Hornets will host young, improved Cameron Dragons Friday (Sept. 14), pursuing initial points and victory of 4-weeks-old season and first-year head coach Tim Rulo's inaugural CHS triumph
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Even though the all-time series between the two schools is not totally skewed (46-31-2, according to the data researched and listed online by Randy Dean), Chillicothe High School’s football Hornets – for the last four decades – have owned the closest thing to a current geographical rivalry they have.
Since 1977, the Hornets have defeated western “neighbor” Cameron 27 times in 32 meetings, including the last 11 in a row.
Given that and the natural desire to add to the festive atmosphere of Homecoming Week, it’s no wonder that the game against the Dragons repeatedly has been Chillicothe’s Homecoming contest, as it will be tonight.
However, while the outcome of the Chillicothe-Cameron clash largely has been a foregone conclusion since 2008 – the Hornets have won the last six by a composite 284-21 margin, the 2018 meeting brings the squads together in unfamiliar roles.
After consecutive winless years in 2016 and ’17 and a 3-calendar-years drought between victories that they ended three weeks ago, the Dragons enter tonight’s y o'clock Midland Empire Conference contest at Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II with the better overall 2018 record – 2-1, having opened the campaign with triumphs over suspect Kansas City foes Northeast and East before falling in the league opener to KC: St. Pius X 28-14 last week.
On the flip side, facing clearly-tougher competition, Chillicothe is off to its first 0-3 start in generations, including being yet to score, a circumstance not experienced by the Hornets since 1932.
The 1932 Hornets finally scored – seven points – in their fourth game en route to a 1-5-1 record for the last of the nine seasons Sam Ransdell coached the team.
This is the first year of Tim Rulo’s reign as Chillicothe head coach and, following last week’s 47-0 loss at Maryville, understandably, he and his players are more than anxious to “get off the schneid” on both counts – scoring and winning.
“I felt there were definitely a lot of positive things we saw offensively (against Maryville), the Hornets coach says. “It’s just hard (to recognize) when it’s intermixed with tough things.”
“It’s climbing up the mountain and getting closer to the top every time,” he says of the process of improving against tough competition.
Cameron’s early success has come despite – or perhaps because of – third-year head coach John Kliewer’s ultra-liberal use of young players. No fewer than eight of the Dragons’ 22 starting positions on offense or defense are occupied by seven different sophomores, including quarterback/safety Tyler Campbell, and freshman Bryson Speer holds down another two.
With that influx of youth comes less psychological ”baggage” from the recent rash of one-sided defeats, even if it might present a disadvantage in physical maturity. In the coach’s estimation, the younger players bring a clean slate, in terms of their belief in themselves and the system Kliewer and his staff teach.
“Our success comes from the guys believing in what we're doing and believing in our talent that we can make plays when the opportunity comes and recover when faced with adversity,.” he says of the early going
Against weak Northeast, the Dragons racked up 40 points, then got a touchdown each from four separate players as they bested East 24-8.
Stepping up in caliber of competition by a couple of notches last week, Cameron’s new resolve was tested and passed.
Despite allowing three long scoring runs to strong St. Pius X senior tailback Ben Wade in the first half and falling behind 20-0, Cameron did not panic.
Instead, having tried unsuccessfully to move the ball on the ground against the Warriors, it adjusted, utilizing Campbell’s arm as the primary weapon.
A week after throwing for 231 yards against East, the athletic sophomore connected on 13 of 24 throws for 222 yards against St. Pius X. He hit senior Elliot Turner with a 45-yards scoring strike in the final 75 seconds of the first half to give Cameron some momentum, then found quick senior back Dalton Fuller for a 17-yards touchdown less than four minutes into the second half to bring the Dragons with six points – 20-14 – less than five minutes after they trailed by 20.
St. Pius X could not salt away the win in its MEC debut until the last four minutes of the game when Wade scored a fourth time.
“Very impressed with what they’re doing,” Rulo says of Cameron. “… They’re going to come here and they’re going to want to make some noise and we need to step up and play well.”
While both Fuller – characterized by Rulo as “kind of small ‘scat-back’ (who) likes to bounce around back there, make a lot of moves … one of those ‘lightning-in-a-bottle’ guys” – and Turner made four catches apiece for nearly 100 yards and a score, the 5’7”, 153-pounds Campbell was having a terrific all-around performance. Beyond his passing yardage and accuracy, the 10th grader rushed for a team-best 68 yards on only eight runs and led the Dragons’ defense with 12 tackles, 11 logged as unassisted, from his strong safety spot.
Two classmates also stood out on the defensive side. Inside linebacker Camren Hedgpeth (5’11”, 180), who returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown against East, had five solo tackles among the six he was in on and outside linebacker Hunter Weisgerber (6’, 220) made six unassisted stops and helped on three others. Cornerback Turner matched Weisgerber’s total tackles and also made an interception against St. Pius X.
In what should be encouraging to Chillicothe’s struggling offense, Cameron did surrender 400 total yards last week – 336 of them on the ground and 258 to the 195-pounds Wade. The Dragons’ offense, as indicated, did not move the ball well with the run, amassing only 67 yards.
“The early wins have been great for the team so far,” Kliewer said of the positive frame of mind his team brings into tonight’s game. “We still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be.”
Personnel-wise, Cameron’s interior lines do have a good amount of heft.
On offense, where four of the five are underclassmen and three sophomores, it has a 280-pounder and a 220-pounder (no weights are known for a couple of the 10th graders who apparently were pleasant preseason and early-season surprises in earning starting berths).
On defense, two of the three down linemen are seniors and the other a junior. Senior nose guard Christien Hawk was listed by coach Kliewer prior to the season as 6’ and 300 pounds and tackle Torren Boguslaw, a 2-way lineman, at 6’1”, 280. The other tackle tips the scales at 220.
All four linebackers have decent to very good size, ranging from 170 to 220 pounds.
Scheme-wise, Cameron has shown both 3-4 and 4-3 “looks” on defense this season, according to Rulo. On offense, with Campbell operating from the “pistol,” it tends to be in a single-back set with a tight end, split end, and either one or two backs flanked wide.
Given Cameron’s unsuccessful recent history – overall and against Chillicothe and the Hornets’ offensive woes and giveaway-prone ways thus far, it’s not surprising Kliewer cites avoidance of self-inflicted damage as the pivotal factor.
“Whoever wins, (it) will be because that team took care of the football and forced the other team to make mistakes,” the Dragons mentor postulates.
Being jealously and zealously protective of the ball is a goal yet to be achieved by the 2018 Hornets. They enter this game minus-9 in the takeaway/giveaway stat category with eight lost fumbles and three passes intercepted in the first three games and only one takeaway in each of those categories.
Rulo says his team’s chances of creating Cameron turnovers start with making the Dragons one-dimensional.
“We need to be able to limit the running game with as few defensive linemen as possible,” he shares. “That way, when they do throw it, we can be able to get in those passing lanes or be able to cover those guys (with more bodies) and be able to pick passes off.”
In terms of health, there was a possibility early this week that senior starting center Drake Lightner, already battling a left hand/arm injury that had him playing with a cast on it at Maryville, might not be available because of a possible concussion sustained in last Friday’s game. However, Rulo reports, he has been cleared medically for full participation and should start.
Indications are junior starting running back/defensive linemane Isaih Kille still is at least two weeks away from a possible return to practice. He suffered some knee ligament damage in the season opener, he has told reporters.