One year ago tomorrow, Boonville lost to California 21-14. With that loss came a three-game losing streak and a 2-3 start to the season, the Pirates’ worst since coach Greg Hough arrived in 2018.
Hough knew things needed to change.
“The biggest self-evaluation was Coach Hough,” Hough said Wednesday. “At that time, I was calling every single play on offense. We were in a wristband format, and that just wasn’t best for our kids.”
In a week, the Pirates shifted to an all-no-huddle offense, calling plays with hand signals and signs. Hough also handed play-calling duties to assistant coach Paul Stevens, a responsibility coaches are reluctant to give up.
“This game can be very humbling,” Hough said. “But at the end of the day, we as coaches are going to do what’s best for our kids, even if that’s the head coach stepping back a little bit.”
Fast-forward one year later. Boonville is 8-2 since those changes were made, including a playoff win over the Pintos and, of course, last week’s 41-35 upset-of-the-decade-style win over Blair Oaks.
Would Hough say last year’s loss to California contributed directly to beating the Falcons almost one year later?
“For sure,” Hough said.
Quarterback Colby Caton agrees. Caton accounted for 376 yards of total offense in the win, 133 of which came on two plays: a 53-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sweep, and an 80-yard bomb down the right sideline to receiver Jamesian McKee.
“The California loss last year really hurt us as a team,” Caton said. “We really had to gut-check ourselves.”
Gut-check moments were a theme of the second half, a half that began with Boonville trailing by seven. First, with the Pirates trailing by one and Blair Oaks driving, Boonville forced a fumble, and Caton made that 80-yard connection on the next play.
“That was a big turning point,” Caton said. “It was good to see everybody on our team’s eyes light up and look at each other, ‘We got this.’”
Shortly after, Boonville took a two-touchdown lead on an 18-play, 77-yard drive that lasted nine minutes. That was significant because the Pirates have a big-play offense; driving the length of the field at under 4.3 yards per play is exactly what defenses game-plan to make them do.
And they scored anyway.
“Fourteen-to-18-year-old kids, they can break your heart or they can make you extremely happy,” Hough said. “And Friday night, those kids made me extremely happy.”
That drive ended in a 3-yard touchdown run for Caton, one of three touchdown runs he had on the night.
“The offensive line was insane,” Caton said. “They were getting an insane amount of push on the front. And outside on the blocking, Dakota Troost, Jackson Johns, Jamesian McKee, getting out in space and making some blocks. Like I said, up front was crazy, so that was a big portion of our success.”
Hough doesn’t think he enjoys victories enough as a coach, often opting to look toward Boonville’s next opponent, this week California. But while his post-practice speeches have drilled home the point that the Pirates are far from done, he has taken some extra time to celebrate.
“That’s actually probably been the most exciting thing, is going back and seeing all the pictures and seeing the videos (of the postgame celebration),” Hough said.
You can’t really predict the emotions of beating a longtime rival after years of losses until it happens.
“Lots of crying, lots of smiles, lots of hugs,” Caton said. “At first, I was honestly speechless. I couldn’t believe it. Eventually, I got into that celebration stage, but at first it was just unreal.”
Game of the Week: Rock Bridge hosts Helias in pivotal matchup
The matchup is familiar, but the yearly roster turnover of high school football has given this year’s Rock Bridge-Helias game a fresh look. When these teams faced off in Week 5 last season, it was quarterback Jacob Weaver who led the Crusaders to a 56-24 win and gave the Bruins their first loss of the season. This year, it will be junior Drew Miller quarterbacking Helias’ offense.
Rock Bridge will also show a different team in this year’s meeting, but it retains its quarterback, Nathan Dent, who was 9-of-20 with three passing touchdowns in last year’s contest.
Dent was sidelined for last week’s game against Capital City after dealing with health issues earlier in the week, but he’s set to return to the field tonight.
“He’s ready to go,” Rock Bridge coach Van Vanatta said. … “He’s a hundred percent.”
A healthy Dent presents a problem for opposing defenses. The Bruins’ quarterback is a threat with both his legs and his arm, but he’ll be put to the test tonight against a Helias defense that has surrendered 28 total points over its last three games.
Rock Bridge’s defense has had its ups and downs. The Bruins allowed 35 points in their season-opening loss and 34 points to Jefferson City in Week 3. However, in Weeks 2 and 4, Rock Bridge shut out Smith-Cotton and allowed 14 points to Capital City, respectively.
With four weeks of film to look back on, Vanatta believes the Bruins have identified — and hopefully addressed — their weaknesses.
“We’ve gotta stop that outside run, and if you look at the (Capital) City game last week, that’s what it was — it was a deep-ball pass that scored a touchdown and an outside run,” Vanatta said. “We’re trying to clean that up. We’re getting there and we’re getting better and we’re making some adjustments there defensively.”
As part of those adjustments, Tomisaac Johnson has shifted from safety to cornerback. The recent return of senior Adrian Davis from injury helps the secondary as well.
As Rock Bridge searches for defensive consistency, Miller and Helias’ offense will provide indicators on their progress.
Key Matchup: Undefeated Hallsville faces Osage
Hallsville coach Justin Conyers compared the result of last year’s win over Osage to a basketball score, and he was right. The game, which took place exactly one year ago tomorrow, ended 78-50.
Hallsville is off to a 4-0 start. Its closest game was won by two scores, and they’ve already put up another “basketball score,” dropping 67 points against Versailles in Week 3.
Osage is 2-2 but has had a chance to win every game it's played. After beginning the season 2-0, it suffered an overtime loss to Eldon in Week 3 and fell two points short of California the following week.
“We have to prepare better, not just on the field but off the field,” Osage coach Shannon Jolley said. “We have to do the things that successful football programs do on a regular basis.
“Our kids have done an outstanding job of working hard and playing hard,” Jolley continued. “The thing that we’re missing right now — or the thing that we’re trying to improve on — is our mental focus and discipline and preparation towards each week.”
Jolley noted this year’s defense’s maturity and in-game experience as a reason Osage should see improvement on the defensive side against Hallsville this time around, but he is fully aware of the talent and explosiveness Hallsville’s offense brings to the table.
Hallsville’s run-pass-option offense starts with senior quarterback Tyger Cobb, but it’s Cobb’s connection with wide receivers AJ Austene and Landyn Sievers that makes the offense so deadly.
“My very first year here in 2019, all three of those guys were our scout team guys, and they gave us a great look week in and week out, and then you go and you watch them play at the JV level and you saw the connection there, so there’s just a really good feel for one another,” Conyers said.
Osage will have its hands full with Hallsville’s offensive trio as it attempts to get back on track in Week 5.
Player interview: Michael White, RB/S/PR, Mexico
Mexico is 4-0 for the first time since 2005, winning its first four games by an average of 28.5 points. That mark is in large part due to the play of Michael White, who has dominated all three phases of the game so far.
The Bulldogs face their toughest test this week in another undefeated team, Hannibal. In advance of the big matchup, the Missourian spoke to White for this week’s player interview.
Columbia Missourian: You’ve been really effective this year in all three phases. How do you manage that kind of workload?”
Michael White: Practice. Practice like you play. And I got good players on defense and offense to block for me. Just teammates, helping me to work to get better.
CM: Are you close with your teammates?
MW: Very close. We’ve been playing for eight, six years.
CM: What do you think the 4-0 start has meant to the community?
MW: Meant a lot. Big to Coach Haag and everybody else, the fans around us. They’re really supportive.
CM: You’ve had a lot of success as a punt returner. Can you take me through what’s going through your head when you’re running back a punt?
MW: Follow my blockers. We got good blockers in there. One kid, Caleb Prater, he told me to follow him when I scored in that last game against Marshall.
CM: You guys have a tough game coming up this week with Hannibal. How are you preparing?
MW: Practice hard. We should be good, though. It’s gonna be a tough game, we just gotta grind it out.
CM: What’s your mindset heading into the week?
MW: Be focused. Don’t let nothing distract us. It’s homecoming week, but we don’t want nothing distracting us.