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Chillicothe (Mo.) Football Hornets Eye Lafayette as Potential First 2020 Conquest Friday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
The 2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets' offensive line, including, from left here, Josh Watterson, Trace Rardon, and (far right) center Anderson De Jesus - was called on to run block a school-record 67 times in the Sept. 25 game at Kansas City: St.  Pius X. The linemen likely will be called on to continue carrying a similarly-heavy workload this Friday (Oct. 2) when CHS visits St. Joseph: Lafayette.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

First things first:  The opportunity for the 2020 Chillicothe High School football Hornets to use their strong finish in last Friday’s 42-27 loss at unbeaten Kansas City: St. Pius X as a springboard toward a possible first victory this season apparently will present itself Friday (Oct. 2).

CHS head coach Tim Rulo told the C-T late this past weekend that St. Joseph: Lafayette head coach Eric McDowell had told him the Fighting Irish were expected to have sufficient player numbers to face the visiting Hornets this Friday at 7 p.m. As of the posting of this story Thursday, that remained true.

Lafayette did not play last week, due to COVID-19 restrictions that left the Irish with less than 20 players available.

Whether the health situation for the north St. Joseph school will aid Chillicothe’s cause as it tries to reverse course from an 0-5 start won’t be known until the game plays out, but at least it’s expected to be played.

Lafayette stands 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Midland Empire Conference at present, having defeated a smaller school – Atchison, Kan. – 28-7  in week two and winless crosstown rival Benton 13-6 the next week.

LHS’ losses have been relatively-impressive ones – a 28-26 defeat at the hands of a Harrisonville team which nearly beat a COVID-stripped Maryville squad the next week and another 2-pointer to MEC foe Savannah in its most-recent game in week four.

Because of the health problems which have impacted the overall school for a couple of weeks, Rulo says the Irish coaches have needed to deploy a larger number of players than otherwise it might have used early on.

“They’ve had a lot of different guys play,” the Hornets coach noted, explaining that that has complicated getting a good scouting “fix” on who the Fighting Irish’s best players and biggest threats might be. However, video does show senior Miles Henderson and junior Carlos Cortez, both of whom started at running back positions last year, have taken snaps at quarterback.

Generally, the LHS attack has seemed to be geared to getting its smaller, but quick, backs isolated on defenders in space through sweeps, reverses, and wide receiver screen passes and “hitch” routes. That tack worked very well for the Irish against Chillicothe a few years ago.

“I think literally one-third of their pass plays are screens,” Rulo shared his observations with the C-T Sunday. “They also do a lot of different ’wildcat’ formations where they’ll take running backs and wide receivers and put them (behind center) and just direct-snap them the ball and make plays.

“… They just do a lot of different, unique things to try to figure out ways to get their athletes the ball in space, which makes sense, because they are very athletic.”

Defensively, Lafayette is likely to try to counteract Chillicothe’s strong interior blocking with eight or nine defenders in or near “the box,” Rulo anticipates.

“Right now, they’re in a 4-4,” he said Sunday. “That’s what they ran last year against us.

“Sometimes they do drop into a 5-3 – old-school with five defensive linemen with their hand in the dirt. We may see that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they switched to that.”

As for what he hopes to see from his own team, Rulo obviously would love to see a continuation of the alacrity, abandon, and aggressive mentality the Hornets played with after they fell far behind St. Pius X last Friday.

“The second half was much better,” he stated following that loss. “… Able to play with a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. The guys started playing pretty loose, I felt like. … That was the best second half we’ve had all season.”

The difference in energy level and pace of play the final 1-1/2 quarters at Kansas City was plainly visible.

“It was good to see the guys just ‘flying around,’ playing football,” the CHS coach agreed.

“… We want to build on this.”

The Chillicothe game plan almost certainly will be to continue to try to dominate time of possession with a methodical, grind-them-down attack, trying to make sure to get points out of those desired long drives. On defense, trying to clog up running lanes and rallying many pursuers to the ball once the play starts to develop will be important, but sound tackling – both one-on-one and as a group – will be critical to limiting the Irish gaining yards in chunks.

Although not as widespread as Lafayette’s temporarily was, Chillicothe has felt the impact of the coronavirus, too.

Several players have isolated from the team for varying periods of time after being potentially exposed to the illness in non-team settings.

However, on top of that, the Hornets have had multiple players who either were full- or part-time starters or key reserves miss at least one game – and, in several instances, multiple games – with injuries or other health issues, Rulo has confirmed. The result has been significant juggling of the defensive unit in particular, he notes.

No CHS players who missed the St.Pius X game are anticipated to be available for Friday’s contest at St. Joseph. In addition, at least a couple of additional players were viewed as doubtful, due to injuries.