ELDON — The scramble that is the 2020 season resumes tonight for the Eldon Mustangs.
After sitting out a week due to COVID-19 quarantines, Eldon got most of its squad back on the practice field Tuesday and — knock on wood — will return to Friday night lights tonight in Ashland against Southern Boone. The Tri-County Conference contest is set to kick off at 7 p.m.
With a total of 21 Mustangs having been quarantined, Eldon canceled last week's conference game against Hallsville. Most of those players were cleared three days ago, so Eldon hit the practice field for two days to prepare for the explosive Southern Boone Eagles.
Eldon resumes with a 1-2 overall record and a 0-1 league mark. The Mustangs have dropped their last two games including their latest, a 41-26 setback Sept. 11 to league foe School of the Osage.
"We've had our ups and downs," Eldon coach Chad Hult said of the previous week of uncertainty. "The varsity kids were back Tuesday and the JV kids back Wednesday. We have tried to keep the minds of the (quarantined) kids on football. We did some virtual stuff with them as much as we could and then coached the remaining 18 kids in practice."
Just having the players back on the practice field has relaxed a Mustang coaching staff that has never been through something like the last week.
"It's just a huge relief," Hult said. "This is why we all got into coaching, to help get the kids better."
Southern Boone comes in with a 3-1 overall record, a 1-0 Tri-County mark and with its own recent COVID-19 scares. At one time Wednesday morning, Southern Boone coach Trent Tracy said his squad had seven starters possibly out of tonight's game due to COVID-19 contacts. However, after further investigation by Wednesday afternoon, it appeared the Eagles will have just two starters out due to quarantine.
"Every day is something new," Tracy said.
To say the least, the Southern Boone Eagles have been battle-tested.
In the season opener, the Eagles fell to defending Class 3 state champion Odessa 32-20, followed by a thriller against Mexico, in which Southern Boone had to come from behind with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull out a 28-20 victory.
And Sept. 11, Southern Boone found itself down by two touchdowns in the second half on the road at Boonville, only to surge from behind to post a 20-14 conference victory.
After having their conference game against Versailles canceled last week due to COVID-19 concerns, Southern Boone replaced it on the schedule with an unknown — Richmond, a school the Eagles had never played. And Southern Boone stayed sharp by getting a competitive, 38-24 victory against a Richmond squad that had lost a game earlier in the season with COVID-19 issues.
"I think we've had a pretty difficult first four-week schedule," Tracy said. "We played the defending state champions — and I'd love to play that game again, because we started slow. We learned a lot from the last four weeks. For how tough the schedule has been, it has put us in some adverse situations."
Last week against Richmond, senior quarterback Chase Schupp scored on a 5-yard touchdown run late in the first half to give the Eagles a 18-12 lead. The game would be tied twice in the second half. Finally, senior running back Alex Switzer scored on a 3-yard run and Schupp scored on another QB keeper to give Southern Boone the lead for good.
The Eagles finished 8-3 in 2019, including a 50-28 victory against Eldon.
"They have a lot of experience back up front with a good quarterback and good running back," Hult said of Southern Boone. "They have a strong front seven on defense."
After four games the Eagles have 695 passing yards and 636 rushing yards.
The Eagle spread offense has been directed efficiently by Schupp, who has hit on 51-of-85 passes for 595 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 152 yards and five TDs.
Switzer leads the ground game with 348 rushing yards and five touchdowns, while senior running back Ben Brookshire has 144 yards and four TDs.
Schupp has several strong targets to throw to, with senior wideout Blake Dapkus leading the way on 22 receptions for 376 yards and three TDs, junior wideout Tate John seven catches for 143 yards and senior Nick Post with 10 receptions.
Senior outside linebacker Jacob McKee leads the Eagle defense with 35 tackles while Dapkus, a safety, has 34, senior linebacker David Heyen 31, Brookshire, a linebacker, 28 and senior end Caleb Perkins 23 tackles and four sacks.
"They still run a spread, but it's pretty well-balanced," Hult said. "It's pretty much 50-50 run-pass. (Schupp) looks like a really good player. It's a really good team; there is not one individual player you've got to stop.
"Defensively, they give a couple of different looks. They have run out of a 5-2 (front) and a 4-3-2, walking the backers up."
The first order of business for the Mustangs is simply getting back into the swing of game speed.
"The thing we're most concerned about is conditioning," Hult said. "Half of our team was off for nearly two weeks."
The Eagles' balanced offensive attack will certainly be a challenge for a Mustang defense that has allowed a combined 88 points in its last two games.
On offense, Eldon is hoping junior running back Mason Kirkweg picks up where he left off. Against Osage, Kirkweg erupted for 165 rushing yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns. His production helped the Mustangs take a 14-13 lead into halftime before Osage countered with 20 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Also, Hult needs for the maturation of freshman quarterback Hunter Hees to continue. Hees contributed a 3-yard touchdown run against Osage.
In all, the Eldon wing-T attack produced 250 rushing yards in its most recent game, led by Kirkweg and senior running back Owen Levesque.
"After a week off, it's hard to say what to expect," Tracy said of the Mustangs. "We treat every Eldon team the same way. They still have the same Eldon tradition I've come to know. Offensively it's the same thing — a lot of pro wing formation with a lot of dives and quarterback bootlegs. They're pretty good at it. And they're doing some new things offensively as well; going out of the shotgun some."