CHARLESTON -- Two old coaching buddies, both former assistants at Charleston High School, meet on opposite sidelines for the first time as head coaches.
Arlen Pixley's New Madrid County Central Eagles butt heads with Brent Anderson's Charleston Bluejays in a SEMO Central Conference matchup on Friday at Marshall Stadium.
NMCC (1-2) posted its first win of the season with a come-from-behind victory on a last-minute touchdown bomb to defeat Fredericktown 28-23.
Pixley said, "The main thing we got from that game was the kids felt good about themselves. We've been preaching to them all year long that if you keep chopping at that tree, it will eventually fall. We chopped for three quarters and the tree finally fell in the fourth quarter."
Charleston (2-1) dropped its first game of the season, 44-0, to the state's top-ranked Class 2 squad, the high-powered Caruthersville Tigers.
Said Anderson, "I'm not ashamed to say it. That's a great football team that beat us Friday night and we can learn from that. They play football the way it's supposed to be played and that's what you want your team to be like. They're a wonderful model."
New Madrid, spurred by newly-installed quarterback starter Jordan Kimball, found a passing game last week.
Kimball, replacing Sherman Newsome, threw for 212 yards and two TDs on 12-for-17 accuracy with no interceptions.
"He was like a breath of fresh air," said Pixley. "I think we proved to people that we can throw the football."
Newsome, who moved to wide receiver, still played an integral part in the Eagles' offense with three catches, one for a TD and another for a two-point conversion.
"We really balanced ourselves by making that move at quarterback," said Pixley. "It made us a little bit more athletic on offense. Eugene Cooper on the other side with Newsome gives us a dual threat at wide receiver and we've also got a couple of slot guys that can go get it, too."
Cooper caught the game-winning 81-yard TD pass and finished with four catches for 166 yards.
But the Eagles certainly haven't abandoned the running game.
"The players and the fans like to see the ball in the air -- it's exciting, but we're still concentrating on the run. If we can't run the football effectively, we're not going to be able to throw it effectively."
Against Fredericktown, fullback Antonio McIntosh and slotback Printice Willis rushed for 95 and 96 yards, respectively, with Willis scoring twice.
Obviously, the confidence boost gained from a win, especially the first one, is huge.
Said Pixley, "The kids saw on film how they used what the coaches have been teaching and it equated into a win. It's any coach's dream, and the joy you get from coaching, to see a kid adapt a technique that you've been teaching and have success. It's all downhill from there as far as the learning curve goes.
"We saw a lot of our base technique get a lot better last week."
As for the upcoming opponent, Charleston, Pixley said he knows Anderson will have his players fired up and ready to go.
"I've got a lot of respect for him (Anderson) and his program," he said. "They turned the ball over and stumbled a couple of times against Caruthersville and, if they don't, it might be a different story in that ballgame. They matched up well against Caruthersville and they've got a lot of speed and a lot of size at the wide receiver position.
They've got the (Bobby) Clark kid at running back. He's a great runner and they run him from all over the field, from the slot, fullback and tailback positions and Joseph Watts is also a tremendous runner.
"They do some things well and we do some things well. So it'll be a matter of who can hit who first and most often." Injury-wise, the Eagles, according to Pixley, are a little beat up and banged up, but all hands should be available for Friday's action.
A major test for the Bluejays will be to simply "fugedaboutit."
"It's real tough to go into a game like Caruthersville and play as poorly as we did and then change your focus that quickly," said Anderson, "but it seems like our attitudes started turning around about the second half of practice on Tuesday. We feel we have them turned the right way now." The Bluejays, although shut down by Caruthersville, did manage to get into the red zone on three occasions, despite only 103 yards of total offense -- 25 rushing, 78 passing. Once Charleston was stopped inside the 1-foot line and back-to-back penalties sabotaged another scoring opportunity.
"We just didn't execute," said Anderson. "You can draw up all the X's and O's you want, but, if you don't play with physicality, you're not going to score points.
"Still, as good as they are, I felt we could have played much better than we showed."
Now, the task at hand is NMCC.
"We've got to change the focus to New Madrid," said Anderson, "because they're a good football team. We've got to play at another level. We've got to tackle better, block better…the basics of football."
Anderson doesn't particularly want to engage in a wide-open offensive skirmish with the Eagles.
"If it's a shootout, we're going to lose," he said. "We can't do that. We've got to tackle people, got to be physical, got to run to the football."
On NMCC's play, Anderson said he has seen steady improvement.
"They have gotten better every game and that's a credit to Coach Pixley," he said. "They present problems with some good kids up front and Kimball is a smart kid and he can throw it."
One positive coming out of the Caruthersville loss was the Bluejays suffered no injuries.
"We've got some egos that have been shattered," said Anderson, "and we're trying to piece those back together, but we're in pretty good shape, physically."
Both teams are still feeling their way, searching for identities and this contest could be a big step towards that discovery.
"It's (this game) always been a measuring stick for both programs to see where they're at," said Anderson. "It's a big stepping stone for your team.
"We'll find out a little about ourselves on Friday."