DEXTER -- Dexter and New Madrid County Central tangle in the second round of the Class 3, District 1 football playoffs on Friday night.
Dexter (5-3, 1-0), the district favorite, must fend off NMCC (1-7, 0-1) to set up a probable title game with Perryville in the final week of district competition.
Perryville (3-5, 1-0), a 49-30 winner over NMCC last week, faces Kennett (1-7, 0-1), a 42-14 loser to Dexter, in Friday's other District 1 contest.
A sidelight to the Dexter-NMCC game is the inaugural head-to-head coaching matchup between brothers Aaron and Arlen Pixley. Aaron, in his fifth year, leads the Dexter program, while Arlen took the top job at New Madrid this season. Both are Dexter High School products.
The underdog NMCC Eagles, whose defensive inadequacies have resulted in the opposition's 35 points-per-game, face a herculean task in trying to slow down the Dexter Bearcats.
Dexter's balanced offense, averaging 28 ppg, has been effective on the ground and through the air.
The air attack is led by senior quarterback Kyle Espey. Espey, one of Southeast Missouri's leading passers, has thrown for 1,386 yards and 14 touchdowns on 50 percent accuracy.
Espey's favorite target, senior wideout Derek Roberts, leads the Bearcat receivers with 42 grabs for 671 yards and eight touchdowns.
Six-four, 222-pound senior tight end Aaron Lavender has 17 catches for 270 yards and a touchdown, while senior receivers Jake Smith and Levi Rawson have chipped in with eight catches and three touchdowns apiece.
Junior running back Alex Becker, averaging nearly six yards per carry, leads Dexter's ground game with 850 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Sophomore tailback Zach Ventura has produced in a backup role with four touchdown runs.
The linebacking corps of junior Josh Davis and seniors Bryan Pennington and Derek Clark spearheads an adequate Bearcat defense. Dexter held offensive juggernaut Caruthersville to a season-low point total of 30 in a losing effort.
NMCC lost 21 of 22 starters from last season's district championship team and have paid the price in a down year. The proud Eagle program, blessed with great success in recent years, is now searching for any kind of positive. A good showing against Dexter would fill the bill.
NMCC's offense, although far from prolific, has shown flashes of proficiency, given the athletic prowess of its skill players.
Senior receiver Eugene Cooper comes off an eight-catch, 185-yard, two-touchdown performance against Perryville. Cooper, one of the area's leading big-play performers, has four touchdowns of 40 yards or more, including two 80-plus bombs.
Senior Jeffery McFarland, also capable of the big play, has a kickoff return of 93 yards and a pass interception of 95, both for touchdowns.
The triggerman, junior quarterback Jordan Kimball, has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles. Since moving into the starting lineup in the second game of the season, Kimball has passed for 640 yards and five touchdowns. He has also rushed for three scores.
Injury, to just about everyone in the backfield, has been largely responsible for an inconsistent run game. NMCC has had only one 100-yard individual rushing game, that by senior fullback Antonio McIntosh against Kennett. McIntosh leads NMCC with 351 yards rushing.
Oft-injured Printice Willis is the second-leading rusher with 265 yards. He has scored four touchdowns. It's NMCC's defense, in particular, which has failed to come together or, seemingly, improve.
Coach Arlen Pixley has thrown, by necessity, several young players into the fray. He praised the play of freshmen defenders Leslie Williams, Dylan Harris and Dijuan Waters after the Perryville game.
The NMCC-Dexter contest is scheduled to kick off at Charles Bland Stadium in Dexter at 7 p.m.