Loeffler's Link

Nov. 10, 2016

WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- Blair Oaks is hosting McCluer South-Berkeley in a sporting event Friday night.

Good thing for the home team it's not a track meet. This is not to say the Falcons aren't fast, because they are ... especially for a Class 3 team.

But the Bulldogs are FAST.

This is a track team in helmets and shoulder pads.

"The games I've watched them play," Blair Oaks coach Terry Walker said, "they've just overwhelmed people with their speed."

There are certainly differences between speed in track and speed in football --- you can tackle the guy in the latter.

That would be frowned upon in the former, blowing up the other guy at the start of the 100-meter dash.

Catch them if you can, as the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (11-0) come to the Falcon Athletic Complex to tangle with the second-ranked Falcons (11-0) in the Class 3 quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday.

"Their skill guys are really fast --- they have a lot of skill kids who can make plays," Walker said. "We have to prevent the big plays and tackle well in space, if you're going to give yourself a chance to be successful.

"Defensively, if they do make a mistake, they have enough speed to still make the play. Usually, you teach a kid to be in a position where the defender has to run around you to get to the ball. But these kids, they can run around you and still get to the ball."

Speed kills. And oh by the way, they're big, too.

"They have incredibly big offensive and defensive lines," Walker said. "They average 250 or 260, maybe more, and they have a couple of defensive tackles who are 275, 280. So they've got some big, ol' kids."

While Blair Oaks features a star running back in senior Jake Van Ronzelen --- who's rushed for 1,627 yards this season, putting him within 76 yards of the school record of 1,703 set by Justin Eiken in 2008 --- the Bulldogs come at you in waves. Six backs have gained at least 222 yards, led by junior Devon Blanchard's 601 yards (9.1 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Tavian Willis has completed 92-of-140 passes for 1,673 yards and 20 touchdowns, compared to only three interceptions. Their top receivers are senior John White (20 catches, 25.1 avg., seven touchdowns) and senior Jordan Cole (20, 17.0, six). 

"With the way the game is so spread out now," Walker said, "you have to play with great gap integrity. You have to have 11 guys chasing the football and when they get you in space, you have to do a good job of tackling in the open field.

"They're going to generate some missed tackles, but if you have other guys pursuing the ball, hopefully he's there to clean up your missed tackle.

"What I didn't like last week (against Southern Boone) is that we would have a missed tackle, then we wouldn't have another guy there to finish off the play."

While the Bulldogs can be explosive on offense --- they're averaging 44 ppg. --- their defense is even better. They've allowed --- get this --- 75 points all season.

"I'm really impressed with what they do defensively," Walker said. "They've got two big anchors in the middle who do a great job of controlling the (inside) run game. Then they do a really good job of bringing guys off the edge and keeping the quarterback in the pocket --- they do a great job of generating sacks (39 this season).

"Then they probably have the best secondary we've seen all year, with regards to playing the football when it's in the air. They are always around the football."

The Bulldogs have 16 interceptions, with two of those coming in last week's 12-7 district-championship win over St. Charles West. Both interceptions were by Tyriq Arties and he returned both for touchdowns, one of those covering 98 yards.

"We'll have to execute and understand that sometimes," Walker said, "an incomplete pass is a good play."

The Falcons have won their 11 games this by an average of 31 point., which is impressive. But the Bulldogs are even better, winning by an average of 36 points.

In other words, last week's result was a rarity for this team. So if Blair Oaks can belt McCluer South into an early deficit, say a two-touchdown deficit, it would be interesting to see how the Bulldogs react.

"Certainly, that's the way we'd like to start the game," Walker sad. "It would stand to reason since they haven't been in a bunch of close games, there may be some question marks if we were able to do that. But you have to go out and do it."

The winner of this game will play either Owensville (12-0) or fourth-ranked Monett (11-1) in the semifinals; Blair Oaks would either host Monett or play at Owensville.

For the Bulldogs, they'll be seeking their first trip to the semfinals in 28 years, back when Ronald Reagan was president. For the Falcons, it's been 12 months.

And if you were curious --- and counting the days when McCluer South-Berkeley was simply known as Berkeley --- the Bulldogs are less than than 18 months removed from winning their 16th track and field state championship.

Catch them if you can.

"The size and speed, it is what it is," Walker said. "There's no sense worrying about it, because you can't do anything about it. At the end of the day, if you play your technique, if you play hard, chase the football and stay on blocks, that kind of marginalizes all those size and speed advantages.

"That's what we're hoping to be able to do."

Catch them if you can: Falcons

​set to tangle with speedy Bulldogs

Helias still can't solve

Hannibal; Blair Oaks

​moves to Elite 8

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at loefflerslink@hotmail.com.