WEEK 8 PREVIEWS: Eldon looking to find right stride in late season matchup with Boonville

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
Eldon freshman Hunter Hees.

The Tri-County Conference can be unforgiving.

After coronavirus issues sidelined Eldon for its annual showdown with Hallsville on September 18, the Mustangs have gone through a gauntlet in their return against some of the top teams in the conference. In fact, the team’s last three opponents have a combined record of 16-4 and five of the eight teams in the conference currently have a winning record.

It has not been an easy journey for the Mustangs (1-5, 0-4 TCC), who have not won since the season opener against Springfield Central on August 28, but the team is still standing. In the end, all that will matter is how the program finishes and the district playoffs are just two weeks away. Another opponent with a winning record awaits Friday night, but there is still time for this team to find the right stride just in time for the playoffs.

Up next is a trip to Boonville (4-3, 2-3 TCC) Friday night where Eldon will face a Pirates team coming off a 54-6 win at Versailles.

“Boonville is a good team that plays hard and well together. They have a few players that really stand out on top of being a good team,” Eldon coach Chad Hult said. “Their team speed is something that is very important for us to be able to contain. For us, we have to come out ready to play to start the game. The last few weeks we’ve come out and tried to feel the game out. We have to come out strong from the beginning.”

Like other teams Eldon has faced this season, the Pirates do a fairly good job of spreading the football around to different playmakers and the Mustang defense will have to account for all of them. Boonville has put together a balanced attack in 2020 as the team currently averages 168 rushing yards, 127.6 passing yards and 295.6 total yards per game equating to about 34.7 points per game. After combining for just 21 total points against Blair Oaks and California, who are both 6-1, the Pirates have found their groove putting up a total of 109 points the last two weeks against Osage and Versailles.

Boonville’s offense is led by a young sophomore quarterback in Colby Caton who has completed 53 of his 93 passes in 2020 for 893 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Junior Jamesian McKee is currently his top receiver with 14 receptions for 275 yards and two scores and the junior has played in just five of the team’s seven games. Senior Charlie Bronakowski has 11 catches for 219 yards and three scores, junior DaWan Lomax has eight receptions for 182 yards and three touchdowns and fellow junior D.J. Wesolak has logged 13 receptions for 150 yards and a score.

On the ground, senior Andrew Wiser has led the way for the Pirates with 84 carries for 566 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Caton has some mobility, too, with 81 carries for 246 yards (3 yards per carry) and four scores. Meanwhile, Lomax (eight carries, 115 yards, 14.4 yards per carry, two touchdowns) and Wesolak (seven carries, 97 yards, 13.9 yards per carry, one touchdown) can do some damage, too, when given the opportunity.

Eldon’s defense is currently allowing 47.3 points per game and another good challenge lies ahead for this unit against a team with speed, size and athleticism. Slowing down the rushing attack will have to be one of the first priorities for the Mustangs and if that happens, Eldon just may be able to get a young sophomore quarterback to make a few mistakes in the passing game.

Being able to possess the football on the offensive end with a solid rushing attack can help Eldon’s defense, too, and the Mustang offensive line will have to step up and take care of business in the trenches to make that happen against a defensive front that can cause some disruption.

Boonville is currently allowing 21.6 points per game and the defense is averaging 9.7 tackles for a loss per game in the backfield, including an average of 3.1 sacks per outing. Eldon faced an aggressive front in a 59-13 loss at California last week and time will soon tell if the Mustangs can find more of a spark this week.

Eldon’s offense is currently averaging 187.2 rushing yards, 58.5 passing yards and 245.7 total yards per contest to go with 19.8 points per game.

Through six games, Eldon senior Mason Kirkweg has led the ground attack in the Wing-T offense with 68 carries for 391 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. Sophomore Krystopher Shepard has galloped for 324 yards on 41 carries (7.9 yards per carry) and six touchdowns and senior Owen Levesque is at 47 rushes for 208 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and two scores as the third Mustang over the century mark so far this season. Junior Killian Wilson has also found the end zone with 29 carries for 87 yards (3 yards per carry) and one touchdown and freshman quarterback Hunter Hees has rushed for three scores of his own on 37 rushes for 67 yards (1.8 yards per carry).

Although the Mustangs have not traditionally placed as much of an emphasis on the passing attack in this style of offense, one receiver who has stood out is junior Baylor Pearson who currently leads the receiving corps with 24 catches for 199 yards. He has made life a little easier for the young freshman Hees who is currently 41-100 for 351 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. Meanwhile, Levesque has caught four passes out of the backfield for 44 yards and both Wilson (three catches, 9 yards) and senior Ian Birdno (two catches, 16 yards) have each caught a touchdown pass.

All of the above will need to be in unison Friday night to keep the ball away from Boonville’s playmakers and with just one game left in the regular season next week, time will soon tell if this group can turn the corner and make some noise in the playoffs.

BRAGGING RIGHTS

Boonville won last season’s matchup at Eldon, 56-26.

WHO’S HOT

Any running back has the potential for a good night in Eldon’s offense, but the Mustangs just may have another threat in the passing game that can cause some concern for opposing defenses. It may have been a lopsided outcome, but Pearson logged 10 catches for 108 yards last week alone at California.

WATCH OUT

Caton knows how to make the offense move, but Wiser can make defenses pay on the ground and McKee, Bronakowski and Lomax all have the potential to hurt defenses through the air. The Mustangs will have to stay sharp from front to back throughout the night.