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'Jays still alive for district title

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays and the Caruthersville Tigers meet on Thursday to decide the Class 2, District 1 championship.

Caruthersville, the only undefeated team in the district, is solidly in the driver's seat with a 2-0 record, but the Bluejays at 1-1 remain alive if they can pull off an upset of the Tigers by an nine-point spread or better.

The MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association), the governing body of high school sports, uses a 13-point tiebreaker system to determine district champions in the event of a three-way tie.

Currently, on the strength of two wins by more than 13 points, the Tigers sit at +26. The Bluejays, with a 20-0 win over East Prairie and a four-point loss to Malden, are at +9. Therefore, a Caruthersville loss by nine points or more would leave the Tigers at +17, while a Bluejay win of at least nine points would total +18, enough for the district title.

Of course, all those probabilities are moot should the Tigers defeat the Bluejays by any margin.

Malden (1-1) and East Prairie (0-2), the other two District 1 competitors, are mathematically eliminated, although Malden can play the spoiler role of sorts by defeating East Prairie to stage a three-way tie and enforcing the aforementioned point system.

Should Malden lose to East Prairie, Charleston can win the district with a victory against Caruthersville by any amount of points as the tiebreaker then goes to head-to-head competition.

Throw out a 50-14 rout by Dexter and Charleston's defense has been solid, allowing 11.7 points per game. But the offense has been less than prolific at a 16.1 points-per-game clip.

To have any chance, the Bluejays must contain Caruthersville's all-state running back Kendrickus Reed, who leads the area with 1,898 rushing yards with 23 touchdowns.

However, Reed is not the only threat the Tigers possess. Slotback Tristan Starks and wideout Rashad Fields are dangerous from any spot on the field. Starks has rushed for 564 yards with four TDs and Fields has 221 rushing yards and two TDs and leads the Tiger receivers with 14 catches for 182 yards and one TD.

Quarterback Jake VanAusdall, a first-year starter, has proven himself to be a capable passer at times, hitting 32-of-78 passes for 333 yards and two TDs.

The Bluejays will rely on senior quarterback Justin Clark (47-of-104 for 586 passing yards with five TDs and two rushing TDs) and power back Jerquawn Sherrell, who has rushed for more than 600 yards with five TDs, to provide the impetus on offense.

Hobbled three-time 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Watts is still a factor. Bothered by a knee injury that will require surgery after the season, Watts has been unable to make the dime cuts he's so well known for, but has shown the heart of a champion just to play and contribute with about 300 rushing yards.

Charleston stats do not include last week's totals.

The final outcome may well depend on the Bluejay defense, which must be at the top of its game.

The defense is led by a stout defensive line anchored by 320-pound senior nose guard Brandon Gillespie, senior defensive tackle Brian Cassell, senior defensive end Markale Kent and junior defensive tackle James Davenport, along with active linebackers Billy Butler, Garrison Eastman and Sherrell.

Maybe not a deciding factor, but neither team will have a pure homefield advantage.

The Tigers have played their home games on Hayti's field all season, following the destruction of their stadium earlier this year by a tornado.

Game time is Thursday at 7 p.m.