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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

Game of the Week: NMCC at Dexter

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

DEXTER - It's been so long since the Dexter Bearcats have defeated New Madrid County Central that probably not a single player on either team can recall the last time.

The year was 1991, a 21-20 Bearcat victory that few at the time thought would be the last for 10 years.

Since that time, Dexter has had one playoff appearance, which came the following year in 1992.

NMCC, on the other hand, has nine playoff appearances during that stretch, winning Class 3, District 1 for the last seven years running.

But history reports and tradition won't mean a thing on Friday night when the Eagles travel to Dexter for a second round district game at 7:30.

Standing at 6-2 and 1-0 in district play, Dexter is in the pole position of Class 3, District 1. The Bearcats have already clinched their second straight winning season, something that hasn't happened since 1986 and 1987. Dexter disposed of Kennett 42-0 last week.

NMCC, after last week's loss to Fredericktown, enters the game at 2-6 and 0-1 in district play. Unless the Eagles reach the Class 3 championship game, they are assured of their first losing season since 1986.

But despite the Eagles' struggles, head coach Steve Rogers feels good about the way his team has persevered.

"The effort and the attitude have been super," said Rogers. "It would've been easy for the guys to get down and quit."

Injuries have hurt the Eagles this year, but not more than Graduation 2001, which saw the team lose 14 seniors, with most playing both ways.

Now for the first time in recent memory, the Eagles will be an underdog in a district game.

Dexter will field a team that has won six games in a row, out-scored its opposition 38 to 5 during the streak.

Dexter's single-season and career rushing leader Matt Burnett headlines the Bearcat lineup. He is currently Southeast Missouri's No. 2 rushing leader this season with 1,344 yards, and his 24 touchdowns is tops in the region.

"He's probably one of the better running backs in this part of the country," said Rogers. "We're going to have to gang tackle him. He's a big boy. We've got to get a lot of people around the football. We're not going to stop Burnett, we just hope to contain him a little bit and keep him from breaking the long one, the 50 and 60-yarders for touchdowns."

But the Bearcats also offer up some other weapons on offense, including wide receiver Willie Dooley, who has 328 yards receiving on 16 catches with three TDs. He's also returned two interceptions for touchdowns this year.

Three-year starting quarterback Preston Clark has struggled some this year, completing just 28 percent of his passes with four interceptions. He is 30-of-107 on the year for 474 yards.

"We really need to force them to pass," said Rogers. "They're going to run the ball as long as we let them run the ball. They haven't had to throw much this year because they've been able to run the ball. They've got a good offensive line. We need to make them work for 10 or 12 plays to score. Maybe if we can do that they'll make a turnover or penalty or some kind of mistake."

The Eagles counter with a defense that has allowed 27 points per game this year, albeit against a brutal schedule.

Offensively, NMCC has either been feast or famine. The team averages a respectable 19 points per game, but turnovers and penalties have been the Eagles' undoing.

"We're making a lot of mistakes because of our youth," said Rogers. "We've got a lot of guys going both ways. We're in shape, but after the beating and the pounding you get tired after a while."

After projected starting quarterback Chris Nance went down with a season-ending injury in the preseason, the Eagles had to take drastic measures.

Quarterback Remond Willis, a former offensive guard and tailback, has been one of the few bright spots. His 629 yards rushing is the most by any quarterback in Southeast Missouri. He has also thrown for 581 yards, completing 37-of-90 passes with three scores and five interceptions.

He leads the team with seven touchdowns.

Bryan Williams and Mack Kimble have rotated at tailback where they have combined to rush for 608 yards with seven touchdowns.

Edgar Givens has caught 16 passes for 205 yards while Vaughn Shephard has six catches for 135 yards. All but 35 of Shephard's yards came in one game.

I know that Dexter respects us and we respect them," said Rogers. "This may be their year. But we give them a combination of a lot of things that they've seen this year, but they haven't seen it in one package. We can run the option game, we can run the power game, we can throw the football probably as good as anybody they've played maybe with the exception of Poplar Bluff. I'm real excited about it and I think it's going to be a good football game."