Bearcats to play Fredericktown for playoff berth
FREDERICKTOWN -- For the first time in eight years, a school other than New Madrid County Central will win Class 3, District 1.
The championship game takes place on Friday at Fredericktown, when the Blackcats play host to Dexter.
"This was a goal of ours," said Dexter head coach Aaron Pixley. "We've played well together all year long. We just hope we can put it all together again and pull one out on Friday night."
If they can, the Bearcats will make their first playoff appearance since 1992. Last week Dexter clinched the SEMO Central Conference for the first time since 1998, when it shared the title with NMCC.
"It's bringing back good memories for our coaching staff," said Pixley, who played for the Bearcats back in their glory days. "The kids we have right now have never won a championship, and just getting the opportunity to play for one is so great. They will remember this for the rest of their lives."
The big question on everybody's mind heading into the game is the status of running back Matt Burnett. Dexter's all-time leading rusher suffered a knee injury against NMCC in Week 9 and is questionable for Friday's showdown.
"He does have a knee injury," said Pixley. "There's nothing torn or anything like that. He's rehabing it and is day-to-day. We will basically make it a game-time decision. If he's not able to come back, we're going to ask some other people to step up and make plays."
That might be easier said than done. Burnett statistically ranks among the top offensive players in the SEMO Conference with 1,442 total offensive yards and 148 points.
His backup is junior Garrett Williams, who rushed for 60 yards on 20 carries last week.
If Williams does get the nod, he will be tested against a hard-nosed Blackcat defense that held both NMCC and Kennett to 14 points.
"We respect every team we play, and we feel like (Fredericktown) is dangerous," said Pixley. "They're a physical bunch, and they play well together. What they do, they do well."
Fredericktown has been somewhat of a surprise in the second season. The Blackcats entered district play with a record of 2-5, but have peaked at the right time.
They disposed of NMCC 21-14 in Week 8, then defeated Kennett 28-14 last week to improve to 2-0 in the district standings.
"Anytime you're in a position to win the district in your last game of the season, you have to be excited," said Fredericktown coach Kent Gibbs. "We've lost some close games that were kind of indicative of our season. Right now at the end, we're kind of putting things together and playing like we thought we were capable of playing all year."
Fredericktown's last district championship came back in 1983.
"We've been coming on for a couple of weeks now," said Gibbs. "It's exciting for the kids. We've been having good practices, and I think that's one of the reasons why we have gotten better."
The Blackcats run a ground-oriented offense, chipping the ball down the field behind a big offensive line.
Kyle Stephens (5-7, 175) is the top rusher on the team with 1,380 yards. Nick McDaniel (5-7, 155) enters Friday's game with 600 yards on the ground.
"They're patient running backs," explained Pixley. "They let their linemen do their job, then they'll bust through there."
Quarterback Kyle Tesreau (5-11, 160) is a third rushing threat, and has been a competent passer this year. His favorite targets are tight end Cory Cissell (6-1, 195) and Micah Reutzel (5-8, 160).
The Blackcats run their traditional double-tight offense, but have also added new formations to the mix this year.
"They've kind of gotten away from what they normally do a little bit," explained Pixley. "They will still get into that double-tight, double-wing set, but they will get out in pro-sets, flanker-sets and slot-sets also. They're starting to expand and they do a good job. They are very big up front -- they might be the biggest team we've faced all year other than Gosnell (Ark.). We're really going to have to play well to win."
While Fredericktown is a bit of a surprise, several expected Dexter to be in this position at the beginning of the year.
The Bearcats enter the game with a record of 7-2, having won seven straight. They are 2-0 in the district with a 42-0 win over Kennett, and a 21-7 victory over NMCC.
"They are a powerful football team," said Gibbs. "They like to run the football and they play great defense. We know we are going to have our hands full."
Defense has been Dexter's calling card for the last few years. This year, the Bearcats have been even more productive, allowing just eight points a game.
Linebackers Burnett (6-1, 195), Jon Guite (5-6, 144), Drew Wethington (6-1, 200) and Marc Thrower (5-10, 182) are the strongpoint of the unit.
Defensive end Ryan Hyslop (6-2, 215) is another impact player.
Dexter's defense has held several teams to season-lows, including Sikeston (29-3), Malden (26-6), Kennett (42-0), and East Prairie (47-0).
On the other side of the ball, Burnett has been the heart and soul of Dexter's offense.
Behind him, Hyslop has 204 yards rushing with two TDs and Williams has 180 with one score.
Quarterback Preston Clark has thrown for 586 yards on 34-of-121 passing with five interceptions.
Willie Dooley leads all receivers with 18 catches for 361 yards and has five TDs.
"I think we're going to have to be physical with them," said Gibbs. "We can't get into a scoring contest with them, we're just not equipped to do that. It has got to be low-scoring for us. We can't let them jump out ahead of us real quick."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Friday.
"I think the players have had a pretty memorable season as it is," said Pixley. "They don't want to stop. We're going to go out there and play as hard as we can. Hopefully, we can come out on top."