ST. LOUIS -- New Madrid County Central has fielded some outstanding teams in the past, qualifying nine for the state playoffs. Four of those teams won the first round game and qualified for the state quarterfinals.
But that's where it ends.
NMCC has never reached the semifinals.
First-year coach Steve Rogers hopes his 10-1 team can change that when the Eagles travel to Pattonville High School Monday to face Clayton in the 3A Quarterfinals.
"We're a senior-dominated team, and most of the guys have been in the playoffs before," said Rogers. "We've never got past this round before, and I think this bunch wants to be the first ones that do it. A lot of these guys have started since they were sophomores, and they've been through a lot of adversity like the Festus game last year and the Sikeston game this year. We bring out the best in everybody and we need to bring our best game Monday night. If we do, I think we're going to like the outcome."
Clayton came out of District 4, beating Herculaneum in the sectional round 28-8. They're 8-3 against a solid schedule, losing to St. Francis Borgia, Ladue and NJ ROTC. They're riding a five-game winning streak.
"The last four weeks, we've put some good football together," said Clayton coach Larry Frost. "Right now, we're definitely playing our best football. We're the underdog. New Madrid is ranked up there pretty good, and I don't think anybody has really heard of us. Our kids are pretty pumped up and they've got a lot of confidence. I don't think we're going to be embarrassed, I think we'll play pretty well."
The Greyhounds are led by quarterback Greg Lazerus (6-0, 170). He isn't much of a passer, but has been elusive on the run, gaining 794 yards on 93 carries.
Fullback Brookes Robinson leads the team in rushing with 1,209 yards, but is playing with a deep thigh bruise on his left leg.
"He hobbled through the whole game against (Herculaneum)," explained Frost. "I don't know what he's going to do this week. We'll just have to see."
Even with the bruise he scored two touchdowns and rushed for 113 yards in the sectional round, but Rogers feels his defense will offer a greater challenge.
"I don't think he's been hit like he's going to get hit Monday night," said Rogers. "We may not be real big, but we pack a pretty good wallop. The one that we're concerned about is their quarterback. He's a great athlete. He throws well and he's rushed for about 800 yards. The night our scouts saw him, he also punted for over a 50-yard average with a great hang time. He'll probably be punting for somebody next year on Saturdays."
Todd Abrams (6-2, 210) is another big, strong runner Clayton has in its arsenal. Up front, the Greyhounds have average size. The starting offensive line weighs an average of 217 pounds, just five more than NMCC's.
"We're pretty much a running team," said Frost. "We're a multiple-set, multiple-formation team. We're not quite as fast as (NMCC), but we are fairly fast."
Since '93 the Eagles have reached this level of the playoffs every odd year, qualifying in '95, '97, and '99. NMCC is back after a disappointing sectional loss last year, ready to see how far this senior class, perhaps the most talented in school history, can take them.
Dereke Tipler set a school record for career touchdowns in last week's win over Ste. Genevieve, and stands at No. 2 in career yards. This year he has rushed for 1,655 yards and scored 25 TDs.
Desmond Sims has gained 512 yards on the ground, and caught 14 passes for 334 yards. He has 13 TDs combined.
Quarterback Brian Murph has thrown for 929 yards and rushed for 550.
"They're very fast and explosive," said Frost. "That is the main concern we have. (Tipler, Murph and Sims) are quality players. Stopping them is going to be a big challenge for us."
The Eagles are putting up 38 points per game on average while allowing 15.
"Their defense is fairly quick too," said Frost. "They're not big, but they get to the ball well. Our plan is to block well and execute, and continue to do the things we've been doing. Hopefully we will have enough to counteract their offense."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"I think if we don't make a lot of silly penalties and don't turn the ball over, we have an excellent chance of going up there and winning the ballgame," said Rogers.
DIRECTIONS: Monday's game will be played at Pattonville High School in St. Louis. Take I-55 to 270. Take 270 to 70, then go east on 70 to the St. Charles Rock Road exit. Then go west on St. Charles Rock Road a few miles to McKelvey Road. Turn left on McKelvey and take it for a few miles. It will soon change into Creve Ceour Road. Pattonville is located about a half-mile on the right.