DEXTER -- Charleston kept itself off the scoreboard in the first half. Dexter did it for them in the second.
As a result, the Bearcats tripped SEMO Central Conference rival Charleston 19-7 at Charles Bland Stadium on Friday.
The Blue Jays looked unstoppable on their opening drive.
Quarterback Josh Marshall hooked up with Bobby Clark for 38 yards, then Ashton Farmer for 24 and Charleston was sitting pretty at the Dexter 4 before the Homecoming crowd barely had time to settle into their seats.
An interception in the end zone by Dexter's Derek Clark on the next play proved to be a harbinger of things to come for the self-destructing Blue Jays, who were flagged for 10 first-half penalties.
"I'm real proud of the way our kids played, how hard they played," said Charleston coach Brent Anderson, "but when you commit that many penalties and you turn the football over, you can't win."
Following an opening-drive Dexter fumble, recovered by Jamarcus Williams at the Charleston 44, the Blue Jays continued to chew up huge chunks of yardage, despite three motion penalties. A Marshall-to-Williams 5-yard touchdown pass capped the 11-play drive. Dustin Allen's extra-point kick sent Charleston to a 7-0 lead at the 2:04 mark of the first period.
Charleston drives stalled three more times deep in Bearcat territory.
"We had the ball in the red zone four times in the first half and we come away with seven points," said Anderson. "That's tough."
Charleston (4-2, 2-2) rang up 235 yards of total offense, but had 89 penalty yards, in the opening half. Meanwhile, the Bearcats (4-2, 1-0) were forced to punt on three possessions and lost the ball by a fumble and an interception on two others.
So, what was Dexter's mood at halftime?
"We felt very fortunate to be down 7-0," said Dexter coach Aaron Pixley. "Our kids knew that it could have very well been 21- or 28-0. They were angry and some of the seniors let some people know what they felt."
The Bearcats wasted no time getting back into the game. Derek Roberts got it rolling with a second-half kickoff return to the Charleston 45.
"Derek Roberts comes out and gives us a huge kick return and that really pumped our kids up, said Pixley. "That was a huge play."
Six plays later -- all runs by a team primarily known for its passing attack -- Dexter's Zach Ventura rambled up the middle from six yards out to close the gap to 7-6.
"They drove it right down our throats," said Anderson, "and the whole complexion of the game changed."
On the decision to stick with the run, Pixley said, "We made our adjustments at the half and said, 'you know, let's just see if they can stop us running,' and they never did, so we just stayed with it. Our backs kept running hard and our line kept blocking harder and harder and that's what won the football game. That, and the kids coming out and believing they could do it, and playing hard-nosed D."
The Dexter defense held on every Charleston possession of the second half, while the run-oriented offense set the game tempo.
Early in the fourth quarter, Alex Becker's 30-yard run was followed by Ventura's 17-yard sweep around the right end for a touchdown to lift the Bearcats to a 12-7 lead.
At the 3:20 mark of the fourth period, the Bearcats' Josh Robinson recovered a Blue Jay fumble at the Charleston 10. One play later Becker bolted, untouched, up the middle to paydirt. Ben Robinson's extra-point kick pushed the lead to 19-7.
Becker finished with 158 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"This team has to play hard and execute all the time or nothing good's going to happen," said Pixley. "When they decided to do that in the second half, we started to see good things."
On the other sideline, it was, of course, a disappointing loss for the Blue Jays.
Said Anderson, "They're all hurting right now, but we'll bounce back. These kids have a lot of resolve, a lot of heart and they're proud."