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MVP’s MSHSAA Football Preview: Part 2

The Gridiron Geek’s MSHSAA Football Preview Part 2 – From Cardinal Country to Caruthersville

It was around 15 years ago when The Geek realized an eastern Missouri prep team didn’t have to be from the high-fallutin’ city to be part of something special.

The Herculaneum Blackcats, then a perennial small-school contender, were hosting the Caruthersville Tigers for a MSHSAA playoff clash of 2 District champions. The Blackcats had risen above meager funding and blue-collar talent to reach the Show Me Bowl twice in the 1990s. Would the ‘Cats make another underdog run for the grail?

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh-Oh! Ohhhhh!” echoed a battle cry from the distance. Here came the Varsity Tigers marching down the old hill by the lead smelter, chanting what sounded like an ancient war song.

Caruthersville had just enough big blockers to get by, and a grease-lightning offensive backfield and WR corps. The Red & White prevailed by 3 touchdowns that night. But the larger picture was even more impressive. Here was a team from a small, public high school, free of sleazy admissions tactics or built-in advantages…and yet they could easily whip many private academies twice their size.

The Pemiscot County, MO program has set a standard of great consistency, contending in Class 2 and Class 3 for several decades. The Tigers suffered a frustrating 2016 in which they nearly knocked off Class 1 division-killer Valle Catholic, then lost to rival Malden in a District final for what felt like the 100th year in a row. Caruthersville lost 2 NCAA prospects to graduation this spring, but talented QB Charles Galliday is entering his senior season. An 8/25 preliminary bout with the powerful Green Wave will offer a clue as to whether the Tigers can finally snap the streak in November.

There are many other gridiron success stories along the river. The Poplar Bluff Mules are a terrific Class 5 outfit which travels hither-and-yon to play other large schools, such as Riverview Gardens on August 18th. But September is rivalry month, as the Varsity Mules will play Cape Girardeau Central, Jackson High School and the Sikeston Bulldogs on consecutive Fridays.

Jefferson County and the Mining Lands

When The Geek was a wee one, he imagined geography and climate must play a role in the style of every gridiron gang. Big, rough country teams (with wild boar or grizzly bear mascots) would run 70 times and pass once in 4 quarters, while big-city schools would have kids nicknamed “Rocket” and “Flash” and would throw on every down. Right?

Except in Missouri, sometimes the reverse is true. Jefferson County is just one border south of St. Louis and a bona-fide suburb in the 21st century. The place, however, is known for slap-leather football – Hillsboro High School’s “Flexbone,” the mean 11-on-11 rushing of Jefferson High, and the fullback-heavy ground game of the Festus Tigers.

Meanwhile, the southwesterly mines and crop fields of St. Genevieve, Washington, Franklin, and Iron County are spawning “modernized” teams with wide-open offenses and constant in-game substitutions.

Farmington Black Knights skipper Erik Kruppe may have gotten tired of the trend. Faced with losing campaigns and diminishing returns, his Knights converted to an old-school option attack and breathed new life into their program with wins over Fox, Sikeston and Clayton High last season.

The Farmington campus is facing a QB controversy, with sophomore Carson Sutton looking to beat out senior Nathaniel Link for the starting role in ’17. The option play is a knack in which timing, guile and guts are more important than pure speed, so the job will go to the signal-caller who can best read a defense and handle the pigskin accordingly.

Farmington, Hillsboro, Festus and Sikeston compete in District 1 of the Class 4 MSHSAA post-season bracket. The 2017 Hillsboro Hawks are full of question marks, with 2 stars in the offensive backfield – QB Tyler Isaacson and swift tailback Micheal Keller – who can’t seem to stay healthy. But the Hawk defense has begun to emerge from the hole it was hiding in.

The FHS Tigers are raising what may be the most athletic and talented underclass of any mid-size program south of the Gateway City. The current class of sophomores beat Hillsboro 38-0 in a frosh game last September, and junior QB Justice Johnson is a marvel. But it is hard for a public school to contend for a crown unless its best players are upperclassmen. St. Francis Borgia, another horse we’ll keep an eye on this season, lurks on the Tigers’ schedule alongside Poplar Bluff.

Sikeston lost a 2-headed backfield monster when Justus Faulkner and Dre Johnson graduated in May. But the Bulldogs’ real problem may simply be the District they’re in, which also includes an emerging North County.

Throw in the 4-time defending champion Cape Central Tigers and you’ve got one heck of an 8-team bracket along the Mississippi. The Geek will include District “A-number” 1 in his weekly River Rankings throughout the 2017 season.

Tune in next week for The Geek’s look at the Bootheel, including 2017 roster previews of Cape Central, Jackson and Hayti High School.










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