SIKESTON -- It's been a tale of two seasons for the Sikeston Bulldogs and the New Madrid County Central Eagles.
Hampered by a top-heavy schedule and the loss of core players from last year's 9-4 team, the Eagles have struggled to a 1-4 record that include losses to undefeated Cape Central and Caruthersville with quarterback/running back G'Darius Stevenson pacing his squad.
"From a coaching stand point, we think we've let a few games get away that we shouldn't have," NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley said about his Eagles so far this season. "Do I think we're a 1-4 team coming into this game? No, I do not. I know we're a lot better than that. Our record is not indicative of who we are as a Class 3 team.
"The bottom line is, we've got to start stepping up. We've played a tough schedule, and I'm not shying away from that at all, we want to show our kids what championship caliber football is like. We do that every year. They haven't responded very well this year."
Undefeated Sikeston, on the other hand, has flourished on both sides of the ball, riding the legs and arm of do-it-all quarterback Trey Lewis as well as running back Darryl Howard and a defense that keeps opposing offenses to just over 50 yards a game.
On Friday night, both team's records and past games can be thrown out the window.
"I think it's a game a lot of people point to," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "Our kids do and I know their kids do. I don't think the records are really going to make any difference. When you have rivalry games it's just who comes out and plays. Any team can win on Friday night."
"It's obviously a big game," Pixley said. "We have kids that want to compete well against them and they have kids that want to keep things quiet down here."
If the Bulldogs hope to beat the Eagles for the second straight year, Sikeston, as well as every other team that NMCC has played, knows that Stevenson will need to be kept under heavy supervision.
Stevenson has rushed for over 700 yards this season and has only been held under 100 yards once this season. He's also had a hand in nine of NMCC's 12 total touchdowns this season -- six rushing, two passing and one defensive.
"(Stevenson's) the guy that makes them go, whether he's at the tailback or at the quarterback," said Gibbs. "They go as he goes and if we let him run wild and make his big plays, they're going to score some points.
"I don't know if you stop him," added Gibbs, "but, we got to try and hold him the best you can."
Jamareia Jones and Lemonte Nelson will also be on Sikeston's radar as they too have shown the speed and ability to make things happen in the open field.
Sikeston will rely on their stifling defense, who have surrendered just 64 total points in five games. They have also been able to capitalize on 13 turnovers this season.
"I think they're very athletic in all positions," Pixley said. "We have to come out on them early and sustain some drives against them. We can't turn the ball over that's for sure. It seems like everybody they've played they've been opportunistic on turnovers. It's just a result of them playing great defense and their offense has capitalized on those."
Sikeston's offense starts with Lewis behind center who has been the definition of a balanced attack. The senior has thrown for 545 yards and has rushed for 520 combining for 12 touchdowns.
"When you have a quarterback thats athletic and can make things happen, whenever you don't prepare for those things to happen, it makes it doubly difficult to defend," said Pixley about Lewis' dual threat capabilities. "You have to have somebody keep an eye on him and hopefully you can pressure him in to making a few mistakes. The teams that they've faced this year hasn't been able to do that."
Howard leads Sikeston's greedy ground game with 628 yards and eight touchdowns. James Watson and Kyland Gross makes up the Bulldogs' four 100-yard rushers with 173 and 151 yards, respectively.
Friday's showdown will begin at 7 p.m. at Sikeston Public High School Stadium.