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Foe’s Speed Again Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Football’s Big Worry in Friday Home Game

WEEK 8 AREA HS GRIDIRON PREVIEW: CHS Hornets seek first 2020 win. Lewis & Clark title duel at Marceline tops area slate. Southwest Livingston visits North-West Nodaway with Highway 275 title in reach

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
  • First football meeting ever between Chillicothe, KC: East
  • Southwest Livingston can clinch share of Highway 275 Conference crown with road win
  • Marceline hosts Westran with Lewis and Clark Conference title at stake
  • Keytesville/Mendon: Northwestern game at Concordia reset to Monday night

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

The second-to-last week of the 2020 high school football season finds the Chillicothe Hornets confronting a brand-new foe with dangerous speed.

The Hornets will pursue their first victory of the season at their Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II home against Kansas City: East, a school they’ve never met before on the gridiron.

Pursue could be the operative word for CHS’ task, head coach Tim Rulo acknowledges, reporting his and his staff’s review of video of East’s Bears confirms that the Kansas City public school’s team has a couple of small, but fast, elusive, and thus dangerous backs.

“Their quarterback (5’8”, 158-pounds senior Christopher Thornton) and running back (5’8”, 145 junior Deion Miles) combination (is) very athletic,” the coach shared with the C-T Sunday after having a chance to review some previous East action.

Because those backs are not large, he says, they can be tough to pin down and get to the ground, particularly in space.

Of Thornton, Rulo states, “You’re going to have to make sure to control and contain him.” Of Miles, his description is “very athletic and very fast.”

That’s worrisome for Chillicothe’s hopes of finally putting a mark in the 2020 “wins” column, since the Hornets have had difficulty defensively thus far in controlling and corralling opponents with quick change-of-direction facility.

In front of those backs, East (2-5) has an offensive line with “quite a bit of size,” the CHS coach reports, particularly at center and the tackle spots where each Bear is listed as from 250 to 315 pounds. Mobility in that group could be lacking, however.

Although not often passing, particularly deep downfield, Rulo says East does have a big tight end (6’2”, 195-pounds senior David Toban) that splits out some and is the team’s top target.

The Hornets head coach says of the East mostly-spread-look offense, “It is something we’ve seen many times this year.”

Of what his squad must do to neutralize the Bears’ speed, he says, “Make sure we stay in our lanes (off snap and in pursuit) and contain the quarterback, because we know he’s going to be dynamic and can do a lot of things. We need to make sure we’re (in the right positions) and ready to go and force them into making some bad decisions and hopefully create some turnovers and takeaways and then capitalize on offense.”

On defense, the Bears use mostly an “even” (4- or 6-man) front that depends on speed from its linebackers and secondary to make plays. A couple of the large offensive linemen also play on the defensive line, along with another 310-pounder, Rulo notes.

“Offensively, it’s just figuring out who we’ve got (available), who’s going to be playing on Friday, and then make sure our guys are comfortable with their assignments and their jobs,” the coach states about his club’s task. He indicated De Jesus will have to sit out again, but one player recently absent with an injury is projected to return and another might be a week away.

After being reasonably productive and consistent, in terms of moving the ball, through their first six games, the Hornets bogged down on offense last week, in part because starting center Anderson De Jesus became unavailable to play the day before the game and there was limited chance to give the reconfigured line group any practice work.

That damaged the timing and effectiveness of the CHS blocking against a tough, strong Savannah club, leading to the Hornets producing only 160 yards of total offense and eight points – both about 60 percent of its prior average output. Close to half of Chillicothe’s total yardage came on a 76-yards drive in the final quarter that put up its only points.

“The pressure’s on the offense now to get out there and be scoring more points,” Rulo says of the unit he directly guides during games.

“We had some games where we were able to put up (several touchdowns). We really need to break through and get back to … getting the ball in the end zone more often.”

Chillicothe still could earn a first-round home game in the approaching district playoffs, even though currently winless. It almost certainly will, if it defeats East and then St. Joseph: Benton next week.

Rulo said he reminded the players of that in the aftermath of last Friday’s loss.

“I basically told the guys many of the things they wanted at the beginning of the season are still on the table,” he disclosed, noting the preseason list of team goals included hosting at least one district game. “… That opportunity's in front of us and we need to go get it.”

Elsewhere around the C-T coverage area in week eight, assuming no COVID-19 disruptions, the marquee matchup will be Marceline hosting Westran to, essentially, decide the Lewis and Clark Conference title and top seeding for the Class 1 District 6 playoffs.

While WHS’ Hornets are undefeated, with Marceline at home, the MHS Tigers are considered at least a slight favorite, based on their comparative performances against common opponents.

Speaking of conference titles, Southwest Livingston will visit North-West Nodaway for its Highway 275 Conference finale as a heavy favorite. If the Wildcats win, as expected, they’ll be assured of no worse than a 275 co-championship.

Brookfield (2-4) hopes to end a 4-games losing streak when it goes to Ewing: Highland (3-2) after being unexpectedly idled last Friday by Clark County’s coronavirus problems.

Trenton – like Chillicothe still in search of win No. 1 this fall at 0-5 – appears to have a tougher challenge as it hosts Gallatin (4-3). In another Grand River Conference-East clash, Polo (2-5) will go to Milan (6-1).

In the KCI Conference, Hamilton: Penney (4-3, 3-2 conf.) will welcome West Platte (4-3) in what projects to be a close game. If the host Hornets win out the last two weeks of the regular season, they could elevate themselves to the No. 3 seeding in their Class 1 district.

In the Missouri River Valley-East, Carrollton (3-4, 0-2 conf.) will hope to prevail at Holden (0-5). A win would effectively clinch the No. 4 seeding in the Trojans’ Class 1 district and likely set up a playoffs-opener at home against Slater.

In 8-man action besides Southwest Livingston’s, Braymer/Breckenridge (0-6) will be the guest of Alma: Santa Fe (0-5) Friday night. Norborne/Hardin-Central (4-3) was to road-test Hughesville: Northwest/Sedalia: Sacred Heart (4-1), but COVID-19 caught the Pettis County program enough that the game had to be canceled, N/H-C head coach Kirk Thacker confirmed Thursday evening. 

 Keytesville/Mendon: Northwestern (0-6) was due to visit recently-COVID-19-hassled Concordia (1-3). In order to get that game in, it has been reset to next Monday (Oct. 19), when CHS’ Orioles players would emerge from their current quarantine.