Crim: Electric offenses, stout defenses and unblemished records collide in district title game
SHELBINA, Mo. — It’s the game high school football fans in Northeast Missouri have been waiting for.
Undefeated Bowling Green versus undefeated South Shelby.
Two of the state’s most prolific scoring teams will collide Friday night at Charles Rash Memorial Field in the District 7 championship game for the right to advance in the Class 2 playoffs.
Top-seeded South Shelby is averaging 50.7 points per game and has yet to be held to fewer than 42. Second-seeded Bowling Green is averaging 60.3 points and has been held below 51 just once while scoring 70 or more three times.
On the flip side, the Cardinals’ stifling defense has yielded just 64 points in 10 games, holding opponents to 6 or fewer points eight times. Their narrowest margin of victory has been 30 points.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, have allowed only 33 points in their last six outings and just 127 overall in 11 games. Their narrowest margin of victory has been 27 points.
Offense. Defense. Something has to give.
South Shelby features unstoppable running back Kendal Hammond, a physical 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior scoring machine who was voted offensive player of the year in the Clarence Cannon Conference and has received an offer from Quincy University.
All-purpose back Cameron Wiseman, another senior, is a threat out of the backfield, in the receiving game and on special teams. Sophomore quarterback Chase Moellering has steadily impressed as the season has progressed and can beat defenses with his arm and legs.
Bowling Green features unstoppable running back Bleyne Bryant, a physical 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior scoring machine bound for the University of Wyoming who was voted offensive player of the year in the Eastern Missouri Conference.
Dane Dunn, an explosive runner, complements Bryant in the backfield, while quarterback Jace Eskew is a threat running and throwing out of the split-back veer offense. Eskew completed all four of his passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns in last Friday’s 51-6 victory over Monroe City.
Both teams can strike quickly.
The Cardinals scored three touchdowns in a five-minute span in the first quarter to take command in a 48-14 victory in the de facto Clarence Cannon Conference championship game against Centralia in mid-October.
The Bobcats scored four touchdowns on their first eight offensive snaps in the opening period to swamp Monroe City in the district semifinals.
Bowling Green has been ranked statewide all season and currently stands fifth. It took a while for voters to warm to South Shelby, which is now rated seventh.
“We kind of knew this one was coming for a long time,” South Shelby coach Adam Gunterman said. “Gosh, dang, they’re a good football team.”
“South Shelby’s obviously a good football team,” Bowling Green coach Mark St. Clair said. “They’re a senior-driven team that plays with a lot of confidence. We’re gonna have to step up our game but this is what it’s all about. The further you go, the tougher it gets.”
South Shelby will have the homefield advantage, although the fast turf will also likely benefit the visitors, who play their home games on grass. Bowling Green, meanwhile, has the edge in postseason and coaching experience.
The Bobcats advanced to the Class 2 state semifinals a year ago, where they were upended by Blair Oaks in a high-scoring affair. They have won 41 of 47 games over the past four seasons. Their big and physical offensive and defensive lines have overwhelmed opponents.
“We had some growing pains,” St. Clair said. “We made some moves, we moved some people around and the kids just made the decision that, ‘Hey, we’re going to start executing a lot better and we’re going to start paying attention to detail.’ Because of that, we started to become the team that we are.”
The Cardinals were ousted by eventual semifinalist Monroe City in the Class 1 district title game last season. The senior class has steadily improved after going winless as freshmen, progressing to four wins the following season to eight and now 10.
Controlling the line of scrimmage has been their calling card. An aggressive, hard-hitting defense that beats blocks and puts a lot of players at the point of attack will be tested by Bowling Green’s option attack.
Gunterman is in his fourth season as head coach. St. Clair is in his first season at the helm following three years as an assistant to Joe Chinn after being coaxed out of retirement. He put together a Hall of Fame resume in 22 seasons at Hannibal, compiling a 185-68 record and taking the Pirates to the 2006 state title game.
The only thing that matters, however, is what happens on the field Friday night. One team will advance to play either East Buchanan or Mid-Buchanan in the state quarterfinals, the other will pack up equipment for the offseason. Football fans can only hope the game is as entertaining as the billing suggests it could be.
“This is the matchup everybody has wanted all year long,” St. Clair said. “Everybody knows what we’re going to do and what they’re going to do. It’s a matter of going out there and executing and letting the chips fall where they may.”
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