Graves Co. bears brunt of Tigers' first loss

Friday, October 4, 2002

It was apparent Central's Tigers were on a mission Thursday night.

The true mission was a bit of a mystery.

Was it to prove they could shut down an opponent without leading tackler Jeremiah Dukes?

To prove they could win without yardage leader Monroe Hicks playing a lead role on offense?

Maybe it was to show they could score more than seven points against Graves Co., Ky.?

Possibly a mission to convert their head coach to Thursday night football?

If it was any of the first three -- mission accomplished. If it was latter -- mission failed.

Not even a 46-7 pounding of Graves County could bring their coach around to see the light of Thursday night football.

"No, I'm a traditionalist -- Friday night lights," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said after his team posted its second Thursday night blowout of the season and bounced back from its only loss.

There was little else for Brookins to not like as his team improved to 4-1.

His defense held Graves County (2-4) to 90 yards total offense and just four first downs, while his own offense rolled out 340 yards. The Tigers scored on six of their first eight possession of the game.

Brookins' players, led by defensive back Mark Dunaway, seem to be taking a liking to Thursday night lights.

In an era of specialization, Dunaway is the ultimate specialist. He fills the role of Thursday-touchdown-interception-return guy. Dunaway has three interceptions this season and has run back two for touchdowns -- all on Thursdays.

"I guess I just like the home field on Thursday night," Dunaway said. "Both times I was just in the right place at the right time."

Dunaway's first-quarter, 20-yard interception return came on Grave County's third possession of the game and upped the Tiger lead to 12-0. It helped assure Central would break a three-year losing skid against the Eagles in which they scored just seven points in each contest.

It was part of an overall dominating defensive effort by the Tigers. The Eagles picked up a first down on their first possession but didn't get their second until late in the third quarter, nine possession later and trailing 46-0.

Dukes' absence may have been a rallying point for the Tigers.

"I think that did get some people to step up," said Tiger defensive end Darren Neels.

"I don't think the kids stressed out -- we've got a good team so the kids rally around each other," said Central defensive coordinator Bobby Haggerty. "You're going to miss Jeremiah, but if he's not in, everyone else has to step up and play well."

Dukes also starts at fullback and in his absence the Tigers turned to the air. Quarterback Mitch Craft completed 13 of 16 passes for 158 yards in the first half, which ended with Central ahead 25-0.

After Graves County mishandled a punt snap on its opening possession, Central took over at the Eagle 29 and needed just two Craft passes. Seth Hudson hauled in a 21-yard pass at the 8:39 mark to commence the rout.

"We just went to air this week," Craft said. "We have great receivers that can catch the ball and make plays."

Hudson led the Tigers with seven catches for 71 yards, while Dunaway had three catches for 69 yards.

Hicks, who came into the game averaging 135 yards rushing, had only six carries for 13 yards in the first half. He finished with 56 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.

Craft led the Tigers with 63 yards rushing and scored on runs of 3 and 4 yards. But he finished 14 of 19 passing for 188 yards and one touchdown.

His first touchdown came on the third play of the second quarter for a 19-0 lead. Hicks added a 1-yard touchdown run on the Tigers' next possession for a 25-0 advantage.

Central scored on its first three possessions of the second half. Hicks scored on a 17-yard touchdown run, Craft scored from four yards out and Mikell Abraham crashed over from a yard out.

jbreer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 124

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