NEW MADRID -- New Madrid County Central scored 13 unanswered points late in the fourth quarter to beat Dexter 31-10 in a game much closer than the final score indicates.
"My hat is off to Dexter," said NMCC coach Steve Rogers. "They played an excellent football game and did everything they needed to do to win. We caught a couple of breaks late, but they played a whale of a game. We're lucky to get out of here with a win."
The Bearcats trailed by eight with under five minutes left in regulation, and had the heavily-favored Eagles on the ropes with the ball at the NMCC seven.
Quarterback Preston Clark threw to a wide open Willie Dooley in end zone, but the pass was a hair short and Dooley failed to pull it in.
"It was a good play," said Dexter coach Aaron Pixley. "We had someone open, but we just didn't complete the pass. Our quarterback and receivers played well tonight, so we're not going to harp on that."
On the next play NMCC linebacker Lionel Smith came up with a huge sack, forcing Dexter to attempt a 32-yard field goal that was off its mark.
The Eagles took over on their own 15 with 4:38 left. Running back Dereke Tipler broke off a 23-yard run, setting up a 40-yard touchdown scamper by Desmond Sims. NMCC's George Strickland later returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown to make the final score 31-10.
"We didn't get it done when we had to and they beat us," said Pixley. "But our kids should be confident in themselves now. We had a great football team on the ropes. We just came up short."
Offensively, Tipler finished with 203 yards on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns. Dexter's Matt Burnett also had a solid performance, gaining 156 yards on 30 carries to break Bob Thrower's 1981 school record for most yards in a season.
"(Burnett) catches a lot of flack for carrying the ball so much, and I give it to him a lot," said Pixley. "But I wouldn't give it to him if I didn't think he was capable. Matt isn't a big slasher and he doesn't have the speed of a Tipler or Sims, but he's real tough and he breaks tackles. I'm proud of him and of our offensive line."
In the early goings, it seemed as if NMCC was on its way to another blowout victory. Tipler scored touchdowns on three of the team's first five possessions to put the Eagles up 18-0.
On NMCC's sixth drive of the game, Dexter's Nic Smith stripped Desmond Sims of the ball and returned it 31 yards to set up a 31-yard field goal by Tyler Grovenor to make it 18-3.
"At halftime, I asked our kids to make a decision," said Pixley. "We could either come out and battle and try to get back in the game, or lie down. Our kids came out and played very well and very hard in the second half.
Dexter unleashed its passing attack in the second half. After Burnett opened the third quarter with a 48-yard return, Clark completed 4-of-5 passes and found Ryan Hyslop in the end zone for a touchdown.
Grovenor then kicked the PAT to shave the lead to 18-10. Neither offense was able to score the rest of the third quarter.
NMCC looked to score early in the fourth, but Brian Murph's pass was intercepted by Jeff Rawson at the goal line. The Bearcats were able to march the ball 85 yards down the field, but failed to score.
"New Madrid is a very good football team," said Pixley. "They've got speed all over the field and are very dangerous. We missed some tackles due to lack of speed, but our kids played hard all night long. I'm proud of the guys, but I'm not satisfied. We don't want to be satisfied with just competing at Dexter. We're trying to win every football game. Our goal right now is to go 6-4."
After Grovenor's missed field goal, NMCC added the two insurance touchdowns with Sims' score and Strickland's interception return. Strickland led NMCC's defense with seven solo and five assisted tackles.
"We turned an 18-10 game into a 31-10 game just like that," said Rogers. "That's the kind of striking power we've got. We moved George to lineback last week and he has responded real well. He's a headhunter. He's got a great work ethic and is a pleasure to coach."
NMCC (7-1) will travel to Kennett for Week 2 of districts, while Dexter (4-4) plays host to Fredericktown. The Blackcats upset Kennett 29-20 Friday night.
"It was a big win for us," said Rogers. "I think Dexter is going to be hard to beat their next two games and I'm pulling for them. If they win their next two, we're in good shape."