(Photo by Josh Mills, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- The East Prairie Eagles football team was able to hold on against the Tigers of Caruthersville to win 22-15 Friday night in East Prairie.
The Eagles (6-3) came out strong in the first quarter, striking for touchdowns on their first two possessions with runs by Jordan Jarrett. The Tigers (2-7) also showed their ability to move the ball early on with 45-yard bomb from quarterback David Shaw to Jovon Hagerman.
Caruthersville was able to control the tempo of the second quarter by stifling East Prairie's offense and putting a touchdown and a field goal on the scoreboard to take a 15-14 led into halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, East Prairie's M.C. Williams was able to punch it in from two yards out to cap off a 80-yard drive. Williams also added the two-point conversion to take the seven point lead 22-15.
However, Caruthersville would not go quietly into the October night. The Tigers started the ensuing drive with two-and-a-half minutes left on the game clock on their own 20-yard line. Caruthersville was able to drive it 75 yards down field to fourth-and-inches on the Eagle's 5-yard line with 29 seconds left in the game. The Tigers coaching staff decided to pass, instead of run, in the fourth-and-inches situation. Backup quarterback Chris Smith's pass was short and wide and Caruthersville turned the ball over on downs. East Prairie only had to kneel down to win the game.
Caruthersville head coach Brad Gerling could not be reached for comment on Friday's loss.
East Prairie head coach Jason Aycock felt his team was lucky to survive the Tigers final seconds gamble.
"That could have been a good play," Aycock said of Caruthersville's last play. "If their quarterback would have thrown a better ball, it would have gone for a touchdown. On fourth-and-short we expected run. We were glad it worked out the way it did. Maybe he (Gerling) felt they wouldn't have been able to get back up on the ball in time. We were lucky it worked out our way."
The Eagles were once again led offensively by standout senior tailback M.C. Williams. Williams contributed 212 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown. Caruthersville's defense was successful in holding William's yards-per-carry down. Williams averaged 6.8 yards-per-carry Friday, almost three yards lower than his season average of 9.7.
"M.C. (Williams) didn't have his best game tonight, but he sure had a good one," Aycock said of his running back. "Once again, hats off to Caruthersville for slowing him the way they did."
Williams said he was proud of his team for battling back in Friday's contest.
"It was very intense tonight," he said. "Everyone had to really work on staying focused. But we are a strong team and we were able to get the win. This was a good experience for us. We will have to face this same kind of adversity if we make the state playoffs."
Down 15-14 at the half, Aycock told his team to stay focused and remain calm.
"We have three expectations as a team," Aycock said. "Number one is no excuses, no exceptions. Number two is do what it takes. Number three is do what we do and don't panic. We spent a lot of time on number three in the locker room at halftime. We made some adjustments on the offensive line. Our guys on the offensive line mentioned a couple of plays that we could be successful with and that's what we ran. I told our kids, 'forget the X's and O's, forget the district championship, just stay calm and go out there and execute.'"
Aycock noted that he was surprised with the intensity that Caruthersville ran the ball Friday night.
"Caruthersville is a young team that will be very dangerous in the future," Aycock said of the district foe. "Nothing really surprised me about them. We knew they were going to play us hard. One thing that did surprise me was the intensity with which Caruthersville's backs ran the ball."
Aycock also said that the Tigers were able to prevent his team from settling in to an offensive rhythm Friday.
"Our hats off to Caruthersville," he said. "They have a lot of speed on both sides of the ball. We would start to get things going but could never really get into our normal offensive rhythm. We did not throw the ball much tonight. We need the pass attack to take the heat off of our running game. We were not able to pass as much as we usually like to because the situations didn't call for it. Our kids just did a great job grinding for the win."
Aycock pointed out that his defense played well to limit the impact of Caruthersville's ability to move the ball.
" I feel our defense played well overall tonight," he said. "We held a spread, exploding offense to 15 points. They(Caruthersville) beat us on two big plays that led to there scores. We played well defensively, but we are always looking to improve. We missed a lot of tackles tonight, so we will address that."
Aycock and Williams both noted that the emotional win last week over Charleston may have led the Eagles to come out "flat" this Friday.
"I'm not sure what was wrong with us tonight," Williams said. "The reason we may have been a little flat tonight could have had a lot to do with our big win over Charleston. However, when the defense needed to come up big, that's what we did."
Aycock echoed that sentiment.
"The win over Charleston was a huge, emotional win," he said. "I feel like that took a lot out of us. I feel it had an effect on us tonight."
With the win, East Prairie moves to 2-0 in district play, while Caruthersville falls to 1-1.
Aycock said that he and his team can not rest on the "laurels" of their success thus far this season and focus on the game in front of them. The Eagles will travel to Malden next Friday for their final game of the regular season. A win next week against the Green Wave would secure East Prairie their first district title in 14 years.
"We have to focus on the game in front of us," Aycock said. "We can not overlook Malden. Hopefully, we can go down there and play a good game."