NEW MADRID -- Last year was a disappointment for New Madrid County Central football.
Never mind the conference and district championships. Forget about the undefeated regular season, where the Eagles outscored the opposition 380 to 54.
A loss to the underdog Festus Tigers in the state sectionals ended all hopes of a run at the 3A state title. Instead of being remembered as an outstanding season, 2000 went down as an underachieving one.
On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Eagles get a chance to redeem themselves as they play host to Ste. Genevieve for the 2001 3A Sectional.
The Eagles won 3A District 1 for the seventh straight year last Friday, beating Fredericktown 35-15 to clinch the title.
They enter Wednesday's playoff game with an overall record of 9-1, averaging a whopping 38.6 points per game while allowing 15.8 on average.
The Eagles' only loss was to Class 4A rival Sikeston 25-14 in Week 6.
"If we play our brand of football and don't turn it over very much, I think we've got a good chance to do well," said NMCC coach Steve Rogers. "We're both senior-dominated teams and we have the home field advantage. It's going to be a fast track, which should favor us. It's going to be our speed against their size. We'll just have to see which one wins out."
NMCC last faced Ste. Genevieve in the 1999 sectionals, a game the Eagles won 34-0. Prior to that the Dragons had NMCC's number, winning three of four matchups with all of them coming down to the wire.
Ste. Genevieve enters Wednesday's game with an 8-2 record representing 3A District 2. They're averaging 33.9 points and giving up 12.6.
The Dragons' only losses were to Class 4A Farmington and 3A District 3 champion Herculaneum.
"They're big and physical like they normally are," said Rogers. "They're very well coached -- Bob Stolzer does a real good job with them. He and I played ball together at SEMO many years ago. He was a hard-nosed lineman then, and that's the way his team is now. They're an old-fashioned, disciplined, hard-nosed team."
Running back Tyson Gegg has taken advantage of Ste. Genevieve's solid offensive line, rushing for 1,328 yards on 171 carries, scoring 20 TDs.
"They're a lot like Farmington," explained Rogers. "They're big up front, their backs run hard, and I think they throw the ball a little better. Farmington beat them, but they're a much better team now than they were in the fourth week of the season."
Southpaw Brad Arnold mans the signal-calling duties for the Dragons. He has thrown for 733 yards, distributing the ball evenly to his receiving corps.
On defense, Ste. Genevieve is led by linebacker Dave Armstrong, tackle Shane Wolk and linebacker Travis Kettinger. All three have around 45 primary tackles on the season.
"They're very good," said Rogers. "They may be the best team we've played all year. They can throw the ball, they can run a little option, they have a good power game, they've got good size up front, and they play good team defense. I don't think they've seen the kind of speed they're going to see Wednesday night. By the same token, other than maybe a Farmington or a Sikeston, we're not going to see the size and the physical play we're going to see."
Running back Dereke Tipler is NMCC's biggest weapon. He ranks third among area rushers with 1,513 yards, and is also a threat as a receiver and as a return man. He leads the team in scoring with 162 points.
"He's got great speed and great quickness," said Stolzer. "He's a very good high school running back, and they've got four or five other kids that could potentially play Division-I football. They're just very talented. We just hope we can stay with them. Hopefully we can control the ball and keep it out of their hands because they've proven they can score from anywhere on the field. We've played some pretty good teams, but we haven't faced a team with as much speed or quickness."
Desmond Sims is the team's leading receiver with 13 catches for 321 yards. He's also a dangerous runner, averaging 12.7 yards per carry.
Quarterback Brian Murph has thrown for 793 yards on 41-of-92 passing. He has 12 TD passes to nine interceptions. He's also a quality runner, gaining 523 yards on 93 attempts.
Along with the three aforementioned, NMCC also has quality offensive players in wideout Terrance Smith (10 rec., 224 yds.) and blocking fullback Lionel Smith. Where the Eagles have struggled is on the offensive line.
"We don't have as much depth in the line as I would like," said Rogers. "It's no big secret, we're not going to run much up the middle anyway. If you give it to us, we'll take it, but our game is option, going wide and throwing the ball more than we have in the past."
Defensively, Lionel Smith and Sims lead the charge. On special teams headhunter George Strickland has provided some memorable hits on kickoffs, and kicker Jake Kimball is 32-of-45 on PATs.
"It seems like their kicking game is a lot better than it has been," said Stolzer. "They've always had great athletes, but they haven't really had a kicker. They've got a kid that can put the ball through the uprights now, they kick the ball very deep on kickoffs, and I'm very impressed with how they cover their punts and kickoffs. That's a mark of a good football team."
In just 20 years, NMCC has won nine conference, 10 district and four sectional championships. But the Eagles have never made it past the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Ste. Genevieve is making its ninth appearance in the playoffs. The Dragons won a state championship back in 1992. NMCC and Ste. Genevieve have two common opponents this season in Farmington and Fredericktown, both Eagle victories.
Ste. Genevieve lost to Farmington 28-14, but they defeated Fredericktown 48-21.
"If we play well and get beat, that's just football," said Rogers. "If we have a bad night and lose a game we think we should win, then it would be a disappointment."