SIKESTON -- Charleston and New Madrid County Central square off in a battle of SEMO Conference Central Division foes tonight at Marshall Field in Charleston.
Both teams have experienced spotty performances in early season action.
The Charleston Bluejays (2-0), coming off a bye week, have been hampered by injury, slowing an expected potent offense. The Jays narrowly got by winless Sikeston 13-6 in their last outing.
Chief among the injured has been two important cogs in the Jays' offense, all-region running back Joseph Watts and quarterback Justin Clark.
"We're beat up, we tried to get healed up and hope we're doing better," said Charleston coach Al Marshall. "Joe (Watts) was just playing on guts against Sikeston. He had no leg drive or cutting ability, which is his forte."
The NMCC Eagles (2-1), also dealing with their share of bumps and bruises, struggled to defeat winless Cape Central, then lost to previously winless Poplar Bluff last week.
"The kids came back this week and shook the loss off pretty well," said NMCC coach Arlen Pixley. "We've had four good days of practice so far this week and, hopefully, we can finish things off tonight."
The strengths of both teams, NMCC's run game vs. Charleston's defense, should be tested tonight.
The Eagles, paced by tailbacks Marquese Gates and DeAnton Brown, average 317 rushing yards per game while the Bluejays defense has held its two opponents to just 13 points -- a late seven points by Kennett and Sikeston's six.
While NMCC has established a solid rushing attack, the passing game -- 88 yards in three games -- has yet to gel.
"We had some passes that had a little too much on them and a couple of receivers with gator arms that let the ball go through their hands," said Pixley, on the Poplar Bluff game, "and that's just a result of not having to throw a lot the first two weeks and then we got into a situation of being down and trying to quick-strike it and get back in there and we were off the mark a little bit."
Charleston's defense has been solid in all areas.
"You win fans with offense and championships with defense," Marshall said. "I think we're well prepared for what New Madrid does, but it's one thing to be prepared and another to stop them."
Hesitant to single out individuals because the whole defensive unit has performed so well, Marshall agreed that the line, led by Markale Kent, Brian Cassell and Jerrell Quinn, has been a huge key.
"Our defensive linemen have played tremendously," he said.
Class 3 NMCC, probably deeper at every position than Class 2 Charleston, must find a way to keep its focus and avoid turnovers.
"The main thing is we've got to bring an intensity into Charleston that they can't match, then we'll have a chance," said Pixley. "Charleston is a team that thrives on opportunity. Sikeston gave them a lot of opportunities and Kennett did the same thing. We're going to have to play extremely well in every phase of the game."
Charleston, on the other hand, must generate enough offense and keep its defense performing at a high level.
"I think they're beatable, but we're going to have to bring our 'A' game," said Marshall.