CHARLESTON - For the first time in seven weeks, the Charleston Bluejay football team will be a prohibitive underdog.
That's because the Class 2A No. 2 ranked John Burroughs Bombers will enter Charleston's Marshall Stadium tomorrow at 7 p.m. with an undefeated record, and a grand tradition.
Burroughs (11-0), a private school out of St. Louis, has reached the playoffs 14 times over the years.
They are the owners of five 2A state championships and two co-championships, two runner up finishes and three semifinal appearances. They have rolled through the competition this year by an average score of 31 to 9.
The closest any team has come to the Bombers was Missouri Institute Country Day School (MICDS) by a score of 20-7. Even vaunted Lutheran North couldn't hang, falling 47-27 in Week 9.
But Brent Anderson says his Bluejays, who have won seven straight games, won't be intimidated.
"Our kids aren't going to be scared of anybody," said Anderson. "We've seen them in person and on film, so we've done everything that we think we can do to get them scouted. They're a good football team, but they make mistakes just like everybody else. John Burroughs is a well-known name throughout the state -- they've earned that reputation a long time ago. (My kids) are fired up and they're ready to play. They can't wait for John Burroughs to come down to our place."
Charleston enters with a 9-2 record, its best mark since 1996. The Bluejays' only losses came to Class 4A Sikeston and 3A quarterfinalist New Madrid County Central.
"We've seen them on video and they look very impressive in regards to their running attack and a tenacious defense," said Burroughs head coach Jim Lemen. "We're going to have to stop their running attack which centers around a combination of power football and option."
The Bluejays' have a dangerous stable of running backs in Jordy Mixon, fullback Orrice Stanback and option quarterback Dontay Clark.
Mixon has rushed for 1,263 yards with 16 touchdowns, Stanback has 947 yards with seven TDs and Clark has 887 yards with 16 TDs.
All three average over eight yards per carry.
Lemen says the Bombers' schedule will help his team prepare for the explosive trio.
"In the ABC League we see reasonably good speed week in and week out," said Lemen. "I'm not saying we've seen anybody as fast as Charleston, but Lutheran North and Palmyra, who both reached the semis last year are on our schedule and they usually have good team speed."
Charleston, however, almost never passes the ball. Clark has attempted just 16 passes, completing three of them for 37 yards.
If the Bluejays fall behind or are in a third-and-long situation, will Anderson be apprehensive about throwing?
"We use our option game and our power running as our passing game," said Anderson. "We run some delays and do some different things to offset the fact that we're not a pure passing team. We throw the football all the time in practice. We don't throw in games because we just want to stick to our strength. It's not that we cannot throw, it's just that I choose for us not to throw."
This is Burroughs' first playoff appearance since 1996 when they reached the 2A semifinals. The Bluejays defeated the Bombers that year 18-13 and knocked off Burroughs 12-0 in 1997. It's the only two times the two schools have met.
Burroughs tied for the state championship in 1995, but they haven't won the title outright since 1992.
Anderson has been impressed with this year's Bombers' team.
"There solid in pretty much every aspect, all the way to their kicking game to their defense to their offense," said Anderson. "They're very fundamental and obviously they have some good athletes to go along with it. Hopefully we can create some turnovers of some kind and control the ball on offense and look for big plays."
Burroughs is a pass first, run second-type team. They are led by 6-foot-2, 195-pound quarterback A.J. Van Slyke, the son of former Major League Baseball star Andy Van Slyke.
The younger Van Slyke has completed 79-of-139 passes (57 percent) for 1,265 yards with 20 TDs and just four interceptions.
Van Slyke likes to spread the wealth, hitting seven different receivers with more than 100 yards each.
Tom Schnuck leads the team with 332 yards on 25 catches. Tight end Bob Miltenberger has 15 catches for 239 yards. "They're very wide open on offense," said Anderson. "They get back in the shotgun and they run some pro sets and run the football some."
The Bluejays haven't been exposed to the wide open attack, but Anderson says his team should remember it from a year ago when they ran a similar offense.
"We've run that in the past and I really feel like we know how to defend it," he said.
The Bombers' are led on the ground by A.J. Eades with 859 yards on 135 carries. Van Slyke is also dangerous with his legs, rushing for 405 yards. Eades and Van Slyke lead the team with 12 and 11 touchdowns, respectively.
Burroughs has a size advantage on the line but Lemen claims he isn't interested in blowing the Bluejays off the ball.
"We're not a pounding team," said Lemen. "We're the type of team that, realistically, mixes the run and the pass. We throw the ball more than the average team."
While the Bombers sound imposing on offense, the strength of the team lies with a defense which has held six opponents to seven points or less.
"They really remind me of Sikeston on defense," said Anderson. "They're fundamentally sound, they run to the football real well and they don't get themselves into trouble by lining up in the wrong defense."
Charlie Felker, a 6-3, 225-pound defensive end, leads the team with tackles for loss (9) and sacks (4). Jordan Fields leads the team with six interceptions.
Lemen says containing Clark, who rushed for a season-high 215 yards in last week's sectional win against Portageville, will be his team's biggest obstacle.
"We hope to be able to read what he's doing so that when he bootlegs we'll have to contain with linebackers and defensive backs," said Lemen. "We have to stay at home so when he does misdirection and things of that nature we don't make mistakes."
Charleston has only made the state semifinals once in the school's history. That came in 1989 in Class 3A with the Lamont Frazier-led Bluejays.
Anderson says his team is hoping to duplicate that kind of success.
"The kids keep telling me, 'Coach, this is not it. We are not ready to quit.' And I tell them, 'if you're ready, I promise I'll have the best gameplan ready that I can get for you,'" said Anderson. "This bunch has worked hard and it's good to see it pay off. Hopefully it will continue to do so."