing (4.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He also doubles as a fullback and can block for Edwards on quarterback keepers.
"He just brings a big load with him," LePage said. "He really carries his pads well."
But the Indians will also go with a spread offense at times.
At wide receiver, senior Logan Havner (6-3, 187) leads Osage with 31 catches for 398 yards and two touchdowns. LePage said that will be a key matchup for Blair Oaks defensive back Jake Closser, who leads the Falcons with four interceptions this season.
"They'll let him go up and get the ball, so we have to work on maybe undercutting his routes, trying to make sure we can get there before he gets his hands to the ball," LePage said. "He catches the ball away from his body with his hands very well."
Opponents were only averaging 12.3 points per game through Week 3 against Osage, but opponents have scored more than 30 points in the last four games against the Indians for a season average of 27.6.
And the Osage defense has something in common with its offense.
"They play two different defenses, just like they play two different offenses," LePage said.
Osage uses a 4-3 defense, relying heavily on seniors Rudy Escobar (5-9, 205) and Matt McCubbin (6-2, 190) on the line and Hutchcraft and Edwards at linebacker.
"They're very physical at the point of attack," LePage said.
But then the Indians will go with what LePage calls an "amoeba" defense.
"They'll have basically 10 guys standing up, and they put (Escobar) in the middle, and he's standing up over the center," he said. "They'll bring them from anywhere, you don't really know where they're going to come from. You've got to block areas."
Hutchcraft leads the Indians with 62 tackles, followed by Escobar with 52 and Edwards with 36. McCubbin tops the team with seven tackles for loss.
Versailles used the passing game to beat Osage, throwing for three touchdowns. Coby Williams rushed for 75 yards and added another 223 yards passing.
"They play a lot of man coverage," LePage said of the Indians. "They keep a free safety in the middle of the field and try to roam with the free safety."
The Falcons threw for just 150 yards last week against Southern Boone, snapping a streak of four straight games with at least 200 yards passing.
Even if the pass game takes off against the Indians, LePage still wants to see the Falcons run the ball, especially from the option.
"You have to make them match on the option," he said. "When they're doing multiple things, they lose who their matchups are."
A win tonight would clinch Blair Oaks at least a share of the Tri-County title, which the Falcons have won each of the past four seasons.
"What we have to do is prepare for their best game," LePage said.
Notes: Blair Oaks is ranked No. 1 in Class 3 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings, while last week's loss dropped Southern Boone out of the top 10. Boonville (6-1) stayed put at No. 7 following a 56-26 win at Eldon. With two games remaining in the regular season, Blair Oaks holds the No. 1 seed in Class 3 District 5 with 48.77 points. Buffalo (6-1) is No. 2 with 44.31 points, followed by Springfield Catholic (5-2, 37.24 points), Salem (5-2, 34.51 points) and Logan-Rogersville (2-5, 23.14 points). Osage is currently the No. 7 seed with 20.52 points, less than a full point behind Eldon (1-6, 20.76 points). St. James (0-7) is the No. 8 seed with 12.71 points. LePage said left tackle Blake Moore will miss tonight's game with an illness. Adam Jurgensmeyer will start in his place, while Ben Hoelscher and Kaden Hoelscher will back him up. Defensive tackle Adam Hughes has been bothered by a knee injury, and as a result, LePage said Nico Canale will see more time tonight at that position.