WEEK 4 PREVIEWS: Osage seeking first road win of 2020 in clash with California

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
Osage senior running back Kenan Webb.

School of the Osage has defended its home turf well so far this season. Now, the Indians are back on the road again hoping to steal a win from someone else’s.

And they will have to do so on their opponent’s Homecoming night.

Osage is set to battle with California Friday night in another annual showdown between these two Tri-County Conference foes. The battle begins at 7 p.m.

After winning just one game in all of 2019, California was on a roll to start the season with two fairly comfortable wins over Clinton (0-3) and Fulton (0-2) until the Pintos ran into an unbeaten Blair Oaks team last week for the home opener, falling to the defending Tri-County Conference champions 50-6.

California is currently averaging 38.7 points per game while allowing 23.7 and Osage coach Devin Johnson knows last week’s loss to a Falcons team that has won 50 straight regular season games is no reason to underestimate the challenge his team has ahead on Friday night.

“Any win in this conference is big. We got California and California is much improved,” Johnson said after his team’s 41-26 win over rival Eldon last week. “They are going to be a lot better football team and Coach (Derek) Scroggins has done a very good job with them.”

Turnovers were one of the biggest culprits for California last week as the Pintos lost two straight fumbles that Blair Oaks utilized to help secure a 29-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. California fumbled six times overall and lost three of them. The team’s only touchdown of the night came from special teams on a 93-yard kickoff return before halftime.

But that does not encapsulate what this California team can do.

Facing a mutual opponent with Osage in a trip to Fulton the week before, the Pintos cruised to a 49-0 shutout victory against a team Osage beat 63-36 in the season opener. California dominated on the ground as Tagen Higgins ran in three touchdowns and quarterback Calen Kruger threw a pair of touchdown passes to lead the offensive charge. Meanwhile, the defense made multiple fourth down stops, enjoyed an interception return for a touchdown for the second straight week and recorded two sacks against a versatile Fulton quarterback in Courtland Simmons whom Osage initially struggled to contain as he made big scoring plays to keep his team in the game in the first half.

In the season opener, California thrashed Clinton, 61-21 to set a commanding tone for 2020 and it was the first time California scored more than 40 points in a game since 2015. The Pintos reached the 60-point mark just a season earlier. Kruger enjoyed three touchdown runs of which two went for at least 30 yards and he also delivered his first touchdown pass of the season. Izac Currens also found some daylight with a 51-yard touchdown run while the defense stood tall, pitching a shutout until there less than 10 minutes left in the game.

“I’ve been impressed watching them on film. They have a very mobile quarterback and some good athletes,” Johnson pointed out. “They’ve been tough the first two weeks. This conference, every Friday night is a tough night.”

It seems containment will be the name of the game once again for Osage and sophomore linebacker Eric Hood has been at the forefront with a team-leading 37 tackles on the season, averaging 12.3 tackles per game. Junior Shane Thomas has been a stalwart in the trenches with 25 tackles and both sophomore Konner Vaughn and junior Keigan Vaughn have been busy in the secondary with 24 total tackles and 21 total tackles, respectively. Osage has seen some success forcing turnovers, too, with five on the season if California has not tightened up its ball security from last week. Overall, the Indian defense is allowing 37 points per outing through three games.

After a rough outing in a 49-18 loss on the road at unbeaten Moberly (3-0) in week two, Osage got back on track offensively against the rival Mustangs last week. And most of the damage came from the ground as the team finished with 424 rushing yards on the evening.

Junior quarterback Brockton McLaughlin made some big runs on his way to 203 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns and he remains the team’s leading rusher with 518 yards on the season with five touchdowns, averaging 14 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, senior backs Kenan Webb and Jack Creasy also eclipsed the century mark on the ground last week as Creasy finished with 111 yards and a score while Webb dashed for 106 and a touchdown of his own. Webb has been a reliable contributor behind the “Blackfoot” offensive line with 209 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and three scores while Creasy has put up 194 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.

McLaughlin attempted just six passes against Eldon, but he completed three of them for 32 yards and a touchdown to bring his season totals to 303 passing yards and three touchdowns with a single interception. He is currently hitting the mark on 71 percent of his throws.

Sophomore receiver Hunter Graber hauled in that touchdown pass against Eldon and finished the night with two catches for 28 yards as he remains McLaughlin’s top target with eight catches for 102 yards and a trio of scores. Keegan Vaughn has caught five passes for 87 yards, senior wideout Drew Elley has totaled five catches for 55 yards in two games and Webb is currently at five catches for 48 yards as another option for McLaughlin to spread the ball around.

If that kind of balance is on display again Friday night, the Indians just may have a chance to win their second straight. Through three games, Osage is putting up 329.3 rushing yards, 102 passing yards and 40.7 points per game.

Whatever unfolds in week four, Johnson is looking for continued growth. He saw some of it in the way his team responded to a tough defeat at Moberly.

“I thought our kids grew a ton and I’ve said this more than once, but I’m glad last week happened week two because we learned a lot from it and took it as a learning experience,” He said.

Time to see if that trend continues.

BRAGGING RIGHTS 

Osage won last season’s game with California in a nail-biter, 20-14. 

WHO’S HOT

If a team can put up 424 rushing yards in a single night, the offensive line is imposing its will. McLaughlin, Webb and Creasy have been the biggest benefactors so far and if McLaughlin can get in open space, he is capable of making a few dazzling plays as evidenced by a 46-yard and 67-yard touchdown run last week. 

WATCH OUT 

Johnson said it- California has a mobile quarterback in Kruger that must be stopped. Higgins has seemed to make a habit of finding the end zone as well.