CHARLESTON -- The marquee matchup in this week's area high school football action features two unbeaten teams, the Charleston Bluejays and the Caruthersville Tigers.
If comparing performances against common opponents can be used as a measuring stick, both the Bluejays and the Tigers have faced the same two teams in their first two games.
Charleston (2-0) owns a 34-14 win over rival Sikeston and a 31-21 SEMO Conference victory over Kennett, while Caruthersville (2-0) crushed Sikeston 60-6 and mauled conference opponent Kennett 60-0.
As a result of its domination, Caruthersville is currently the top-ranked Class 2 team in the state, according to this week's Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters' poll.
"It's a coach's nightmare is to be ranked number one after the first week," said Caruthersville head coach David Gilmore, "but we're using it as a big-time motivator. Our kids are relaxed and we've gotten our program to where we're getting respect. I'm really proud of the way our kids are handling it right now. They want to prove to everybody that we're not resting on last year's laurels."
In 2003, The Tigers went 11-2 and advanced to the state semifinals.
Both of these teams would, of course, like to protect their unbeaten records, but more is at stake in this Bootheel battle.
The winner takes the driver's seat in the SEMO Central Conference and sends an early statement should both teams prevail in its respective districts and meet again in a sectional matchup during the postseason.
"This is going to be a huge game for us," said Gilmore, "because the winner is going to be sitting atop the SEMO Central and that's something that we want to defend this year. Our kids set a goal of winning the conference and beating Charleston is going to be a pivotal matchup in doing so. Our kids are looking forward to the challenge."
Said Charleston coach Brent Anderson, "It's a conference matchup and that's always important to us, but I don't look any further than that. If we meet them again, great, that means we've had a good season and made the playoffs. We're just going to try to get to 2-0 in the conference, the same way they're going to try."
The Bluejays appear to match up pretty well with the Tigers, from the standpoint of athletic ability and raw talent.
But the Tigers' offense is clicking to the tune of 60 points per game, so how do the Bluejays plan to slow down this offensive juggernaut?
"I don't know how you stop them," said Anderson. "They're one of the better offenses we'll see all year and one of the best I've seen since I've been in coaching. They're a well-oiled machine; they seem to move the ball at will." Simply stated, Anderson added, "We just have to tackle the guy that's got the ball. Stop the run game, be around the football and, hopefully, create some turnovers."
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bluejays are no slouches with a 32.5 point-per-game average.
"They're an explosive ballclub," said Gilmore," and they've got a receiving corps that's going to pose some problems for us."
That group of tall, physical receivers include 6-6 senior Ashton Farmer, 6-5 sophomore Jamarcus Williams and 6-3 sophomore Justin Clark.
Add to the mix junior quarterback Josh Marshall and sophomore running back Joseph Watts and the Bluejays clearly have weapons.
Watts has rushed for 198 yards and four TDs and also returned a punt for a score.
Marshall has accounted for three scores -- two passing and one rushing.
Clark leads the receivers with 185 yards on five catches. Anderson said, "I think we have some great football players. I don't know how well we'll match up until Friday night, obviously, but we've got some good football players on our team and I like the guys we have."
Caruthersville returned 15 starters on its offensive and defensive units, but lost such key performers as Jimmy Jackson, one of the state's leading rushers who's now at the University of Missouri, and Rogers VanAusdall, the SEMO Conference's top-rated passer.
So, they figured to be good, but, thus far, they've been tremendous.
Two key reasons have been Jackson and VanAusdall's replacements, 180-pound sophomore running back Kendrickus Reed and junior quarterback Keith Creekmore.
"We're getting some output from them that we weren't expecting early on," said Gilmore. "We figured there'd be some growing pains at those two positions. That's probably been the biggest surprise for us, as a coaching staff. We're very pleased with the progress those two are making."
Reed has rushed for 375 yards and five TDs and Creekmore has thrown for 350 yards with eight TDs and no interceptions. In an almost unbelievable statistic, Caruthersville has no offensive penalties and no turnovers through the first two games.
But, Gilmore said the primary difference may be the Tiger defense, which held Kennett to under 100 yards total offense and Sikeston to 135.
"We're doing some things defensively we weren't doing last year and I think that's the big turnaround for our team," he said. "We've held pretty tough the first two weeks. We gave up six points due to a 95-yard kickoff return by Sikeston that put us on the 3-yard line and that's the only score we've given up. Nobody's actually driven the ball down the field and put it in the end zone on us."
As for that matchup with the tall, talented Charleston receivers, Gilmore said, "We've got some great athletes in our secondary, too. Kyle Hubbard (6-1, 185), Paul Sanders (6-1, 175) and James Jones (6-0, 175). All three of those guys have good speed and jumping ability. We don't have the height to match up with them, but we definitely have the athleticism to match up.
"We have to win the battle up front. Our D-line has been pretty steady for the first two games, so we're looking to control the line of scrimmage first, then we'll take our chances trying to shut those three receivers down."
It all comes down to two teams competing on the field of play and this one promises to be entertaining.