DISTRICT PREVIEWS: Rivals Osage and Eldon meet for rematch in district opener
Beating a rival is fun. Doing so to end your rival’s season is even more enticing and that is what is at stake Friday night when School of the Osage hosts Eldon in the Class 3 District 5 quarterfinals.
The Indians (3-6) finished fourth in the district standings, the Mustangs (2-5) finished fifth and this Lake area battle on the gridiron will determine who gets to advance to the district semifinals and visit top-seeded Buffalo (6-2) next week. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
When these two sides met in week three on September 11, Osage earned a 41-26 win but it was a surge in the second half that allowed that to happen as Eldon initially held a 14-13 lead at halftime. The Indians scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter to get the cushion they needed.
“We just have to limit the big plays. We were competitive with them in the first half and we gave up too many big plays in the second,” Eldon coach Chad Hult said of the lessons from that game after his team wrapped up the regular season with a 21-18 win over St. James Friday night. “We have to find a way to match their speed and tackle a little bit better.”
Osage may have gotten the win in the first meeting, but Coach Devin Johnson and the Indians certainly have no intention of looking past their rival with the season on the line. It is never about the start, but how a team finishes and Johnson is expecting a different team than the one that stepped on the field back in September.
“At this stage our focus is to earn everything we get. We have to earn every game we get to play from here on out,” Johnson pointed out after a 61-14 loss at state-ranked Blair Oaks last week. “Eldon is coming off a win against St. James and they will be confident. They are a better team than the one we played week three.”
Well, time to see which one of these Lake area teams will be moving on and who will be turning in equipment and preparing for 2021.
Defensively, Osage should have a pretty good idea of what is coming. Eldon has been running the Wing-T offense for over a decade and first and foremost is stopping the Mustang rushing attack.
“We have to get stops defensively and can’t let them control the clock,” Johnson pointed out.
And if Osage cannot find a way to stop the ground game, that is precisely what will happen. The Indians are currently giving up 46.3 points per outing.
Eldon is currently averaging 192.9 rushing yards, 53.4 passing yards and 246.3 total yards per game and the team has averaged 20 points per contest in the seven games the Mustangs have played in 2020. In the game against Osage on September 11, Eldon put up 247 rushing yards with another 28 yards coming through the air.
Eldon senior running back Mason Kirkweg has led the charge behind his offensive line with 81 carries for 460 yards and four touchdowns on the season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Sophomore Krystopher Shepard has been a solid addition with 59 carries for 408 yards and seven scores, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, and senior Owen Levesque has galloped for 255 yards on 58 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Hunter Hees has shown some mobility as well with 93 yards and five touchdowns on 46 attempts (2 yards per carry) and junior Killian Wilson has provided some depth with 29 rushes for 87 yards and a score (3 yards per carry).
The running game will be a major emphasis, as usual, but Eldon has the ability to pass the pigskin, too.
Junior receiver Baylor Pearson has been a reliable target for the young freshman Hees who is currently 43-107 for 374 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions on the season. Pearson has hauled in 25 of those passes for 213 yards and six other Mustangs have registered at least two catches so far this season. Levesque has caught four passes for 44 yards, senior tight end P.J. Bledsoe has also caught four passes for 19 yards and junior Tristan Robinett has a trio of catches for 22 yards. Hees’ touchdown passes have gone to Wilson who has caught three passes for nine yards and senior Ian Birdno who has a pair of receptions for 16 yards.
Hult knows his defense will have to dig in as well against an Osage team that was actually successful in implementing Eldon’s own offensive formula the last time around as the Indians passed for just 32 yards but piled on 424 rushing yards on that night in September. Making tackles and delivering stops is always easier said than done against a team that can put up points in a hurry. Defenders flying to the football and eliminating space for Osage ball carriers to maneuver should help, though, as Hult noted.
The Mustang defense, currently allowing 43.1 points per game, will be taking on an Osage offense averaging 32.7 points per game. The Indians have averaged 289.4 rushing yards per game behind the “Blackfoot” offensive line, 158.7 passing yards and 448.2 total yards of offense overall to put those points up on the board.
One of the first orders of business for Eldon’s defense will be containing junior quarterback Brockton McLaughlin. The junior has completed 91 of his 138 passes in 2020 for 1,310 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and he has led the Indians in rushing all season with 89 carries for 910 yards (10.2 yards per carry) and 10 additional touchdowns on the ground.
Sophomore running back Eric Hood has emerged as a significant threat on the ground in the latter half of the season with 86 carries for 634 yards (7.4 yards per carry) and six scores, senior Jackson Creasy has rushed 65 times for 498 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns and senior Kenan Webb has totaled 295 yards on 53 carries (5.6 yards per carry) and a trio of touchdowns. The Indians also have a pair of backs who are nearing the century mark in rushing with junior Jesse Wermuth providing fresh legs with 18 carries for 96 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown while sophomore Konner Vaughn has totaled 88 yards on six carries and a touchdown (14.7 yards per carry).
McLaughlin has kept things fairly balanced through the air. Sophomore Hunter Graber leads the receiving corps with 33 receptions for 484 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, junior Keigan Vaughn has caught 20 passes for 379 yards and five scores, senior Drew Elley has hauled in 23 passes for 323 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Webb has caught 12 passes out of the backfield for 106 yards while Hood has added a trio of receptions for 79 yards, respectively.
Lining up against Osage Friday night, Bledsoe has no illusions about the challenge ahead for himself and his Eldon teammates.
“It is going to take everything we have,” the senior noted, also echoing the sentiments of his head coach about the second half shutdown in the previous meeting. “We just have to bring everything that second half and play a full game. It is a rivalry so we’ll be hyped… We are ready for it. We don’t want to go home already.”
Osage senior Sam Keim shared a similar sentiment to his Mustang counterpart and will look to do his part to make sure the Indians punch a ticket to the district semifinals.
“It really means a lot to me and this group of seniors we have right now. For us to win Friday night would mean a lot because we have not won since my eighth grade year in the first round of districts,” the senior said. “We just have to play together, take care of the ball and play how we know to play.
“They like to run the ball, but everyone knows that,” Keim continued. “They can be a very physical football team, we just have to be more physical than them and we’ll be fine.”
Osage won the previous meeting on September 11, 41-26. The last time the Indians and Mustangs met in the playoffs was a district semifinal in 2016 that Eldon won, 39-36.
Eldon: It all starts with McLaughlin who can devastate defensive efforts with his elusiveness. He has a fairly balanced arsenal behind him, too, with players like Hood and Creasy taking care of things on the ground and others like Graber and Elley hauling in the passes. The Mustangs will have to be sharp to slow it all down.
Osage: Time to dig in the trenches and stop the run. Kirkweg, Shepard and Levesque have complimented each other all season to keep the chains moving and Hees has the ability to break big runs in open space. His chemistry with Pearson also has the potential to pose a threat any given night.