(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- All season long the New Madrid County Central Eagles have used a pressure defense to create havoc and wear down their opponents. Thursday night the Eagles followed that formula once again in a 36-14 win over the Dexter Bearcats, claiming the Class 3, District 1 title as well as the SEMO Central Conference championship.
"We're really pleased with the way we played," said NMCC coach Arlen Pixley. "We started off flat there in the first half, but Dexter did some good things against us defensively. The second half we came out and made a statement."
The Eagles statement began on their first possession of the third quarter. Leading 8-7 at the half, NMCC methodically marched 32 yards on seven plays with Lennies McFerren capping off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. After a Dontre Jenkins two-point conversion run, NMCC led 16-7.
After a Dexter drive stalled, the Eagles again marched the ball on a 10-play, 55-yard drive that ended when Jenkins found Justin Beasley in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown. A pass from Jenkins to McFerren on the two-point conversion put NMCC up 24-7.
On Dexter's next offensive play, Jenkins scooped up a Nick Hessling fumble and ran it in from 18 yards out and the Eagles had effectively sealed the game up 30-7.
"The kids really stepped up the second half of the ball game," Pixley said. "That's what champions do, they capitalize on mistakes."
Dexter coach Aaron Pixley said the start of the second half was what did in his Bearcats. "We played great in the first half and we came out in the second half and had a few things go wrong with the fumble," Pixley said. "They had great field position and our backs were to the wall the whole game. Anytime you're in that position against a defense like that who pressures you so much, they're going to make some things happen. That's just a credit to their football team. They were a better football team tonight."
While the Eagle offense was methodically moving the ball, their defense was creating havoc on the Bearcat passing game. Dexter quarterback Ben Mills was under constant pressure the entire game, as the NMCC defense forced several errant throws.
"(Mills) was under a lot of stress," Aaron Pixley said. "They were getting some pressure on us and he was a little off, but he came back in the fourth quarter and he threw some nice passes and got it going there and finished on a positive note."
Mills finished the game 15-28 for 184 yards. He threw one touchdown pass, a 67-yarder, to Bobby Rawson late in the fourth quarter. Rawson caught 5 passes for 110 yards while Eric Windham caught six balls for 54 yards.
"It was a concern going in how much pressure we'd get and their offensive line stepped up and did a pretty good job," Arlen Pixley said. "We had to change up doing some things because they countered us pretty good there. Once we countered what they were doing we settled in and did a really excellent job on defense. We missed some tackles there late but they have big, tall receivers that are going to get loose."
Dexter (6-4) scored on their opening drive using a 10-play, 66-yard drive that mixed both the run and the pass. The Bearcats got into the end zone when fullback Glen Johnson barreled in from 19 yards out. After the kick, Dexter led 7-0.
NMCC got on the board early in the second quarter when the Eagles blocked a Ben Mills punt. The ball went into the end zone but an alert Mills knocked the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety rather than risking an Eagle recovery.
Dexter's 7-2 lead held until just under three minutes to play in the first half when McFerren sprinted around the right side for 29-yard touchdown, giving NMCC their first lead 8-7 and setting up the Eagles second half explosion.
NMCC was led in rushing by McFerren and Bryan Waters as each gained 122 yards on 14 and 12 carries respectively. Waters had the longest run of the day with a 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that capped off the Eagle scoring. Jenkins finished the game 6-13 passing for 72 yards.
Arlen Pixley was very complementary of the Dexter program after the game. "(Dexter) started out 1-3 and I don't know how many teams could have fought back from that," Pixley said. "They came out here and gave us everything we wanted.
"Every year when we line up out here, (Aaron Pixley) will tell you that the road runs through New Madrid and we think it runs through Dexter. That's a testament to them getting that program turned around."
The playoff road now begins for the Eagles as they will host the Fredericktown Blackcats (9-1) Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
"I think we're where we need to be," Arlen Pixley said. "Our attitude right now is peaking."