CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays, beset by a rash of injuries to key players, look to snap a three-game skid against the visiting Fredericktown Blackcats on Friday.
In an ill-fated season, the Bluejays (2-3) have been minus the services of senior Joseph Watts, their leading ground gainer the past three seasons, and, in last week's 50-14 trouncing at Dexter, Charleston lost top receiver and senior team leader Jamarcus Williams for the remainder of the season with a broken leg.
Watts saw limited duty in the defensive backfield against Dexter and will likely get some reps on offense against Fredericktown.
"His leg is feeling better, but he's going to have surgery after the season," said Charleston coach Al Marshall. "He's not 100 percent but we're going to see what he can do at game speed."
Charleston will need big games from senior quarterback Justin Clark, sophomore running back Jerquawn Sherrell and senior wideout Jerrell Quinn to be successful. Junior Matt Medlock, who has filled in at nearly every skill position, is also counted on for production.
Clark, in his first season under center, has thrown for 454 yards and four touchdowns but has a mediocre completion percentage of 42 percent with seven interceptions. He, too, has been less than 100 percent physically with an ankle sprain suffered in the season opener.
Sherrell leads the ground attack with 328 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and has shown breakaway speed with a 91-yard kickoff return and a 69-yard touchdown run against Dexter.
Quinn, who becomes the No. 1 receiving target in Williams' absence, has nine catches for 146 yards with two touchdowns while Medlock has six grabs for 62 yards.
Marshall lauded the Bluejays' perseverance in the Dexter ballgame. "We had some bright spots and we never did quit," he said. "I've seen Charleston teams of the past, when they got behind bad, give up. I don't think we ever gave up."
Fredericktown coach Kent Gibbs has taken nothing for granted in his team's preparation for the Bluejays.
"We've had the opportunity to scout them against Hayti and Dexter and I'm here to tell you they've got a good nucleus of players and a lot of athletes," said Gibbs. "I think against Dexter, they caught a hot football team and they were on an off-night. For us to have a chance against Charleston, we've got to contain their athletes."
Fredericktown (5-1) comes in on a five-game win streak, but they've also been unable to dodge the injury bug.
"I think anytime you're playing football, you're going to have kids beat up," said Gibbs. "We've got several out, including our starting tailback Ryan Sawyer, who is a returning 1,000-yard rusher. We're all beat up, but I respect Charleston because of their athletic ability. They've still got athletes all over the field."
Sawyer, a junior, is out for the season with a broken leg.
Fredericktown, 0-8 in its series against Charleston, is off to its best start since 2003 when the Blackcats finished at 7-3. They were 1-9 in 2004, then 4-6 in 2005. The two teams have not met since 1997.
"We're pleased with our start and we'll see how it goes from here," said Gibbs.
Senior quarterback Wesley Sharp has been the offensive catalyst for the Blackcats. Sharp has rushed for five touchdowns and thrown for six with a quarterback rating of 103. He has completed 60 percent of his passes for 416 yards with four interceptions.
"He's a key for us, particularly since we've lost Sawyer, but he's a senior and we expect him to play well," said Gibbs. "Everybody's got to step up and pick up that slack. David Penwell has stepped in at tailback and done a nice job for us."
Penwell, a junior, leads Fredericktown's rushers with 592 yards.
But it's the Fredericktown defense that has been the major difference maker. The Blackcats have allowed 14 or fewer points during their win streak.
"Going into the season, we felt like our offense was probably ahead of our defense and, if we could get our defense playing well and become fundamentally sound, we had a chance for a good ballclub," said Gibbs. "Basically, what's happened is our offense has struggled a little bit at times but our defense has played better and better. We'll have to play good defense against Charleston. That's for sure."
Marshall expressed appreciation for the Blackcats' work ethic and normally solid execution.
"They're a well-coached team and Coach Gibbs gets a lot out of his players," he said. "They play hard and they do things well. I've got a lot of respect for them.
"All we can do is try to put the best team we can on the field and fight the good fight."