The Central football team will try to add another chapter to its remarkable turnaround story when it opens the Class 4 playoffs tonight at De Soto.
The Tigers went 0-10 last season before reeling off eight straight wins to start this season. After a loss to Sikeston in Week 9, Central rebounded to knock off Perryville and earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Tonight's kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"I've got to admit, these kids have had a jump in their step," Central coach Rich Payne said. "Even at today's practice, getting prepared for tomorrow, they're lively and they're excited. They're not taking anything for granted. These kids have never been there. Central High School has been there, but these kids have never been there. They're excited about their opportunities to go play a game and be in the playoffs."
De Soto qualified for the playoffs by going 3-0 in Class 4 District 2. The Dragons (7-3) have outscored their opponents 268-152 this season.
"We've kind of morphed into a couple different things," De Soto coach Bob Thompson said about his team's offense. "We've kind of been a spread option team. We've gone under center a little bit more in the last couple week."
Thompson said his team features a three-headed rushing attack. Jared White leads the way with 664 yards on 110 carries, while Mike Lee comes in at 618 yards on 106 attempts. Thompson also has used Frank Figge to handle some carries in the last few games. He's gained 224 yards on 28 carries this season.
"Our biggest goal is to find what moves the yards and we usually do that in the run game," Thompson said. "We try to focus in on what we can do best offensively on the ground. That's where we want to make our yards. We've had a real good showing in our ability to throw the ball when need be, but certainly not what we set out to be. We obviously want to be a run-first team that has the ability to pass. I won't even want to say we want to be balanced."
De Soto starting quarterback Donald Hoss has thrown for 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns. His main target has been Harry Evola, who hauled in 55 catches for 695 yards and nine scores.
"They run the option very well," Payne said. "They've got some good skill kids."
Central's defense hasn't allowed much this season. Opponents have averaged 208.6 yards per game against the Tigers, and just 186.7 yards per game in Central's nine wins.
"They're good everywhere," Thompson said. "They're 9-1 for a reason and we've found most teams have a real difficult time moving the ball on them. The teams that are successful usually have to be willing to be patient and grind it out. They've got too much speed to big-play them."
Central's offense sustained a blow during the Tigers' win against Perryville. Running back Deonte Jenkins suffered an ACL injury and is out for tonight's game. He's rushed for 394 yards and two touchdowns this season. Payne said James Poindexter, who is No. 2 on the team with 740 yards on 73 carries, should see more carries and that Austin Davis will serve as Poindexter's and Keilon Moore's backup in the backfield.
Moore leads Central with 1,025 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
The teams have played three common opponents -- Perryville, North County and Festus -- with Central going 3-0 and De Soto 2-1 against those teams. De Soto lost to Festus in Week 6, while Central beat Festus in Week 2. Central outscored the common opponents 131-43, while De Soto outscored them 72-34. But Payne said his team refuses to look past De Soto at a possible rematch with Sikeston in the sectional round.
"We need to go one game at a time," Payne said. "I think the kids have taken stock in that. They're not looking past De Soto. Like I've explained to them, De Soto is going to be a challenge."