Central, North Co. reunite in a familiar showdown

Friday, September 27, 2002

It's not often football teams see each other three times in the course of 13 games, but the Central Tigers and North County Raiders are in the midst of what's looking like a crash-course rivalry.

When the Tigers visit Bonne Terre, Mo., tonight, a heart-stopping 53-52 double-overtime victory over North County in last year's Class 4 sectional will be fresh in the minds of both teams. The Raiders' season was ultimately done in by a goal-post on an extra-point attempt.

"They'll use that for fodder and buildup, that's fine, but we're on a mission, too," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said.

While that game majored in drama, tonight's game has a connection with the future. If both teams, entering with 3-0 records, win their districts, it will serve as a preview to another high-stakes sectional showdown.

With the rivalry brewing, and his team ranked No. 1 and the opposing Raiders ranked No. 2 in the SEMO Top 10 football poll, Brookins is preparing his team for hostile territory.

"We expect to be taunted, we expect to be name-called and we expect a lot of negatives to be thrown in front of us to throw us off our focus," Brookins said.

The Tigers' focus was at a season-high last week in a surprising 38-0 romp over Blytheville (Ark.). The win gave the Tigers, ranked No. 5 in the Class 4 state poll, their first chance to open the season 4-0 in 25 years.

Central returns most of its key personnel from last year, while the Tigers' primary thorn has been removed from its side with the graduation of Raider quarterback Reggie Aubuchon, who rushed for 202 yards and passed for over 300 yards in last year's matchup.

North County hopes to insert a new thorn in junior quarterback Adam Howard and brings back top receiver Alex Winters, who burned the Tigers for 170 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the last encounter. A hip-flexor injury kept Winters out of last week's 13-0 win over Perryville, but the speedy senior is expected to play against Central.

Howard follows a lineage of North County quarterbacks that produced current Southeast Missouri State University quarterback Jeromy McDowell.

"You can always count on North County to have a good quarterback, if not a great one, quick kids at the skill positions and linemen that get the job done," Brookins said. "This kid they got now, we think he might even be a better athlete than Reggie was. We know he's just as good a thrower, if not better."

Howard has completed 67 percent of his passes and averaged nearly 200 yards a game. The Raiders will try to go deep, while the Tigers will try to put pressure on the quarterback and take away the big play.

"We want to keep the ball in front," Brookins said. "We'll trade a 5-yard catch for a headache anytime."

Central's secondary has been strong against the pass with five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Central quarterback Mitch Craft had a big game against North County as a sophomore and has been running an effective Tiger offense this season. Monroe Hicks averages 200 yards offense a game, while Craft has been averaging 50 yards rushing and over 100 yards passing.

jbreer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 124

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