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story.lead_photo.caption North Callaway defensive back Matt Blair pulls Van-Far running back Bryson Lay to the ground during last week's game in Vandalia. The 45-0 victory improved the Thunderbirds' Eastern Missouri Conference record to 2-1. Photo by Amy Craghead/Special to the Fulton Sun

KINGDOM CITY — Crafting a game plan for a familiar foe is tough enough.

The North Callaway Thunderbirds are discovering that coming up with good intel on an unknown opponent makes that task even more difficult.

North Callaway will host Strafford — also a Class 2 football program — tonight in the first-ever meeting between the Thunderbirds and the Indians. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

North Callaway improved to 2-1 both overall and in the Eastern Missouri Conference by easily vanquishing Van-Far 45-0 last week in Vandalia. Strafford — located just east of Springfield along Interstate 44 — evened its season record at 2-2 with its second win in a row, a 34-7 triumph last week at home against Clever.

"Not only do we not know anything about Strafford, we don't know about any of the teams they play," Thunderbirds coach Don Boulware said. "It's hard to assess when watching game film, how good is the opponent they're playing.

"We know very little about them. The only thing I know about Strafford is they've got great girls basketball (and are the five-time defending Class 3 state champion)."

Boulware then offered up a bit of trivia that connects North Callaway and Strafford. Hayley Frank — who starred on the girls basketball team at Strafford and now plays at the University of Missouri — is the granddaughter of Bob Frank, who was the very first basketball coach at North Callaway, Boulware said.

"So there's some North Callaway ties," he said.

Returning to football, Boulware noted the Indians run a spread offense out of traditional and pistol sets. Strafford combined for just 20 points in its first two games, but has erupted for a total of 87 during the last two contests.

"They've got a couple of really good skill players — a quarterback that runs and throws really well, and a receiver/running back that's really quick and a playmaker," Boulware said. "They've got a big, experienced (offensive) line.

"When you have the same group of linemen back for two years in a row, it's generally really good news for year two. They're bigger, stronger and experienced."

In addition to their shutout last week, the Thunderbirds' defense limited Van-Far to a meager 84 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers.

Boulware stressed Strafford is unique because it will run the option out of the spread.

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"You have to recognize formations, you have to be assignment-sound on the option," Boulware said. "You've got to know who's got dive, quarterback, pitch.

"That's one thing about the option — if somebody goes to sleep and we're not assignment-sound, it could be a touchdown."

In dissecting video of the Indians' defense against two opponents that run the flexbone, Boulware pointed out it appeared Strafford's base scheme is a 4-3.

The Indians are giving up just 12.3 points per game.

"Against us (a spread offense), a 4-3 would still be a sound defense and you can run Cover-2 behind it, or Cover-3, or man (coverage), man-free, whatever you want to run behind it," Boulware said. "We're expecting a four-man front, with an overshift, and three linebackers."

Senior running back Cody Cash delivered a game-high 123 yards rushing and three scores, and also caught a touchdown pass to energize North Callaway's offense last week. Sophomore quarterback Braydn O'Neal also threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for a score.

Boulware would like to see the Thunderbirds protect the ball and extend possessions tonight against Strafford.

"We want to be on the plus side in the turnover battle and we'd like to be on the plus side in time of possession," Boulware said. "We need to hold our own up front — it's going to be a challenge."

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