Boonville Pirates football coach Greg Hough had the best word to describe the first three games of the season for the Pirates: gauntlet.
After facing a Pleasant Hill team in the season opener, who won its district last year, the Pirates hosted the Holden Eagles-another district champion-in Week 2. But if you thought those two games were tough, Boonville may face its toughest test yet tonight on the road against the 2-0 and No. 2 ranked Blair Oaks Falcons starting at 7 p.m.
The Falcons, who are coming off an appearance in the semifinal round of the state playoffs last year, avenged that loss in the season opener by beating Class 3 Maryville 38-35 at William Jewell University in Liberty. Then, in Week 2, the Falcons went on the road again and came away with another convincing win over traditionally strong Oak Grove 48-0.
The game Friday night will also mark the conference opener for both teams in the Tri-County Conference and the first for Boonville since moving over from the North Central Missouri Conference.
Hough said his team has to be perfect in all phases of the game to beat Blair Oaks.
“We have to play our best game up front,” Hough said. “It will take a perfect effort by us. We haven’t played a perfect game yet and we probably never will, but that’s our goal. They are one of the best teams in Class 2 football. It’s been proven already this year in their game they played against Maryville-the defending state champions in Class 3. They also shutout a traditionally pretty good  Oak Grove team in Week 2. This is one of those games where you can look at them and say yes they return 21 out of 22 starters and look at their success and just go down there and get your butt kicked and be ok with that. But I am not ok with that. We are going to prepare and we are going to make sure we step on the bus Friday night with the mind set that we can win. If I am not trying to do that I am not doing the kids justice and if they’re not believing in what we are trying to present them as coaches, they’re not doing us justice.”
While putting up over 900 yards in the first two games of the season, Hough said again it’s going to be assignment, alignment football for Boonville.
Returning all-state quarterback Nolan Hair and all-state receiver Ben Thomas on offense, it’s easy to see why the Falcons have already put up 86 points in the first two games of the season.
Hair has completed better than 50 percent of his passes while connecting on 26 of 46 attempts for 464 yards and nine touchdowns. As for Thomas, the senior receiver leads Blair Oaks in receiving yards with nine catches for 269 yards and five touchdowns.
Blair Oaks also returns 10 of 11 starters on the offensive side of the football this season.
“They are going to be seasoned,” Hough said. “There is no early in the season getting used to the system and things like that. To me I feel like they are probably running a better system this year under Coach Ted LePage as the first year head coach because of their quarterback skill set. It’s all RPO (run, pass, option) stuff if you look at what they do. Their quarterback has been a starter for at least a year now and to be honest he is a Division I type athlete. To me is a lot like a Johnny Manziel, Brett Favre type kid. Kind of a gunslinger mentality. He is going to take the risk of throwing across his body and scrambling and stuff like that to make a big play happen.
“We are going to have to make sure that we assign correctly and then you almost have to treat it like option style football. Everybody has to do their job and everybody has to trust their teammates around them. You almost have to make the decision going into it because of what all they do with their spread formations and stuff. Do you try to take away the run game because they have a very good running back, who is very, very physical, or do you try and contain the quarterback? They are full of weapons. Again, we are going to try to create some turnovers and just play fast and physical.”
Of course the Falcons are just as stingy on defense while giving up just 35 points in their first two games.
Hough said Blair Oaks returns all 11 starters from last year and that’s bringing back all of their talent from a team that was in the semifinals last year.
So far this season, senior safety Braydan Pritchett is the leading tackler for the Falcons with 12 total tackles. Junior linebacker Sam Luebbering, meanwhile, has 11 tackles on the season while sophomore safety Carson Prenger has 10.
Hough said Blair Oaks is very fast and athletic on defense.
“They are one of those teams when you pop on film as a coach it’s what you want your team to look like,” Hough said. “You want your team to look fast and physical. There are only 11 guys out there but it seems like there are 20 just because of how they cover the field and how they run to the football. They are very discipline on defense but not real big. Their defensive line kids aren’t real big kids. They are in that 210-230 pound range, but they are technically sound and they do very good with their hands. They attack with their hands and their linebackers are athletic kids. Their defensive backs are a lot of their kids that play wide receiver so they have some height and some size. They are obviously going to present our best match that we are going to see all year. They are just as good as a Pleasant Hill if not better.”
Hough said some will also view this as a David versus Goliath type game. But to him, the Pirates have nothing to lose going into that situation.
“They are getting the recognition from the state and they got the recognition within the conference,” Hough said. “When you pop on their film you see some very impressive things fundamentally. You see kids flying to the football and you see kids executing things at a high level. When I send our film out to coaches that’s what I want them to say about us. To me it’s not so much as David versus Goliath but it’s one of those games where to be the best you have to beat the best and if we talk about how we want to be champions we want to be recognized around the state. This is one of those great opportunities to start to earn that respect.”
Hough said also sees Friday night’s game as being of the biggest environments his team will play in all season with this being their home opener.
He said he while the crowds at Boonville have been fantastic the first two games, it’s going to be a big, big game with this being the conference opener for both teams as well.
“No matter what is outside the white line, we have to focus on what happens in between the white lines and we have to start early,” Hough said. “We have to start earlier than Week 1, where we never really got going, or Week 2, where it felt like we didn’t get going until midway through the first quarter. If we start out slow like that again, even against an inferior opponent, we were down 6-0. We start out like that against Blair Oaks, we are going to be down 14 or even 21 points.”