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story.lead_photo.caption The School of the Osage Indians run onto the field prior to this year's season opener against Fulton at Osage Beach. Photo by Alison Schneider/Special to the News Tribune

OSAGE BEACH — Both are coming off disappointing losses, which would normally be plenty of motivation for both the Eldon and School of the Osage high school football teams.

However, the two have even more incentive heading into this week they're opening Tri-County Conference action against each other.

Osage and Eldon have one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in the Tri-County, and the two will hook up for their latest battle tonight at Osage High School. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Both teams enter tonight's clash with 1-1 non-conference records, including lopsided setbacks last week. The Osage Indians were beaten by Moberly 49-18, while the Eldon Mustangs were shut out by Owensville 47-0.

Fitting of a rivalry game, the Eldon-Osage matchup is usually held late in the season, and the previous two years it was the regular-season finale. This year is the earliest in the schedule the two squads have hooked up in recent years.

And the recent series has been back and forth. During the last eight seasons, the Indians and Mustangs have each won four times. Osage took last year's matchup 44-24.

"Our kids always get up for this game," Eldon coach Chad Hult said. "There is a lot of energy when these teams meet."

Last week Osage lost to Moberly for the third consecutive season. And as has been the case in recent years, mistakes proved costly for the Indians.

"We scored on our opening drive," Osage coach Devin Johnson said of last week. "In the first half you take away the miscues on our part and we're right there. Their first two scores were set up by a kickoff return and a punt return, both drives starting at the 20-yard line going in. It reminded us when they played (Sedalia) Smith-Cotton the previous week, where they took advantage of mistakes early. We knew they were going to be a good team."

Osage had problems stopping the Moberly offense, led by senior quarterback Dominic Stoneking, who rushed for 106 yards, leading a Spartan ground game that produced close to 300 yards.

Still, for the second consecutive week, Osage junior quarterback Brock McLaughlin had a big game. McLaughlin completed 17-of-21 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 132 yards on 12 carries and a TD.

Four Osage receivers caught four passes and the Indians had 344 yards of total offense.

After two weeks, McLaughlin has 271 passing yards, completing 22-of-29 attempts, while rushing for a team-high 315 yards. Senior running back Kenan Webb has 103 rushing yards and sophomore wideout Hunter Graber has six catches to lead the balanced Indian receiving core.

"He's a good player and really showed off his legs the first two weeks," Johnson said of McLaughlin. "I'm proud of the way he improvises, and he threw the ball very well."

"Last year he was almost strictly a pocket passer," Hult said of McLaughlin. "This year he's shown the ability to run. We have to key on him all week. Osage is a lot like Owensville, they're very physical up front and their quarterback is a handful. They hurt themselves with field possession against a very good Moberly team."

A group of Eldon's defenders bring down an Owensville ball carrier during last Friday night's game in Owensville.
Photo by Will Johnson/Gasconade County Republican

Eldon ran into another hot quarterback last week in Owensville junior Brendan Decker, who burned the Mustangs by completing 7-of-8 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

The thing that haunted the Mustang defense throughout the 2019 campaign returned last week against Owensville in the form of big plays. Decker had touchdown passes of 54 and 50 yards to Derek Brandt and a 30-yarder to Bryce Payne. Eldon also allowed a 26-yard breakaway TD run by running back Austin Lowder and a 13-yard TD keeper by Decker.

Eldon trailed 20-0 after just one quarter and 33-0 at halftime a week ago. Owensville rolled up 439 yards of total offense.

Meanwhile, the Mustang offense was blanked.

"We were giving up big plays again, which killed us all last year," Hult said. "Their quarterback is a special player. (Offensively) we didn't block very well. We had a couple of kids quarantined and just ran out of steam. When they get that momentum, it's hard to recover."

Hult said four of his players were quarantined last week. He said he's hopeful to have one of them back for the Osage game, but isn't giving names.

Despite Eldon's inability to score a week ago, Johnson isn't taking them lightly. He knows all too well the Mustangs' wing-T offensive package can give defenses fits.

"Their experience is up front, that's kind of their strength," Johnson said. "They want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides. They have some inexperience in the backfield, but it's a team that kind of wears you down.

"(Eldon senior lineman Fisher Snelling) is a good load on both sides of the play, on offense and at defensive end. (Junior Mason) Kirkwig on their defensive line, he's a tough, physical player."

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