It all came down to the final :50 seconds for the North Callaway varsity football team at home on Friday leading 33-29 with South Callaway looking to mount one final drive from its own 25-yard line.
That put all eyes on Bulldog's quarterback Landon Horstman, and when the pass rush forced him to throw the ball just a little bit early, it was the Thunderbird's Dawson Wright who pulled in the interception to lock down the decision and allow his team to walk away with the Callaway Cup.
"That pick sealed the deal for us. Dawson Wright made plays for us on both sides of the ball, and he came up with a big one there at the end. That was exciting," said coach Kevin O'Neal. "I would have liked for him to have gone down instead of keep running, but again, big play. We had a bunch of kids make big plays for us tonight."
Just prior to that final connection, North Callaway found itself trailing 29-26 with 1:17 left in regulation after South Callaway's Peyton Leeper turned a fourth down and six into a touchdown that his team followed with a successful two-point conversion. The Thunderbirds then began the ensuing drive from their own 35 and one play later were already at the 50 after Tully Thomsen connected on a 15-yard pass to Adam Reno.
Thomsen then threw a seven-yard completion to Wright, which set up a 43-yard scoring strike to Austin Edwards at 1:06 on a play that started over the middle and stayed that way until a path of fallen defenders was lying in his wake. Once Thomsen made good on the point after attempt, North Callaway had a four-point lead that it held on to until time expired.
"That final score was all Austin. This victory feels good and we're looking to keep the (Callaway) Cup," said Thomsen. "I think this performance is going to help us play great the rest of they year and into districts and whatever is after that."
This game began with a Thunderbird's fumble on their opening drive that South Callaway scooped up and turned into a 7-0 lead at 7:37 of the first quarter on a 13-yard run run up the middle by Horstman. On the first play from scrimmage on the very next drive Reno then busted loose for a 64-yard scoring sprint to pull his team within 7-6 prior to Thomsen missing the PAT, all of which led to the Bulldogs going up 14-6 in the final minute of the quarter on a five-yard touchdown run by Kaden Helsel.
"Tully Thomsen's progression at quarterback this season has been great. Tonight was a huge game for him," said O'Neal. "His poise in the pocket is starting to come around and that young man is a winner. When South Callaway scored that final touchdown he came over to me and told me, 'I've got this'. He wanted the ball in his hands and he wanted to get it done and he did with the help of his teammates."
It was at 10:14 of the second that North Callaway pulled to within 14-12 on a 27-yard endzone pass from Thomsen to Wright. As was the theme of the night, though, South Callaway needed just one play to make it a 21-12 game on a 73-yard touchdown run by Leeper. The Thunderbird's then decided to slow things down with their ground game, and when the Bulldogs eventually responded with two offsides penalties, Jordan Delashmutt busted through the line for a five yard score.
"We didn't adjust a whole lot of things at halftime. Maybe some blocking schemes to make sure we were getting the job done," O'Neal said. "We just talked about coming out and earning the respect of South Callaway. We needed to come out with some grit and get the job done. When we execute our assignments we should be able to get the job done. The kids definitely did that in the second half."
Now down 21-20 to start the third, North Callaway took possession at 9:39 on its own four yard line and once again looked to run the ball inside. Once the Thunderbird's had worked the ball out to the 50, that was all Thomsen needed as he and Wright made up the difference on one long pass play at 4:16 that gave their team its first lead at 26-21.
"Winning the Callaway Cup is awesome for our school and our community. I can't be more proud of my boys," said O'Neal. "They came out and played hard and now we've got to do it again next week so we can win another one. We talked all weeks with these guys about hard work and how it pays off on Friday's. Hopefully they see that and continue to work this hard next week and we continue to progress in the direction we want to go."
North Callaway, 3-1 overall, is at Clopton/Elsberry for an Eastern Missouri Conference game on Sept. 15.