(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
ST. LOUIS -- The football season for the New Madrid County Central Eagles came to an abrupt halt on Monday night, in one two-point conversion play, that left the Eagles' running back Lennies McFerren lying on the two-yard line, just six feet shy of victory. MICDS took the state quarterfinal game by one point, 28-27, at Christian Brothers College high school field.
For the Eagles, it was a well-coached, well-played and well-fought battle to the end of an incredible season. The seniors that were on the field on Monday night, four years ago were going about the off-season after a 1-8 season.
"I'm proud of our guys," NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley said. "We've come along way. This group of seniors was 1-9 as freshmen and a lot of them played."
"The next year they were 6-4," he added. "The year after that, last year, they were 8-3. It just continued to snowball and things got turned in the right direction."
The game, played on field turf, was a typical NMCC-style game, with plenty of running, but mixed well with passing from Dontre Jenkins, who was 8-for-16 passing with 162 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown from three yards out.
NMCC took the opening kick-off, and just about a minute and a half in, at 10:35, Bryan Waters caught a 33-yard pass from Jenkins, followed by a McFerren two-point conversion run, to put the Eagles up 8-0 quickly.
MICDS answered back a few minutes later with a 13-yard run from Clay Reed at 6:11 in the first. Rick Lottenbach added the extra point.
The first quarter scoring wasn't finished for the Rams however, as they added another score at 2:15 from Nick Shortal from two yards out on a pitch from Jeremiah Oteh, followed by another successful kick from Lottenbach.
The momentum pendulum swung back the Eagles way to start the second quarter, as Justin Beasley, from his corner back position, intercepted an Oteh pass and took it to the house for the score 49 yards out, at 11:16. The Eagles two-point conversion failed on a run from Jenkins, leaving the score tied at 14 for the moment.
After taking turns going three-and-out, the Eagles managed to put the next points on the board, at 5:42, on another Bryan Waters reception from Jenkins, this time from 15 yards out. Sedrick Hemphill kicked the extra point, and the Eagles had the lead once again.
The Rams responded with 1:57 left to play in the first half, when Matt Bell caught a 15-yard pass from Oteh for six points. Lottenbach again did the honors, and the Rams shared a lead with the Eagles at the half, 21-21.
The biggest hit of the year took place to begin the second half. As the Eagles kicked off, Levi Kirkland, of MICDS waited deep in the backfield for the Dijuan Waters boot, and quickly found himself leveled on the turf, as Kony Ealy delivered a crushing hit, hard enough to send Kirkland's helmet flying a few yards back.
The hit got the crowd involved as well as throwing the momentum in the Eagles favor, but the Rams gathered their composure, and held the Eagles offense scoreless in the third quarter, with a little help from a few key fumbles and slippery footing on the wet turf.
"Our mistakes weren't from lack of effort type plays," Pixley said. "They were just over-zealous. The big plays there in the third quarter really put our backs to the wall."
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles were battling strong on defense, and looked to have the MICDS squad right where they wanted them. With the Rams down to a third down and long situation, quarterback Oteh scrambled out of the pocket and delivered a deep pass to Bell towards the end zone.
Following the pass, which fell incomplete by several yards, was one lone penalty flag, that signaled pass interference on the Eagles, leaving the Rams with just a few short yards to go for the score.
After an MICDS penalty backed them up, the Rams went to the air again, and from 27 yards out, Oteh hooked up with Bell for the score, followed by a Lottenbach extra point, leaving 4:36 left for the Eagles to return the favor.
The Eagles received the gift of momentum one more time late in the game, and after a few pass interference calls against the Rams, the Eagles found themselves with no timeouts and about 55 seconds left to travel the remaining 45 yards down the field to the end zone.
Just a few short runs and screen passes later, NMCC found itself three yards away from inching closer to the Rams on the scoreboard, and with 1.3 seconds left, Jenkins kept the ball himself, and scampered out to his left to go in just inside the end zone for six points.
With the crowd on its feet, and a mist falling steadily, NMCC lined up for the two-point conversion to go for the win instead of the tie.
MICDS wasted no time calling a timeout, and Pixley called his troops over to talk things through.
"The kids looked me in the eye," he said. "We were going to kick one, and the kids said hey coach let's go for it."
Just seconds later, McFerren lay stopped in his tracks two yards short of the goal line, and the Eagles, two yards shy of moving on to their next opponent.
"I've trusted them all season long, just like they (NMCC players) have me," Pixley said. "We thought we had a good play there, and I don't know exactly what happened. We just couldn't pull the trigger."
NMCC fell just yards shy, but cannot count the season as a loss, as Pixley said his kids have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about.
"I'm pleased with what we did tonight," he said. "We kept our heads right there (to the end)."
The Eagles totaled 279 yards of offense on the night, compared to the Rams' 371.
Bryan Waters was the leading rusher for the Eagles with 69 yards on eight carries. He also had two receptions for 48 yards, both for touchdowns. McFerren had 12 carries for 51 yards. MICDS was led by quarterback Oteh, who was 15-for-26 passing with 197 yards and Reed, who had 20 carries for 120 yards.