Just like an unwelcome house guest or that one relative who's always in need, the Mexico varsity football team will be hosting Southern Boone in the Class 3, District 6, semifinals this Friday whether it wants to or not.
Because this visit is set in stone and will be taking place regardless of how cold or windy things get, the Bulldogs will welcome their guests the same way it's treated every other visitor this season. On offense that means hard-nosed, run plays between-the-tackles complimented by the occasional pitch play and even more occasional pass.
As for the defense, if a team can handle the up-front pressure created by Bulldogs linemen Terrese Aaron and Wyatt Turner, then look out for defensive backs Jasean White and Cameron Holman because they're lying in wait. Jonathon Grubb and Matthew Huffman also spend plenty of time out there occupying the space between these duos, leaving little to the imagination and even less for the opposition.
"Defensively I believe we have have played solid over the past few weeks. In the last three games we have given up seven touchdowns, five of those started in our territory. Of those seven scores, five came off turnovers, and one was bad coverage on kickoff that started on our 32 yard line," said coach Steve Haag. "Offensively the story is hang onto the football. We can move the football and score points, but not if you give it away. Last week we did a great job blocking everyone. We need to continue this."
Mexico's initial foray into the postseason came last Friday at home against Living Word Christian. Because the Bulldogs were narrowly eliminated from the playoffs last year in the district opener by this same opponent, when the Eagles took leads of 14-7 in the first quarter and 28-24 in the third, the squad dug down deep and came back with a 28-point fourth quarter to win 52-28.
"From the time we tied the score in the second quarter I thought we played physical and with more emotion," Haag said. "Those two things can lead to success on the football field. We must continue to play with physical and with emotion. I would like us to improve on our open field tackling and ball security."
The winner of this contest advances to the district title game on Nov. 3 against either Wright City, 6-4 overall, or Blair Oaks, 10-0 overall. The problem with that is during the regular season Southern Boone downed Wright City 31-28 at home on Aug. 25 and lost at Blair Oaks 30-7 on Sept. 22. Mexico, on the other hand, didn't play either of those teams in 2017.
That means, because familiarity is not on their side, the Bulldogs may have to utilize any and all game planning the opposition hasn't seen yet and then worry about the next step after earning a district title.
"Offensively (Southern Boone) runs the ball well out of the pistol spread formation. They can also throw the ball, but have done a really good job running it so they have been keeping it on the ground," said Haag. "Defensively early they ran a 3-5 scheme, but have since changed to a 4-3. They are big upfront and get off the ball. They will be physical and we must match them in physicality."
During the regular season Southern Boone won at California 49-6 on Sept. 29 while Mexico defeated the Pintos 28-14 at home on Aug. 25. Both squads also played Fulton with the Bulldogs winning at home 28-7 on Oct. 6 and the Eagles eliminating the Hornets from the state championship tournament last Friday 34-15 at home. How much any of that information means isn't as cut and dry as it might appear, though.
"I don't know how much common opponents play into game planning as this point in the season. We do what we do, and Southern Boone does what they do," Haag said. "Special teams have been strong for us this year. I have a lot of players that sell out and play hard on those plays. Hopefully we can continue to play solid in this area."