CHARLESTON -- Momentum may not mean much in Friday night's non-conference matchup between East Prairie and Charleston at Marshall Field.
Sure, East Prairie comes off a strong 55-28 win over winless Chaffee, while Charleston tries to regroup from a penalty-plagued 19-7 loss to a good Dexter team, but history firmly backs the Blue Jays in this Mississippi County rivalry.
Charleston holds a 57-4-2 series edge over the Eagles.
"We're coming off a great win," said East Prairie coach Jason Aycock, "but everybody's got to realize that this Charleston team is totally different. Compared to Chaffee, they have a whole lot more athletes, a lot of speed and a lot of size. Charleston's a good football team and it's going to be a tough one for us."
But, don't count the Eagles out. Although they field only 18 healthy players, this group has proven themselves to be warriors.
"They put their heart and soul in it," said Aycock.
Charleston, on the other hand, is loaded with young, talented skill players, but has shown a tendency for penalties and turnovers.
Charleston coach Brent Anderson and his staff did take exception to several calls in the Dexter contest. In review of the game tapes, Anderson said he saw at least six incorrect calls.
"On the illegal formations they called on us three times, we were in proper formations," he said. "That's disappointing, knowing that it wiped out two plays of 25 yards or more. That can't happen. You can make mistakes, but you can't make the same mistake on the same formation three times. The block in the back calls were in the free blocking zone (an area three yards wide and two yards deep on each side of the ball).
"I'm not harping on that as a big deal, but it's tough on our kids. Friday night our kids showed heart, desire and compassion for the game and it was a shame that penalties were called when they weren't warranted."
Anderson said the Jays are anxious to get back on the field and prove that they're a good football team.
"Everybody is talking about what we're not," he said. "We're not a disciplined football team, we're not this and we're not that, but we're headed in the right direction. We moved the football and played great defense in the first half against Dexter. We played a good first half, minus the penalties. We've just got to push on."
Charleston will again count on the running of sophomore Joseph Watts (553 yards, 7 TDs), the passing of junior Josh Marshall (53-113, 828 yards, 7 TDs) and the receiving of a trio of tall wide receivers in 6-6 senior Ashton Farmer (22-276 yards), 6-3 sophomore Justin Clark (11-192) and 6-4 sophomore Jamarcus Williams (11-141).
Said Aycock, "I don't think anybody in the area can match up with their receivers. We've got to make sure that they don't get behind us and try to contain them. Hopefully, we can get enough pressure on the quarterback that he can't make accurate throws and get a few sacks here and there. We can't sit back and let them just pick us apart."
In addition to those problems, there's Charleston's do-everything back, Bobby Clark, who has rushed for 186 yards and three TDs, caught eight passes for 214 yards and three TDs and also scored on a 95-yard interception return.
"He's a gamer," said Anderson of Clark. "He was a little on the softer side last year, but he got in the weight room, did everything we asked of him this summer and he's become a stud. He's become one of our go-to guys. Defensively and offensively, he's a big-time player. We call him a 'big play' ready to happen."
Charleston goes into its final tuneup before district play at 4-2, 2-2 in the SEMO Central Conference.
"We don't have to blow the whole thing up and start over," said Anderson. "The things that we're deficient in right now, we can correct. We've just got to regroup, refocus, do the things we know are right and try to get rid of those little things. This is where you find out where you're at. A loss like that really sits in your craw, so do you come back and get after people or do you feel sorry for yourself and make it worse? We're going to find out about our kids this week."
East Prairie has enjoyed a renaissance, of sorts, since a position change three games ago.
"There's no doubt that that's been the key to our success lately," said Aycock, of the change that moved Dez Johnson to tailback and Preston Shoemaker to quarterback.
"We knew we had to get the ball into Dez's hands. We were trying to bootleg him out (at quarterback) and he just wasn't getting enough carries. I always figured that if we get Dez the ball 20 to 25 times a game, sooner or later he's going to break one. It definitely has been a spark for our ballclub."
Johnson has a string of three straight 200-yard rushing games. On the season, he has 708 yards for an 8.0 per-carry-average with 13 touchdowns.
"Preston doesn't get rattled," said Aycock. "He possesses confidence and leadership, a couple of things you need at the quarterback position. He's a commander on the field. He's moved in there and done a great job at quarterback."
Shoemaker passed for five touchdowns last week.
So how does seemingly overmatched East Prairie stay in this game?
"We have got to play together, be disciplined, take care of our responsibilities and trust the guy next to us," said Aycock. "We are going to have to take advantage of their mistakes and we need to be mistake-free. If we can get our offense established and keep the ball out of their hands, I think we can make it a good ballgame.
"It's a tough game for us and we're just going to have to come out and do our best."