NEW MADRID - Heading into last Friday night's game with Sikeston, the New Madrid County Central Eagles' football team looked nearly invincible, having wasted five straight opponents rather easily.
But the Eagles were upset by the Bulldogs 25-14. Now all of a sudden, NMCC looks vulnerable.
And with traditional Tennessee power Dyersburg invading Eagle Country on Friday night at 7:30, NMCC (5-1) could be in danger of losing two in a row for the first time since 1998.
"From what we've seen on film, they're big, they're fast -- they're quite possibly the best team we'll play all year," said NMCC head coach Steve Rogers.
The Trojans certainly have the resume.
Dyersburg is 6-1 on the season, having won its last six after an emotional 16-14 season-opening loss to rival Dyer County.
The Trojans have defeated their opponents by an average score of 26 to 8.
Dyersburg has already clinched home field advantage in the Tennessee playoffs, the fifth straight year they have made the playoffs.
The Trojans have won 44 of their last 56 games, playoffs included. And they are led by the winningest coach in Dyersburg history in James Counce (51-19).
He has led a once dormant program to two undefeated seasons (1997 and '99), including a state semifinal berth in '97.
That may sound scary for Eagle fans, but Counce seems to be equally concerned about an NMCC squad that may be even more athletic than the Trojans.
"We've got their last two game films so that's what we're going to go by," said Counce. "They look like they're a very talented and a very athletic team. They're not very big but they seem to have a lot of speed at the skill positions and they score a lot of points. We'll have to play well just to stay in the ballgame."
The Trojans are led by a seasoned quarterback in Josh Dye, who combined to run and throw for more than 1,000 yards last season. He has picked it up even more this season, throwing for 350 yards and rushing for more than 500 with 10 touchdowns.
The Trojans are known for spreading the wealth on offense.
Returning 1,000-yard rusher Erick Holland is the top big play threat. He has gained more than 400 yards rushing this year. Blake Jefferies, Roderick Simmons and Antoine Holder are also running backs that might get some carries.
Receivers Orentheus Taylor and Josh Mann are the top pass-catching threats. Both are also starting defensive backs for the Trojans.
Dyersburg also has an outstanding kicker in Joel Miller, who has converted 40-of-42 extra points, including 33 straight at one stretch dating back to last season.
"Their quarterback (Dye) is excellent on the option and throwing the ball," said Rogers. "They've got good speed in the backfield. They've got a couple of good receivers.
They'll run some option, some power, some trap with their fullback, they'll try to toss sweep, they'll play-action. They mix it up some but they're predominantly a running team. They look like the real deal."
Friday night's loss to Sikeston was the Eagles' first home defeat since Nov. 15, 1999 when they fell against quarterfinal opponent Duchesne. And they haven't lost two home games in a row since 1996.
So coming off the team's first loss of the season, Rogers and the Eagles are looking to right the ship fast. Right?
"We're not taking that approach because we're going to rest a couple of guys that have been beat up," said Rogers. "We're getting ready for the playoffs. This is a game where we might get to play some younger guys a little bit and try to get some people healed up. Basically our season starts next week (against Dexter)."
Despite some struggles last week, the Eagles are still averaging 35 points per game. And the defense is only allowing 12 per game.
NMCC is led by quarterback Brian Murph, who has thrown for 653 yards, completing 31-of-69 with six interceptions and 11 TDs. He has also rushed for nearly 200 yards.
Tailback Dereke Tipler leads the team with 795 yards rushing and 13 TDs. Wide receiver Desmond Sims has caught nine passes for 267 yards. He's scored eight touchdowns.
"Their quarterback (Murph) is a real good athlete," said Counce. "He's as dangerous running the ball as he is throwing the ball. The tailback (Tipler) has got real good speed and they've got a couple of good receivers that run and catch the ball well. They've got two or three linemen on both sides of the ball that stand out. They look like they're a real physical football team and look like they're well-coached and well-disciplined."
NMCC's only gauge for the Trojans would be their performances against the Jackson Indians the last two years. In 1999, Dyersburg gave the Indians their only loss in the regular season, en route to an undefeated year.
But last year, Jackson rocked the Trojans 43-14, as they stumbled to a 6-5 record.
This year's Dyersburg team isn't as good as the 1999 squad, but they are considerably better than a year ago.
"We're not as good as we have been the past three or four years, but we're relying on a bunch of young kids and they're coming through for us," said Counce. "It's a rebuilding year for us. We've got 11 or 12 seniors that play. Normally we have anywhere from 18 to 20 seniors that play. We're playing a lot of sophomores and a lot of juniors. We play a lot of kids one way. We have two or three that play both ways, but we especially try to platoon up front with the offensive and defensive line. That could be a factor in the game."
With 1,100 students, Dyersburg will be the fifth opponent this season that has more students than NMCC.
"We play a real tough schedule," said Rogers. "I'd put our schedule up against any other team in 3A. Playing these teams can only make us better for districts."