DEXTER - The battle for Class 3, District 1 in football is set for Thursday night at Charles Bland Stadium in Dexter.
Dexter (8-1, 2-0) and New Madrid County Central (7-2, 2-0) are both undefeated in district play after taking care of district opponents Kennett and Perryville.
Last week in brutal weather conditions, Dexter blanked Kennett 37-0 while NMCC got past Perryville 15-12.
On the year, Dexter and NMCC have six common opponents in Kennett, Perryville, Poplar Bluff, Charleston, Caruthersville and Sikeston.
The Bearcats have dispatched all common opponents, while NMCC lost only one, to Poplar Bluff 24-6 at home. Dexter defeated Bluff 10-7 in overtime at home.
Dexter won the first game between the two schools in 1986 at home, 24-6. However, the Eagles have gotten the better of the 20-game series winning 13 contests.
Last year, Dexter defeated NMCC 34-7 and went on to win their first district title since 2002. The Bearcats have won the last two meetings with the Eagles.
This year's battle is expected to be a physical game with both defense's holding the spotlight.
"They (NMCC) are very solid on defense," said Dexter head coach Aaron Pixley. "They are swarming to the ball and they have some big, fast linemen that really test your offensive linemen. This will be one of our most physical football games of the year. We have got to be ready both mentally and physically."
NMCC is led on defense by linebackers Sedrick Hemphill (5-10, 180) and Dijuan Waters (5-11, 200). Hemphill leads the Eagles on the year with 82 tackles, while Waters is second on the team with 78.
Last week against Perryville, Hemphill and Waters had 14 and 13 tackles respectively.
The Eagles have a solid group of defensive linemen led by Patrick Guest (6-0, 225) and L.T. Sutton (5-11, 220). Fellow defensive lineman Woody Smelser (6-2, 210) has also has had a solid senior season for NMCC.
Dexter's defense is led by a hardened group of linebackers led by senior Taylor Joyner (5-11, 180) and juniors David Hessling (5-11, 170) and Glen Johnson (5-11, 175).
"Dexter fills the holes well on defense," said NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley. "They have an excellent scheme over there and everybody seems to contribute. Their linebackers are very good and they do a nice job up front. It is just an excellent system overall."
On the offensive side of the football, Dexter comes into the contest hot, averaging 34.8 points per game in their last five contests.
The Bearcats are led by senior quarterback Josh Stevens (6-0, 215) who has thrown for 1,271 yards and 12 touchdowns. Stevens has thrown for close to 400 yards in his last two contests.
Dexter has a nice senior receiving combo in Logan Swindle (5-10, 175) and Drew Pixley (5-10, 155). Swindle has 24 receptions for 488 yards and six touchdowns, while Pixley has 19 catches for 379 yards with three touchdowns.
On the ground, Dexter is led by senior Zach Ventura (5-8, 180) who has rushed for 1,090 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the season.
"We can't go to sleep against Dexter because they can either beat you on the ground or through the air," said Arlen Pixley. "Dexter might pass on first down and run on second and long. They are not predictable at all. Dexter's coaching staff does a nice job of mixing up things on offense."
Dexter's offensive line is led by senior center Alex Watkins (5-8, 190) and junior tackle Andrew Cato (6-0, 225).
"Dexter has one of the best offensive tackles in the area in No. 75 (Cato)," said Arlen Pixley. "He does a fine job and is probably the best we will face all year. He plays hard and low and has a good motor. They also have No. 50 (Watkins) and everybody is impressed by his play."
NMCC primarily uses the running game but can pass the football on occasion. Senior Marquese Gates (5-11, 175) leads the team with 756 yards on 144 carries and has scored 11 touchdowns. Fellow senior DeAnton Brown (5-11, 175) has rushed 68 times for 472 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns including a 97-yard jaunt against Kennett.
Quarterback Leslie Williams (6-0, 190) is a threat in the backfield and has rushed for 433 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 87 carries. Through the air, Williams has thrown for 474 on 22 completions. Williams has thrown eight interceptions on the year.
Senior Tommy Rowe (5-11, 175) is the leading receiver on the Eagles with eight receptions for 142 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Justin Beasley (5
-10, 165) and Smelser are tied for second with six receptions apiece for identical 132 yards. Beasley has two touchdown receptions, while Smelser has one.
"New Madrid runs the ball extremely well," said Aaron Pixley. "They have about four or five backs that can really get it done. Their quarterback also runs the ball effectively. When they decide to pass, they send out these fast receivers that run good, hard routes. The quarterback has a good arm and can throw the ball down the field very, very well. New Madrid is a threat everywhere on offense."
It is a big game for both teams, but Aaron Pixley believes his squad has to remember the fundamentals that got them here.
"Yes, it is a big game," said Aaron Pixley, "but at the same time, we still have to go out and play football the way it is supposed to be played. All we ask of the kids is to prepare themselves and be in the position to play a championship game. It is going to be a great game with a great atmosphere."
Over at NMCC, the team is ready to get on the field Thursday night.
"We have had a good week of practice," said Arlen Pixley. "We are coming into the game at full strength. Dexter is a fine team with a good scheme and we have to be ready to play our best football."