Tonight our six local district champions take the field for the first round of the 2001 Missouri playoffs. Do any of these teams have what it takes to go the distance and bring a state championship back to Southeast Missouri? Hayti might have the best chance.
The Indians have been perfect this season and have shown little weakness, if any.
They're currently ranked No. 4 in Class 1A with a 10-0 record, setting all kinds of school records along the way.
Quarterback Matt Morgan holds marks for most passing yards (1,447) and most touchdowns (20) in a season. His favorite target William Moore set records for receiving yards (705) and TD catches (11).
But Hayti isn't just a passing team. Running back Demarcus Stewart has rushed for 1,000 yards, and their defense statistically ranks as the best in the conference, allowing just 41 points all year.
But before the Indians start reserving hotel rooms at the Radisson and buying turf cleats for the dome, they've got to get past Cardinal Ritter tonight.
The Lions are ranked No. 5 in the state with a 10-0 record and have been just as dominant as Hayti, winning by an average score of 44.9 to 7.8.
Quarterback Jason Cloyd is one of the top gunslingers in the St. Louis area, throwing for 2,348 yards with 24 TDs. They've also got a 1,000-yard rusher in Larry Luckett, and three wideouts with 600 receiving yards or more.
Cardinal Ritter has put up these monstrous numbers against a pretty light schedule, but they're obviously an outstanding football team. Regardless of what happens, it has been a great year for both teams.
Final score: Hayti 28, Ritter 21
Both Portageville and Charleston have set the standard for local 2A this year, and it's only fitting they meet in this year's sectional game. Portageville is an impressive 7-2 with losses to undefeated Gosnell and undefeated Hayti. Charleston is 8-2 against a better schedule, losing to 3A power NMCC and 4A Sikeston.
The explosive Bluejays have one of the top backfields you'll find, and can score on any play from any spot on the field. Portageville is ultra-conservative, but they play fundamentally-sound, mistake-free football.
Unfortunately, the winner of this game won't get to celebrate very long.
Barring a massive upset, red-hot John Burroughs is on tap for Monday's quarterfinal game.
Final score: Charleston 21, Portageville 20
Ste. Genevieve and NMCC have staged these little power versus speed battles before, and it usually comes down to the wire.
The Dragons struggled a bit early, but they have turned it on for the second half. They're 8-2, ranked No. 7 in Missouri 3A. Their gameplan is to control the ball and eat every second they can off the clock with sustained drives that keeps the Eagle offense off the field.
NMCC is ranked No. 4 at 9-1, and has looked like a state-championship caliber team at times. Their gameplan will be to score as much as they can, as early as they can, for as long as they can.
I expect the Eagles to unleash Division-I prospect Desmond Sims like they did in Week 7 against Dyersburg.
Final score: NMCC 35, Ste. Genevieve 20
Is this Cape Central the same team that opened the season 2-4 and barely squeaked past winless Blytheville?
Since a disappointing 33-0 loss to arch-rival Jackson in Week 6, the Tigers have done a complete 180. They're on a four-game winning streak heading into tonight's game against North County.
The Raiders are also on a hot streak, outscoring their 4A District 2 adversaries 136 to 6 this year.
Quarterback Reggie Aubuchon has done his best imitation of Jeromy McDowell, throwing for 1,932 yards with 29 TDs. If their offensive line can fend off the Tigers' pass rush, I like their chances.
Final score: North County 21, Cape Central 20
I've been underestimating Jackson a bit all season, but last Friday they silenced me and the rest of their critics with a quality win over Poplar Bluff. And tonight's sectional game against Rockwood Summit looks good for the Indians.
The St. Louis school has lost games to Eureka, Hillsboro, University City, Webster Groves and Parkway North. The only reason they're in the playoffs is because they upset Parkway South in a very weak 5A District 2 this year.
Final score: Jackson 34, Summit 13