Leading the Kennett Indians 7-6 in the Class 3, District 1 opener, the 'Cats forced a fourth-and-three situation on which the game hinged.
After Dexter's Derek Clark made an outstanding one-on-one tackle to drop Jeff Bailey for a one-yard loss on third-and-2, the Bearcat defense swarmed quarterback David Wilson - who had 120 yards rushing on 21 carries - for no gain on an option play that worked all night for Kennett.
"You got to play tough down in the red zone," Dexter coach Aaron Pixley said of the stand. "They had us on the ropes and we bowed our back and stayed in there and came out with a win."
While the gang tackle on fourth down sealed the one-point victory, it would not have been possible if Clark had not dropped Bailey in his tracks on third down. Bailey ran to the right side of the offensive line and had nothing in between him and the endzone. Nothing, that is, except Clark, who finished the night with a team-leading 14 tackles.
"He hit him hard, too," Dexter defensive coordinator Gavin Miller said of Clark. "He didn't sit back on that one and did exactly what he was supposed to. Our defense bent a little bit tonight, but never really broke."
"It came down to heart. You just have to want it more," Clark said. "We just wanted it more."
While Dexter might have had the heart, Pixley was not pleased with his team's attitude in the win.
"I just don't understand it," said Pixley. "They need to understand that football is played with emotion. Whenever their coach is more emotional than they are, something is wrong."
Dexter's lone touchdown was set up by a great punt return by Derek Roberts. Roberts fielded the ball at the Bearcat 38 and turned to the Kennett sideline before following Cale Williams' blocking for a 45-yard return.
The 'Cats set up shop at the Kennett 17 and Becker covered the yardage on three totes, plowing in from the 1-yard line to knot the game at 6-6 with 11:24 left in regulation. Tyler Grovenor's point after set the final score.
The Bearcats (5-3, 1-0) did not do a great job of tackling all night long, but they came up big at just the right time. Kennett fell to 2-5 overall and 0-1 in district play with the loss.
"I think, defensively, we played pretty hard," said Pixley. "We attacked pretty hard, (but) I felt like four or five times in the game we didn't wrap up very well."
"Man, it's a heartbreaker," Kennett coach Ronnie Jones said. "I don't know what to say. We have a bunch of dejected kids, and certainly we had our opportunities, but we just didn't get it done. We had opportunities to cut the head off the snake but we didn't do it."
The 'Cats were outplayed in nearly every facet of the game, giving up 226 rushing yards on 55 carries while gaining just 57 yards on 25 attempts. Kyle Espey was 4-for-16 through the air for 45 yards and one interception as the Bearcat receivers again had trouble holding onto the ball. Kennett also controlled the clock as the Indians had the ball for 31:24 to Dexter's 16:36. In fact, the Bearcats only led in one statistic - the final score.
"It always good to win," Pixley added. "We're very fortunate to win. I felt like Kennett played very hard. We knew they were going to play very hard."
The Indians covered 62 yards on 14 plays to set up the final play of the game. However, during a Kennett timeout, Miller explained the gravity of the situation to his defensive unit.
"I just said this last play wins the game," Miller said. "This is what we play high school sports for. Even though we played a bad game, the crowds were excited; the sidelines were into it. I just basically said this play will win the game right here. They stepped up and did a good job and kept them out of the endzone."
"There were a bunch of us in there," Dexter senior linebacker Tyler Christian said of the final tackle. "We all wanted it so bad. It was intense."
"That play determined the rest of the season," added junior Ben Robinson.
While the play did help set the tone for the rest of the year, Dexter will need a much better all-around performance if the team has hopes of beating the Eagles of New Madrid County Central Friday night and defending its district crown.
"We can't do this for two more weeks because we are playing two top quality teams," Miller said of the Bearcats' last two regular-season opponents - New Madrid and Fredericktown. "We're going to have to get a lot better."
"It doesn't get any easier; that's for sure," added Pixley. "New Madrid beat Fredericktown tonight (21-8), so they are coming in 1-0 and so are we. It's going to be a very difficult football game. They are very talented. They have a big back that is one of the best backs in Southeast Missouri, and they have great receivers, (NCAA Division I) receivers. "They are just loaded with great athletes and are well-coached. We're going to have to play better than we did tonight."
The Bearcats were led by Cale Williams' two receptions for 41 yards, while Alex Becker carried the ball 21 times for 52 yards. Dexter senior Marc Thrower had 11 tackles and Christian added eight more in the win, and Williams broke up three passes on the night. But there is still quite a bit of room for improvement.
"We're going to need to play a lot better if we're going to shut down (New Madrid's) offense," Thrower said of the upcoming game.