CAPE GIRARDEAU - Last season, there weren't many teams that gave New Madrid County Central much of a challenge.
In fact, other than the Eagles' season-ending loss to Festus, the only team that came within 13 points was Cape Central.
The two will lock horns again on Friday when the Eagles travel to Houck Stadium to play the Tigers at 7:30 p.m.
Cape Central lost to the Eagles 20-7 in a defensive battle last season. The Tigers had a turn-around year, winning a district title and reaching the quarterfinals.
Cape lost many starters from that team but returns plenty of talent to give the Eagles another tough game.
"Coach (Lawrence) Brookins has done a good job," said NMCC head coach Steve Rogers. "He's got the program headed in the right direction. We couldn't find a whole lot of weaknesses when we watched them on tape. We're expecting another good matchup. We had to resort to throwing the ball last year to beat them. But that's part of our offense this year. The other night our running game kind of stalled and fortunately we were able to throw the ball little bit. Like I've said all along, we're going to try to be balanced."
NMCC's offense wasn't sharp last Friday against Blytheville (Ark.), but the Eagles still broke enough big plays to win 28-0. The Eagles' defense allowed just 62 yards of offense to the Chickasaws.
Cape Central scored 14 fourth quarter points to defeat St. Charles West 21-7 on Friday night. Brookins expects a bigger challenge when the Eagles enter Houck Stadium.
"I expect a hell of a ball game, a hell of a ball game," said Brookins. "(NMCC) is an extremely athletic bunch. Their linemen aren't as big as they've been the last two or three years. But they are a very dangerous team with their skill. I'm very excited about our kids getting a chance to play against this type of talent. It's going to be a great test for the Central Tigers."
NMCC didn't have much success on the ground last week, rushing for just 119 yards. But Eagle quarterback Brian Murph was plenty dangerous with his arm, throwing for 213 yards, including a pair of long TD passes.
"Murph came to camp every day this summer," said Rogers. "He's worked extremely hard. He's prepared himself in the weight room and with good work ethic. Of course he's blessed with weapons around him. But he's the guy that pulls the trigger. He can run the option, he can escape the rush, he's got a rocket for an arm and he's a very intelligent young man when it comes to studying film and knowing what the defense is doing."
Returning all-stater Dereke Tipler was held to 40 yards on 11 carries, but scored a touchdown. Big-time prospect Desmond Sims was as good as advertised in Week 1, scoring two TDs, including the opening kickoff and a 60-yard pass play.
Wide out Terrance Smith, who is one of the fastest members of the team, caught two passes for 107 yards, including an 82-yard TD.
Brookins says with the speed that the Eagles possess, his team will need to slow the ball down and keep the clock moving.
"We wouldn't survive a shootout," said Brookins. "If it turns into a track meet, it will be over, fast. Number one, we've got to play good, disciplined defense. We've got to play good assignment defense, gap control and not get flustered when they break a run or two. Because they're gonna break a big play or two on you, but hopefully not for a touchdown.
"Offensively we don't need to be in a big rush. When things aren't going good for us, and at times it won't, we just need to get off a good punt and have a good defensive stand and then regroup the offense."
Cape Central's offense is led by 1,400-yard rusher Marcus Klund, who transferred in from Scott City. Sophomore quarterback Mitch Craft is an excellent athlete along with defensive stalwarts Chris Smith, Monroe Hicks and Jeremiah Dukes.
"They've got a good defensive team," said Rogers. "They've got big linemen, their linebackers pursue well and their secondary is good. They've got a lot of tools. They looked real good on tape against St. Charles so we'll have our hands full. It's going to be a good test for us. We're going to have to play a nearly flawless game to beat them. It should be a good competitive match like it was last year."