CARUTHERSVILLE - Riding a two-game winning streak, the New Madrid County Central Eagles football team will invade Tiger country to take on Caruthersville on Friday night.
The Tigers (2-2) have dropped two games in a row with a loss at Charleston and a home loss to rival Hayti Indians last week. It's the first time Caruthersville has lost two straight games since the 2002 season.
Turnovers have proven costly to Caruthersville as they racked up eight turnovers against the Bluejays and threw three interceptions against the Indians. While the Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Hayti by a score of 22-20, they were embarrassed by Charleston 46-6.
NMCC (2-2) comes in on a semi-roll as they defeated Fredericktown 47-22 two weeks ago and last week upset state-ranked Charleston 24-22.
In the overall series, the Eagles have won 15 out of 21 but Caruthersville has taken the last two, including 46-6 last season.
Coach Arlen Pixley of NMCC has one thing in mind as his squad prepares for the Tigers and that is to keep the momentum going.
"We'd like to keep it rolling on Friday night," said Pixley. "The kids have come back and gained some confidence heading into this game."
For coach Brad Gerling of Caruthersville, expectations have not changed for his team.
"We have gotten off to a slow start," said Gerling. "The kids have been positive this week and expectations have not changed for this year. We play to get ready for state championships."
The Eagles will feature a potent running attack with running backs Antonio McIntosh and Printice Willis and sophomore quarterback Leslie Williams. McIntosh (5-11, 215) has rushed for 400 yards and scored two touchdowns this season and Willis (6-2, 210) is a close second on the team in rushing with 361 yards and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns.
Williams (5-11, 185) assumed the quarterbacking duties in Week 3 and has solidified the option offense used by the Eagles. Williams has rushed for 118 yards and has scored two rushing touchdowns.
Pixley has been impressed with the maturation of his sophomore quarterback.
"He understands the offense and makes sure everyone is where they are supposed to be," said Pixley. "He is making all the right decisions so far and we hope that continues."
Gerling is fully aware of the rushing attack that NMCC will offer.
"They will spread the football out like Hayti and they have some great athletes in the backfield," said Gerling. "We have been working on option responsibilities throughout the week."
The Eagles' passing attack has slowed considerably since Williams has taken over the helm but he has passed for 55 yards with two touchdowns. The main receiving target for the Eagles will be junior Tommy Rowe (5-11, 175) who has caught four passes for 134 yards. Of his four receptions, three have been for touchdowns.
Willis will be another option at receiver for NMCC as he can catch passes out of the backfield and make short gains into long touchdowns. Just ask the North County defense as he took a screen pass and turned it into an 85-yard touchdown reception. For the year, Willis has three receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown.
On the offense line for the Eagles, Pixley is excited about how this unit is coming together.
"Offensive line is playing better as they get more repetitions," said Pixley. "We get Joe Kirby back from injury but the five that have been playing are starting to gel and make some big plays for us."
Senior Joe Kirby (6-1, 255) is back but the O-line has been playing so well that Kirby will play more defensive line than offense.
The offensive line weighs on average 216 pounds and will feature Brad Colbert (6-1, 235) at center and senior L.T. Sutton (5-11, 200) at right guard.
On defense for the Tigers, linebacker Mikey Lack (6-0, 185) leads the team in tackles and leadership for Caruthersville. On the D-line, junior Ted VanAusdall (6-2, 275) will anchor the line. The line will be a big task for NMCC to control as the Tigers' defensive line averages 239 pounds.
Besides Lack, the linebackers are big and experienced with seniors Matt Hazel (6-0, 210) and Evan Gibson (6-1, 220). The corps of linebackers will be counted on to make some plays in the backfield for the Tigers.
"We constantly adjust and adapt," said Gerling of his defense. "We need to make plays on their side of the football for us to be successful."
In the secondary, Caruthersville will depend on two seniors for leadership. Zach Ayers (5-11, 170) and Jason Tate (6-2, 180).
Caruthersville has the second leading rusher in the area in junior Kendrickus Reed (6-0, 200) who has rushed for 702 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Reed is only two yards behind the area's leading rusher, Paris Tipler of East Prairie.
Leading the way for Reed will be fullback Gibson who has gained 50 yards on six carries. Wideout Rashad Fields (6-1, 190) is second on the team in rushing with 57 yards.
Senior Keith Creekmore is the quarterback for the Tigers and has been less than accurate so far this year. Creekmore has attempted 56 passes while completing only 19 for 253 yards passing with a touchdown. Creekmore is susceptible to throwing interceptions and Pixley is aware of that fact.
"Caruthersville has had a lot of turnovers in the last couple of games and we just have to execute on defense to take advantage of what they might give us," said Pixley.
The Tigers receiving corps is solid with Fields, Gibson and Chima Nwora (6-0, 190). Between the three, they have caught 12 passes for 202 yards.
On the offensive line, the Tigers will have solid personnel at tackles with VanAusdall and Joe Mixon (5-11, 235). The O-line for Caruthersville averages 237 pounds per man.
"We run a spread formation on offense and are rushing has been very important in the last few weeks," said Gerling. "We have been working a lot on the passing game this week in practice and we have some players getting healthy and that is always a plus."
NMCC has its hands full on defense trying to stop the potent Tigers' attack.
"They have some good tackles on offense and their playmakers take advantage," said Pixley. "Caruthersville does so many things on offense with a nice mixture of pass and run. We have a lot of things to prepare for."
The Eagles are led on defense by McIntosh who leads the team in tackles with 50. Joining McIntosh at linebacker will be Woody Smelser (6-1, 195) and Shawn Newsome (6-2, 190).
Sutton will be counted on to plug gaps in the D-line after coming off an outstanding game against Charleston. He recorded 10 tackles on the game with 4 1/2 sacks.
Williams and Willis will be counted on for pass defense and run support as they will be in the Eagles' defensive secondary along with Rowe and Marquese Gates (5-11, 170).
"Our defense will try and disrupt the timing of Caruthersville," said Pixley. "Getting off blocks and reading the play are keys for us to be successful. We have been working on pass coverage and we feel that we are improving in that area."
Both teams are coming in hungry and aware of the importance of Friday's SEMO Central matchup.
"They are coming in riding high and they have played some good competition in North County and Farmington," said Gerling. "It is going to be a good football game and the team that makes plays has a good chance to win the game."
For the Eagles to come away with a road win they are going to have to want it more according to Pixley.
"It is going to be a battle of willpower and it should be an exciting game," said Pixley.
Friday night's matchup between NMCC and Caruthersville figures to be a classic and the winner of the game will have a lot of confidence going into district play in a few weeks.