CHARLESTON -- It has been quite a turnaround for the Charleston Bluejays in the three short years since head coach Brett Blackman took over.
After enduring a winless 2010 campaign in his first season, the Bluejays started to see signs of turnaround a year ago when a 5-5 record got them into the playoffs, where they were bounced in the first round.
Now, with a current eight-game winning streak, Charleston stands just one win away from their first district championship since 2007.
Fittingly enough, it's many of those same players that saw some of their first playing time during that miserable 2010 campaign that have the Bluejays making their deepest push into the playoffs in five years.
"You look at kids like Cole Byford, Sumner Foster, Mike Hull, Demontrail Clark and Robert Bogan," Blackman said. "A whole host of those kids that are playing now played in 2010 and they got whipped up on week in and week out.
"They've put in their dues and this is the time when, hopefully, that stuff comes to fruition. They can go out and give their best effort and play like it's their last play."
The only way the Bluejays will be able to hold off that last play another week will be to face down some old demons on Monday night when they take on the Caruthersville Tigers for the Class 2, District 1 title.
It was in Week 3 that the Tigers handed the Bluejays their second loss of the season. Ahead 14-12 after two quarters, the Tigers scored 20 unanswered points in the second half for a 34-12 win.
Charleston's typically dominant run game was held to only 74 yards while Caruthersville piled up 202 yards on the ground. Charleston fumbled six times in the contest, losing two.
"We just have to play hard for four quarters and that's something we were real disappointed with after Week 3," Blackman said of the loss. "We felt like there was a ball game going at halftime, but the second half for some reason we just didn't show up on the field and things snowballed on us."
Whatever happened during the loss was quickly corrected as the Bluejays haven't lost a game since and currently stand at 9-2 on the season after a 1-2 start.
A big reason for their recent success has been the continued improvement of a run game that racked up 383 yards in a 50-30 win over Malden this past Thursday in the semifinals.
Leading that attack is Bogan, a junior, who comes into Monday's game with 1,474 yards and 23 touchdowns. Against Malden he had one of the best games of his career with 243 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries for a 14.3 yards-per-carry average.
When looking ahead to Monday's contest, Bogan stressed the importance of cutting out the turnovers that plagued the Bluejays in their last meeting with the Tigers.
"The only thing I can take away from that game is the fumbles," Bogan said. "I have to try and not to do that again and run the ball hard every possession I get it.
"I don't want to lose to them again so there's a lot of hard work we have to put in out here in practice."
While Bogan will likely carry the brunt of the load again, he'll have help in the backfield as sophomore Rontavious Clark has proven himself as a nice change of pace back.
So far, he's totaled 963 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
On the defensive side, the Bluejays know if they want to slow the Tigers potent offense, which is averaging over 30 points a game, they'll have to keep an eye on star running back Darrell Monroe.
Despite being slowed by injuries Monroe, a junior, leads Caruthersville with 942 yards and seven touchdowns.
He piled up 112 yards and four scores on only eight carries against Scott City in the semifinals to lead the Tigers to a 42-0 win.
Making things a little easier on Monroe is the dual-threat ability of junior quarterback Tyler Grissom.
Grissom comes into the game having thrown for 707 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding over 500 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
"Last time we played them I feel like we were too focused on Monroe," Charleston senior Sumner Foster said. "We need to worry about other things as well.
"We feel like we're ready. We're way more mature than the last time we played them."
After facing run heavy teams the past few weeks, Blackman expects a more balanced attack out of the Tigers.
"What we'll see out of them is a little more passing than what we did against Malden," Blackman said. "We're going to see a bit more of a combination of the quarterback actually running the ball with an option that they like to run. We'll have to take that and put it into our game plan and our scouting reports."
If the Bluejays can come away the victor, it will mark the 13th district title in school history. Charleston's best finish ever came in 1989 when they made it all the way to the Class 3 semifinals.
Play starts at 7 p.m. on Monday at Caruthersville High School.