DEXTER -- Dexter defeated New Madrid County Central for the first time in 11 years on Friday night, clinching the SEMO Central Conference championship with a 21-7 victory.
The Bearcats improve to 2-0 in Class 3, District 1 and now have +26 points in the standings. They can clinch the district with a win over Fredericktown on Friday.
Dexter takes a seven-game winning streak into that matchup. "I'm very proud of this football team," said Dexter head coach Aaron Pixley. "We started three years ago and had a plan, and it's starting to work out for us. It's just a bunch of good kids playing hard. They know it takes everybody on the football team to do it, and they play together. I think that's the biggest reason why we are where we are."
The Bearcats played most of the game without standout running back Matt Burnett. Dexter's all-time leading rusher went down with a knee injury on the Bearcats' second series of the game and never returned.
"He was checked by an EMT, but we're not for sure on anything until he gets checked out by a doctor," explained Pixley. "We just hope and pray for the best."
After gaining just 29 yards in his short stint, Burnett is second on Southeast Missouri's rushing list with 1,373 yards and leads the area with 24 touchdowns.
"We just had to suck it up and play," said Pixley. "People go down, and people that don't start for us are just one play away from being a starter. At halftime, we talked about how other players were going to have to take the game on their shoulders and make plays. We made enough plays to get it done."
Dexter's defense was the story of the game, holding NMCC to just 68 yards of offense. Linebackers Drew Wethington and Jon Guite kept the Eagles' ground game in check, while Willie Dooley damaged the passing game with two interceptions. "It was a good ballgame -- we just couldn't get any offense going," said NMCC head coach Steve Rogers. "That's a tribute to Dexter. They played extremely good on defense tonight. We couldn't move the ball. They have a good football team, I hope they do well in the playoffs."
Dexter scored on its first possession of the game as quarterback Preston Clark hooked up with Dooley for a 17-yard TD pass.
NMCC scored its only touchdown later in the first when Keilon Daniels intercepted a pass and returned it 37 yards to paydirt.
On the ensuing possession, NMCC's Remond Willis blocked a Dooley punt on the Dexter 44. The Eagles were unable to capitalize on the field position.
With 7:37 left in the second quarter, NMCC's Edgar Givens fumbled on a reverse on the Eagles' 39. Dexter cashed in on the mistake, chipping the ball down to the six yard line, where Garrett Williams scored the go-ahead touchdown to make it 14-7.
Williams led all Dexter rushers with 60 yards on 20 carries. NMCC looked to tie the score before halftime. The Eagles started the drive with 1:24 left on the Dexter 43, and got all the way down to the 23-yard line.
Kicker Brandon Fields was on to attempt a 39-yard field goal, but time expired before the snap.
"I was real pleased again with the kids' effort," said Rogers. "We were probably a two or three touchdown underdog, and we played them tight the whole way. A break or two and we might have gotten it closer. We're going to get back to work Monday and try to win our last one for the seniors."
On NMCC's first possession of the second half, Fields missed a 31-yard field goal attempt. On Dexter's following drive, Brandon Miller was robbed of a touchdown.
He caught a pass from Clark and took it 66 yards. At the goal line, NMCC's David Hunt stripped him of the ball and recovered it in the endzone for a touchback.
The Bearcats tacked on their final touchdown with 3:22 left in the third quarter, as Dooley caught his second touchdown pass of the night from 16 yards out.
"He's just a good player," said Pixley. "We expect big plays out of him. When Matt went down, he kind of took the football team on his shoulders, and so did some of our lineman."
In the fourth quarter, Dexter kicker Tyler Grovenor attempted a 38-yard field goal, but it bounced off the crossbar.
"I was real pleased with our defense tonight," said Rogers. "Those guys were on the field all night long and played their hearts out. Darius Marsh, Derekis Johnson and Terry Long all played very well."
NMCC (2-7) will host Kennett on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Dexter (7-2) will travel to Fredericktown on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"It's not over," said Pixley. "Fredericktown is a very good football team, and we've got to play them at their place. They're going to be fired up."