WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons are seeking their 50th consecutive regular-season win tonight. To get there, they have to beat the team that last handed them a regular-season loss.
The California Pintos, who won one game in the previous two seasons, carry a 2-0 record into tonight's Tri-County Conference opener against the Falcons at Riley Field. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
"It's really impressive to watch the transformation of where they were two years ago to today," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "They're a formidable opponent, they're going to be a force for anybody to play."
California opened the season with back-to-back road wins, routing Clinton 61-21 before shutting out Fulton 49-0 last Friday.
"Last week after our game was over, the first thing one of the players wanted to know was how California did," LePage said. " They don't turn the ball over, they run it effectively and they play great defense."
It's the Pintos' best start since 2014, when they won their last district championship.
"California always has that tradition," LePage said. " We have nothing but respect for them, and they're jumping off the film. They play so hard, they believe in what their system is. There's a lot of continuity."
California's offense is led by quarterback Calen Kruger, a returning all-state athlete who has 229 yards rushing and three touchdowns to go with 170 yards passing and three touchdowns.
"He really does a good job with their offense," LePage said. "When you have an option offense, you have to have a reactive quarterback. This is his second year in this offense, and you can see he feels comfortable with it."
LePage said there are three people who will typically touch the ball in the Pintos' option offense. The other two are running backs Tagen Higgins and Drake Schlup.
Higgins scored three rushing touchdowns against Clinton and has 173 yards on the ground, while Schlup has 111 yards rushing and another 44 yards receiving with three total touchdowns.
Leading the Pintos' offensive line is Garrett Burger, a guard who is their other returning all-state player.
"He's just done nothing but accelerate himself this year," LePage said. "He's very, very impressive to watch on film."
California is averaging 8.6 yards per carry this season.
"There's no secret about it, they're going to try to run the football," LePage said.
Blair Oaks' offense isn't far behind, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
"It has a lot to do with our offensive line," LePage said. "I know they're young, but they're big, they're physical and they're smart."
California's defense has only allowed three touchdowns this season, all coming late in the fourth quarter against Clinton. Meanwhile, the Pintos have recorded a defensive touchdown in each game: an interception return by Burger against Clinton and a pick-6 from Kaden Bax against Fulton.
"Great defenses don't stop people, great defenses score," LePage said.
Bryant Davis, a linebacker, leads the Pintos with 14 tackles. Burger, who plays linebacker on defense, is next with 13 tackles.
"When they see something, they run to the ball as well as any team we've seen the last few years," LePage said.
California lines up in a 4-4 defensive front. Lineman Cody Williams is third on the team with 10 tackles and also leads the Pintos with 1 sacks.
"Their front four does a great job of occupying all five offensive linemen," LePage said.
Blair Oaks (2-0) is coming off a 49-0 win last Friday against Knob Noster, the team's 10th shutout in 30 games played since LePage took over as head coach.
"We had a fast start defensively, really taking control and making them get out of what they wanted to do," LePage said. "Their quarterback is such a dynamic player, and we took that away from them early and it frustrated them."
In addition to the regular-season win streak, the Falcons have also won their last 37 conference games. Their last loss? It came Oct. 3, 2014, a 21-10 defeat at the hands of the Pintos.
"The only way to be a success in the conference is to win your first conference game," LePage said. "Both teams right now are 2-0, and they're both going to be trying as hard as they can (to win)."
Notes: California is the only Tri-County Conference opponent that has a winning record head-to-head against Blair Oaks. The Pintos hold a 24-23 lead in the overall series, but the Falcons have won 16 of the last 19 meetings. Blair Oaks has won its last eight Tri-County openers. The last loss came in 2011, a 27-25 defeat to School of the Osage. The Pintos have scored 110 points through their first two games this season, their highest total to start the season since 2013 when they scored 84 points total in back-to-back wins against Boonville and Mexico. It took California until Week 8 last season to surpass 110 points for the season, and the Pintos totaled just 136 the whole season. With the return of Reid Dudenhoeffer and Ian Nolph to the lineup last week, LePage said the Falcons are injury-free heading into tonight's game. "Right now, we're at our best since we started Week 1," he said. "We have everybody healthy."