There is an old sports saying that "close" only counts when throwing hand grenades and pitching horseshoes. Yet when you look at the Miller and Pierce City football team's recent history, "close" is what best describes the situation. The Eagles' and Cardinals' last two match-ups have been decided by a combined two points with Miller having won both games.
Statistically, at least one of the teams ranks in the top five in Missouri Class 1 in every meaningful statistical category. Each team is 6-0 against like opponents. Miller's only blemish in their record is a 26-20 setback against Hogan Prep out of Kansas City.
"Our boys have played a lot of close games," said Miller Head Coach Dustin Baldwin. "We have just found a way to win. We have been fortunate to defeat Pierce City in close games and we continue to rely on that experience gained."
Miller is the team to beat. The Cardinals have high expectations for a good season, and with a conference championship and an early lead in district play on the line, they have a lot at stake.
Teams have struggled all year to get the edge against the Cardinal defense while Miller's offense has continually put up video game-like scores and statistics.
"I believe our balanced offense is our greatest strength," said Baldwin. "We have been able to keep defenses off balance all season and that has led to great success. Our goal Friday night will be to stop the running attack of Pierce City. That's what we have focused on for the last two years and had some success.
"We can't afford to turn the ball over," Baldwin continued. "A win over the Eagles would be great, and the conference championship would be nice. However, we want to focus on the big picture. It's just one more game, one step closer to obtaining our preseason goals."
Pierce City comes into the game looking to answer several critics' questions. Are they tough enough to hang with Miller? Do they have enough fire power to score against the Cardinals? Can the defense slow down one of the most potent offenses in the state?
"Miller is an extremely good team," said Pierce City Head Coach Mac Whitehead. "We will need our seniors to step up and help lead us through this game. The Cardinals do a lot of things well on both sides of the ball. We will need to play our best four quarters of football to win.
"Offensively, we must sustain drives and chew up the clock," said Whitehead. "Our best defense is when we have the ball on offense. Defensively, we have got to slow them down. We will have to bow up, bend but not break. This game will be decided by the front five, who blocks and who tackles the best."
A battle of wills will be tested Friday. Win-loss records are to be thrown out the door when these two gridiron giants take the field. More than just pride will be on the line.
For Miller, a win would be expected and confirm they are the team to beat in southwest Missouri Class 1 football. The Cardinals would have topped their archrival for a third consecutive year and proven the pundit's accusations justified about Pierce City.
For Pierce City, a win would reveal that you can't judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a football team by its assumed weak schedule. A win would help ease the pain from two one-point defeats and deal the "experts" ego a mighty blow.
Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Miller.