Veteran backfield has helped Cameron to 2-1 start entering this Friday's Midland Empire Conference contest in Chillicothe. Grid Hornets own 15 wins in row over Dragons
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Chillicothe HS’ 2020 football Hornets hope 13 won’t be an unlucky number for them this week.
The Hornets (0-3, 0-1 conf.) have not lost to the Cameron Dragons, their opponent for this Friday’s slated Chillicothe Homecoming game over the past 13 years, but extending that run of success this week figures to be a far-tougher challenge than during most of the intervening years.
Since a 28-13 loss at Cameron in 2006, the Hornets not only have slain the Dragons every year and twice a year a couple of times – 15-straight times total, but all but two of those contests (2012-13) saw the final margin of victory be at least 17 points.
With Chillicothe, for the second time in three years under head coach Tim Rulo, reaching its week-4 clash with its closest Midland Empire Conference neighbor without a win, Cameron, in its second year under veteran coach Jeff Wallace, will take Bob Fairchild Field at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II with a 2-1 overall mark and a veteran set of skill-position performers.
While the Hornets were losing very competitively to Class 4 schools Marshall and Kirksville the first two weeks of this season, Cameron was mopping up on two Kansas City public school squads. The Dragons clubbed Northeast 63-0 in their opener and Southeast 42-0 in week two before being brought back down to earth somewhat by another KC squad, St. Pius X, 42-22 last Friday as MEC play began.
Chillicothe was drilled 62-7 at Maryville in its league opener, but the game against the defending conference champs saw the Hornets have an amazing opening touchdown drive and an encouraging first half which ended with them trailing only 20-7 and having had two offensive series end inside the Spoofhounds’ 25.
What primarily makes Cameron more dangerous this year is the presence of numerous experienced veterans at skill positions.
Primary among them is senior quarterback Tyler Campbell, a third-year starter able to hurt an opponent with either his arm or his legs. In last year’s 42-25 Chillicothe victory at Cameron, he rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries and completed seven of 18 throws for 82 more yards and another score (plus one interception).
He is not the only threat the Dragons have, though.
Junior running back Dylan Hurst gained 124 yards on 17 carries against the Hornets last year as more of a straight-ahead runner complementing Campbell’s more-elusive and perimeter-geared treks.
In addition to that duo, Cameron has junior twins Bryson and Ty Speer, who primarily serve as passing targets, but can be dangerous taking handoffs on reverses and jet sweeps.
“They are definitely a much-improved program,” Rulo remarked to the C-T shortly after last Friday’s game at Maryville. “… Cameron will definitely be a test Friday night.”
With the Dragons’ 2019 offense – including an offensive line that had only one senior – accumulating a whopping 417 yards of total offense against a far-more-veteran and healthier Chillicothe defense a year ago, the expectation is that it will be even-more dangerous this go-around with an additional year’s experience in Wallace’s offense.
“They have a good nucleus of athletes, … but … it still comes down to up front,” acknowledges the Hornets coach, “and they’ve gotten better there.”
Rulo likens the Cameron offensive approach to that of week two Hornets foe Kirksville, in terms of its regular use of pulling linemen and motioning backs.
For Chillicothe – expected to remain without one would-be defensive starter and to be minus, for the first full game, a previous offense starter for a while, due to injuries, sustained ball control that keeps the Dragons’ offense on the sidelines will be a key component of the host’s game plan.
“You’ve got to win the game up front,” asserts Rulo.
Despite the winless start to 2020 with a nearly-totally-new group of starters, the Chillicothe coach hopes his squad takes heart from the example of the 2018 Hornets, who gained their initial victory at home over Cameron, 34-8. That Hornets club, also largely devoid of returning starters, overcame a 0-3 beginning to finish a respectable 4-7.
“We were just like this in 2018 and we came out and finished much, much better,” Rulo reminds. “We want to be able to do at least that, if not more.”
He added, “We need to focus on ourselves. We’ve got to focus on what we need to do and how we need to get better.”
“There are some glimpses of really great stuff, aren’t there?,” he mused to the C-T after last week’s game, referencing the ultra-successful first possession and generally-competitive first half. “We’ll just keep plugging away.”