In Week 1, Murphysboro coughed up a 29-12 third quarter lead and fell 32-29 to Carbondale.
The Red Devils have yet to allow their next 32 points, which is why they look like a team that can make a run in the Class 4A playoffs.
First things first, though, comes their final regular season game Friday night at unbeaten Du Quoin. A victory over the SIRR Mississippi champs would enable Murphysboro to match its 7-2 record of a year ago and likely stay at home for the first round.
But wherever the Red Devils play in November, their defense and experience will give them a chance. Since the Carbondale game, they have allowed only 15 points in six games, pitching four shutouts.
And as defensive coordinator Jason LeGrand pointed out, even those points come with caveats. A starting linebacker was sidelined during Anna-Jonesboro’s touchdown drive in the first quarter of a 48-8 win on Sept. 6. And the entire first team defense was standing on the sideline two weeks ago when Harrisburg tallied in the fourth quarter to shave the final score down to 49-7.
“Coach LeGrand has had them lined up right and they get after people,” said Murphysboro coach Gary Carter. “We do a good job of tackling and that’s a tribute to the coaching. We’ve also got good players.”
Lining players up correctly is underrated, until your team doesn’t do it for a play or two. That’s when the opponent springs a 60 or 70-yard touchdown run and the band strikes up the fight song. That’s also the moment the coaches in the 10th row declare their team needs new leadership.
Those moments have literally been non-existent for the Red Devils. With a strong, physical defensive line, linebackers who get to flow to the ball because the D-line wins the scrimmage line and defensive backs that cover receivers, the goose eggs have stacked up.
In fact, they went 18 quarters between allowing touchdowns. Then they started a new streak last week with a 41-0 rout of Benton that allowed them to share the SIRR Ohio title.
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“We had a lot of intensity, so it was good,” Carter said. “We went out, got after it. The kids had something to prove. I was happy with the performance.”
Du Quoin coach Derek Beard could say the same about his team after it won the conference with a 41-35 decision last week over Nashville. The Indians never trailed, leading by 41-14 early in the fourth quarter before the Hornets made a game of it at the end.
At stake for Du Quoin (8-0) is its first unbeaten regular season since 2005, as well as a high seeding for the Class 3A playoffs that could lead to multiple games at Van Metre Field.
“We want to play as many games as we can at home,” Beard said. “Winning this one would help us accomplish that. Being 9-0 in the seedings is better than 8-1. We talked about winning the conference back in August and playing as many home games as possible.
“I was able to do that as a player and assistant coach in the past. It’s great for the community, and the game against Nashville was a playoff-like atmosphere. To stay home and not go on a bus would be big for us.”
The game could ultimately come down to which team makes best use of their speed. Each squad has multiple players capable of going 0-to-60 in mere seconds. That speed also keeps opponents from breaking a lot of big plays.
And in a game where both teams might not be able to sustain long drives against talented defenses, the team that can produce a big play or two could have the advantage.
“They’re loaded with speed too,” Beard said of Murphysboro. “They’re very athletic at every position on the field. They don’t have anyone who can’t run.”