NEW MADRID - The New Madrid County Central Eagles football team will begin Class 3, District 1 play at home against the Kennett Indians on Friday night at 7 p.m.
NMCC (5-2) is coming off a tough loss to Class 2 power Centralia Panthers last Saturday afternoon. The Panthers are the third ranked team in Class 2 and had to have a big fourth quarter comeback to defeat the Eagles 34-22.
Kennett (1-5) lost last week to previously winless Sikeston Bulldogs on homecoming, 21-13.
The Eagles have a lead in the overall series winning 16 of the 21 meetings. The first clash was back in 1985 with the Indians winning at home 30-0. Kennett won the first two meetings between the schools before losing 11 straight games dating from 1987 to 1998.
Recently, the Eagles have won five of the last seven contests with the Indians including last season's 37-20 victory on the road at Metz Cherry Stadium.
The schools have faced three common opponents this year with NMCC winning all three and Kennett losing to all three. The Eagles have beaten Sikeston 27-20, while Kennett lost. NMCC beat Charleston 28-21, while the Indians lost 21-7.
The last common opponent is Caruthersville, which NMCC defeated 27-14, while Kennett lost 31-0.
After a tough, hard-hitting contest with Centralia last week, the key question is the health of many of the Eagles including quarterback Leslie Williams (6-0, 190) and leading receiver Tommy Rowe (5-11, 175).
"We are banged up a little after the physical game last week," said NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley, "but we have had a good week of practice and should be fine against Kennett. We don't have any major injuries that would keep a kid out for an extended period of time, but Williams and Rowe will be game-time decisions due to some minor things."
A concern for the Eagles will be the size of Kennett's offensive line. Averaging 6-foot-1 and 258 pounds, Kennett's line has the ability to open holes for the backs and can pass protect for the quarterback.
"They (Kennett) are just huge up front," said Pixley. "Kennett has the size of many Class 5 schools along the line. They do a nice job of giving their quarterback time to pass the football."
Sophomore Blake Parr (6-4, 160) runs the offense solo for the Indians after splitting time with senior Wesley Jackson (5-9, 160) earlier in the season. Parr has completed 19 passes for 249 yards in split duty with four interceptions.
"The Parr kid is tall and rangy with a good arm," said Pixley. "He can make some good, accurate throws that we have to gameplan for."
Kennett's leading rusher, senior Ben Howard (5-10, 165), is banged up and will receive the majority of his playing time on the defensive side of the football. Howard leads the Indians with 465 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Junior Demetrius Childress (6-0, 170) will start in the backfield and had a nice game last week against Sikeston with 119 yards.
The leading receivers for Kennett are seniors Jimmie Clifton (5-11, 160) and tight end Mario McGraw (6-4, 200). Clifton leads the team with 119 receiving yards with a touchdown, while McGraw has five grabs for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Howard has been Parr's favorite target with nine receptions, which leads the team, for 66 yards.
"Kennett has some good athletes over there," said Pixley. "They have faced some tough competition and are hungry for a win."
Kennett head coach Kirk Welch believes the Eagles will be a handful on Friday night.
"Coach Pixley does a nice job over there," said Welch. "They do a lot of stuff offensively and they do a lot of stuff defensively as well. I kind of call it a junkyard offense and a junkyard defense, they do so much and do it so well. They have some tremendous athletes and we are going to have to prepare for a lot of stuff."
Williams is a quick signal-caller who has big-play capabilities. On the year, Williams has thrown for 382 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Williams has rushed 67 times for 345 yards and five touchdowns.
Seniors Marquese Gates (5-11, 175) and DeAnton Brown (5-11, 175) are NMCC's leading rushers. Gates has rushed for 626 yards on the season good for seventh in the SEMO area. Brown has gained 328 yards on 55 carries.
"To me, Williams and Gates make that offense go," said Welch. "You have got to have a trigger man at quarterback and he does the job. Williams can run or pass and he seems to make good decisions. Gates is a good running back and we are going to have to play extremely, extremely well."
Kennett will run a 3-3 stack on defense and will stunt up front along the line and will bring some blitzes at times.
"We will need to have our heads up at all times along our line," said Pixley. "They do a lot of things to try and confuse their opponents. We are going to have to cut down on our mistakes and keep drives alive."
The Eagles have struggled all season long on special teams. Last week, Centralia blocked an NMCC punt that seemed to change momentum in the contest.
Pixley insists that his club works on special team situations every day in practice and this week was no exception.
"We focused on our kicking game this week in practice," said Pixley. "We have all year, but it seems that our special teams have killed us all year. We have tried to speed up our punter because he tends to take his time back there. Hopefully, we can get it worked out by Friday night."
Welch believes his team is due for a complete game.
"It is time that we put together a solid football game," said Welch. "We have struggled for six weeks. We still make some of the same mistakes that we made in Week 1. You get this late in the year and begin to go up against the caliber of ball clubs that we go up against, we can't have any mistakes. If you do, they've got to be minimal and you've got to capitalize on their mistakes."
If the Eagles expect to win they have got to cut down on their turnovers that cost them last week against Centralia.
"We have to eliminate costly mistakes," said Pixley. "We have to sustain our drives and keep the chains moving. Hopefully we can get in short yardage situations so that we can use the run or the pass and mix it up a little."