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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Charleston, East Prairie primed for rivalry game

Friday, October 15, 2010

sd_sports@yahoo.com

CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays have had their struggles and East Prairie has blossomed into a playoff caliber team.

Although the two teams differ in the win-loss column, things such as points per game and yardage totals don't mean much when discussing the Battle for Mississippi County.

Everything is up for grabs on Friday night as both East Prairie and Charleston battle for the 11th straight year during the first week of district play.

"We naturally want to win this game, just as East Prairie does," Charleston head coach Brett Blackman said. "They have a lot going for them right now but, when it comes down to it, everyone is 0-0 right now. Everybody can compete for that title."

This year's version of the 'Blue and Red game' is very similar to last year's situation.

East Prairie was riding high at 6-1 while Charleston was still searching for its first win. A battle that came down to a Charleston fumble after a long fourth down run by Charleston's Jamaul Gray recovered by East Prairie late in the fourth quarter propelled the Eagles to a 10-6 victory.

"It was a nail biter all the way down to the end," East Prairie head coach Jason Aycock said about last year's game. "We punched it in with two minutes to go and then they fumbled it.

"Anytime East Prairie and Charleston gets together, you never really know what's going to happen. It's a good game for the communities."

The Bluejays will have to contend with East Prairie's love of the run with their lead running back, Aaron Miller, pacing the Eagles while Zach Shipman takes a few of the carries away as well. Quarterback Connor Scott thrives off their run game, which sets up the play-action. Scott has shown he can make the passes when needed as he seldom sees his attempts above 20 during a game.

"They run with a purpose and they run hard," Blackman said. "They want to fight for every inch and every yard they get out there. They're a physical ball team and we have to play physical with them. We've got to wrap up and tackle.

"We'll have to be great tacklers."

East Prairie, who is coming off of a 40-26 win over Portageville, will be looking to slow down Gray as the Bluejay signal caller. The dual-threat QB has no trouble sitting in the pocket or rolling out to see what kind of damage he can do with his legs. Making him a matchup problem for the Eagles, who does not show the collective team speed as the Bluejays' QB does.

"It's always a tough situation when you have a weapon like him," said Aycock. "Then again, you can't key on him too much because they have others that can jump up and get you. You run your defense and let your kids know that he's their game-breaker.

"We're not as concerned as much about his arm as I am his running," added Aycock. "That's what were more concerned about. Everyone knows that we have absolutely zero speed. If he was to get loose, we have no one that can run him down."

Charleston comes into Friday night's action playing their best game of the year in a 5-point loss to Herculaneum last week -- a team that has only lost two games to state ranked opponents.

"It's the first time I felt like we played a complete ball game," Blackman said about their game against Herculaneum. "We did well offensively, we didn't put it in the end zone, but we drove the ball consistently. I was really happy with that.

"Defensively we played pretty well," added Blackman, who coached at East Prairie with Aycock from 1999-2004. "We had two breakdowns that resulted into scores. When we're in games like that we've got to find a way to win. I think we just ran out of time last week. I think if we would have had maybe five minutes more we would have been looking at a victory."

East Prairie will be looking to extend their current win-streak to three as well as get a leg up on the Class 2, District 1.

"Bottom line is, it's a new season and who ever is clicking at the right time and not having distractions is going to have the best chance to win," Aycock said. "This is the time of the year that the tempo has to pick up. You've got to be peaking and everything has to be clicking. You can't have any interference or distractions. It's just a matter of expectations."

After an eight-year hiatus spanning between 1992-99, Charleston has dominated the series since the 2000 season winning 8 of their last 10 meetings. However, the Eagles have snagged the last two games -- the 10-6 win last year and a 39-22 victory in 2008.

Charleston last defeated the Eagles in 2007, 34-12.