CHARLESTON -- District playoffs, the second season, open as Missouri high school football enters its eighth week.
It's all on the line now with three games remaining to determine postseason participation and ultimate success.
Class 2, District 1 competitors, East Prairie Eagles and Charleston Bluejays, square off in round one at Charleston's Marshall Stadium on Friday night.
Caruthersville and Malden round out the district.
East Prairie (3-3) has overcome unforeseen circumstances and an 0-2 start to stand two points (a 14-12 loss to Festus) shy of a four-game win streak. The Eagles refused to allow the defection of all-state senior running back Paris Tipler to be a death knell for their season.
"I give all the credit to the kids," said East Prairie coach Cory Adkisson. "They could have folded the tent early in the season when adversity hit. It's easy to pack it in, but these kids came back and worked even harder. They practiced and played extremely hard and it shows."
The Eagles are led by sophomore tailback M.C. Williams, who has rushed for 1,001 yards -- second only to Caruthersville's all-state back Kendrickus Reed.
"M.C. is one of those guys that we knew was going to be good, but we didn't know he was going to be this good as a sophomore," said Adkisson.
Quarterback Cameron Woodward has also been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles. He's thrown for 491 yards with five touchdowns.
"Cameron is a first-year starter and he's really gotten it going in the last few games," Adkisson said.
Adkisson said huge improvement on the defensive side of the ball has been a key to the team's success.
Yet another first-year starter, linebacker Trent Martin, has made an impact on defense.
"He was on the junior varsity and special teams, but he's turned into a starter for us," Adkisson said. "We gave him a shot on varsity and he's played pretty well. There's always going to be somebody who surprises you if you have any kind of success."
The two Mississippi County rivals have always competed hard in the series that began in 1925, even though Charleston holds an overwhelming 59-4-2 edge, all-time.
But this time there's even more at stake.
"In the past, it hasn't meant anything more than just bragging rights," said Adkisson, "but now it actually means something. It's a district game."
District 1 shapes up as a tough road to postseason play.
Said Adkisson, "I don't know who would be the favorite going in. Obviously, Caruthersville has been the champion the past three years, Malden is playing really well right now and Charleston is usually in the playoffs before they moved to this district this year.
"Hopefully, we can make some noise in this district. It'll be tough for us. We're probably the underdog, but, who knows, if we come in and play good these next three weeks, anything can happen. "I think it's going to be an exciting final three weeks of the season."
For the Bluejays (2-5), in the midst of a disappointing season in which they were riddled by injuries to key performers, the district offers an opportunity for unsung players to step up and help turn around a mediocre campaign.
"It doesn't matter what we've done up until now," said Charleston coach Al Marshall. "We're starting a new season right now."
Three-time 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Watts carded his first substantial playing time since the season opener last week in a 15-8 loss to Fredericktown. He rushed 12 times for 59 yards.
Even a near-healthy Watts, who is scheduled for off-season surgery, would be a major boost for the Bluejays.
Quarterback Justin Clark is coming off his most efficient passing performance with a 10-for-18, 112-yard day.
The bull rushes of 200-pound tailback Jerquawn Sherrell has been a consistent offensive threat for the Bluejays, as has the pass catching of split end Jerrell Quinn.
East Prairie hopes its defense can match up with the talented skill position players of the Bluejays.
"You always like to go into district time on a roll and, in the last couple or three weeks, we've been playing pretty well and starting to get it going a little bit," said Adkisson. "We've gotten better each game we've played, so hopefully we'll improve a little bit this week, too, and we'll have to if we're going to be able to beat Charleston."