NEW MADRID -- New Madrid County Central opens its SEMO Conference schedule against heavily-favored Central Division leader Charleston on Friday.
With a 46-6 dismantling of the then eighth-ranked Caruthersville Tigers, Charleston (3-0) took a giant step towards proving itself to be a true power in the area. As a result, the Bluejays climbed into the top 10 in the Missouri prep poll at the No. 7 position.
"I don't really put much stock into all that," said Charleston coach Alfred Marshall, of the Bluejays' ranking. "I told my boys to keep their feet on the ground and their heads out of the clouds."
For NMCC, building confidence, rather than deflating it, is the main concern of coach Arlen Pixley. NMCC (1-2) broke a nine-game losing streak and picked up its first win of the season, 47-22 over winless Fredericktown, last week. The Eagles two losses have been to ranked teams, Farmington and North County.
"That was a big win for us," said Pixley. "We needed a little air under our wings and we went in there, got a little physical with them and came away with the win."
On paper, this game looks like a mismatch in Charleston's favor, but Marshall realizes the Eagles have some quality skill-position players and a mental letdown could open the door.
"Every team causes me concern," he said. "I don't take anybody lightly. We're a good team, but we still made a lot of mistakes."
The Eagles, with sophomore quarterback Leslie Williams at the helm, rushed for a whopping 561 yards.
Running backs Antonio McIntosh and Printice Willis ran for 233 and 179, respectively. Willis scored three times; McIntosh and Williams twice each.
Said Marshall, "Williams is basically a running back, so we'll have to be cognizant of the option and quarterback keepers."
NMCC picked up its level of play in the second half against Fredericktown, breaking open a close ballgame.
"The second half, we did really well defensively on first down, leaving them with second- and third-and-long situations," said Pixley. "We had some guys finally start reading their keys and it started paying off."
Pixley hopes to keep that momentum going against the quick-strike capability of the Bluejays, who scored on three first-down plays.
"We have to try to force their offense to go the length of the field to put it in the end zone," he said. "It's still early in the season and everybody's not completely polished yet, so teams can make mistakes in long-drive situations."
To be successful when the Eagles have possession, Pixley said, "Absolutely, no turnovers. We've got to take care of the football on offense. We've got to be solid in our kicking game, play field position and ball control.
"Charleston is an opportunistic team and they take advantage of every opportunity given them. That's what good teams do. They force you into mistakes and they capitalize on it."
Charleston forced eight Caruthersville turnovers, igniting the rout with scores off three first-quarter miscues.
The Bluejays, however, can score in a multitude of ways.
Senior quarterback Josh Marshall is experienced and poses a threat with his legs and arm. Against Caruthersville, Marshall ran for one score, threw for three others and ran in an interception for another.
"Their receiving corps has big kids," said Pixley. "They throw the ball up and they make tremendous catches."
The Bluejay receivers are big--strong and athletic, led by 6-foot-5 junior tight end Jamarcus Williams. Williams had touchdown catches of 58 and 42 yards last week.
Six-two junior wide receiver Justin Clark is also a deep threat. Clark had a 17-
yard touchdown grab.
Out of the backfield, slippery junior tailback Joseph Watts is on track for his third straight 1,000-yard season. Watts has 414 yards thus far with three touchdowns.
"It'll be important for us to pressure their quarterback and hold down their tailback," said Pixley, "and, hopefully, we can force them into obvious passing situations where we can defend the pass a little heavier."
Charleston has also received strong contributions from backup tailback Tavis Hamilton and speedy slotback Bobby Clark.
The Bluejay defense has improved with each outing, dropping opposition point production from 19 to eight to six in successive games.
Coach Marshall said his team needs to fine tune to have a shot at his eventual goal, a state title.
"My goal, like every coach's goal should be, is to win a state championship," he said.
"It takes a great team to win a state championship and we're not a great team yet. We've got 10 more steps on the ladder to a state championship and we've got to take one rung at a time. We need to get better doing the little things. We try to accentuate our strengths, but keep working on our weaknesses."
That next "rung," the NMCC Eagles, would like nothing better than to cause a Bluejay misstep.