Usually St. James High School football head coach Greg Harlan knows his Tigers are in for a stern test when they play a Four Rivers Conference game.
However, after last week St. James certainly does not dread returning to league play.
After being routed and suffering a key injury against non-conference, state-ranked competition last week, the Tigers will travel to St. Clair Friday for a FRC matchup. Kickoff on the synthetic turf at St. Clair High is set for 7 p.m.
St. James comes in with a 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference. The St. Clair Bulldogs, trying to snap a two-game losing skid, are 2-3 and 1-2.
Last week the Tigers ran into a buzzsaw, as they were whipped on the road by Moberly, the No. 6-ranked team in Missouri Class 4, 58-7.
And St. James is still feeling the Moberly game. Starting sophomore St. James quarterback Brett Karnes suffered a torn ligament in his left (non-throwing) hand late in the second period last week and did not return.
Harlan said Karnes had a MRI Monday and has been cleared to play Friday, although whether he will or not probably depends on how the hand feels.
If Karnes can't play the Tigers will be down to third-string quarterback Gage Melton, also a sophomore. St. James' regular backup QB, senior Cody Birkner, suffered broken bones in his foot two weeks ago and is out for at least a couple more weeks.
"We've got to get Gage ready to play," Harlan said. "Gage is a competitor. He played a lot of jayvee quarterback last year and he's got the will to win."
St. Clair, which was whipped by FRC rival Union 49-21 last week, averages 23.8 points per game while allowing an average of 32.0 points.
That points-allowed average swelled the previous two weeks, as the Bulldogs dropped conference games to Union 49-21 last week and to Sullivan 51-25 two weeks ago.
"The last two or three years St. Clair has been one of the better teams in the area," Harlan said. "And they've still got very athletic, strong skill position players. I know they are still striving to get better on the line.
"They're a running football team, make no mistake."
Senior running back Skyler Hutchinson is the hub of the St. Clair attack. Hutchinson has rushed 100 times for 759 yards (7.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. He ranks 19th in the St. Louis area in scoring with 65 points.
Also for St. Clair's ground game junior quarterback Collin Scott has rushed for 182 yards on 40 attempts and two TDs.
Scott has completed 36-of-78 passes for 420 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Page 2 of 2 - Scott's favorite target has been Junior without Alex Miller, who has 11 catches for 131 yards and two TDs. Junior wideout Kevin Cox has caught eight passes for 119 yards and a TD and junior wideout Ian McQueen seven for 65 yards and a TD. McQueen also averages 39.0 per kick return with a pair of return TDs.
St. James is averaging 22.0 points per game while giving up 29.4 points.
Karnes has completed 49-of-94 passes for 661 yards, seven interceptions and seven touchdowns while rushing for 116 yards on 42 attempts.
After Karnes went down last week Melton connected on 4-of-7 passes for 32 yards.
Senior wideout Jamal Sconiers has caught 18 passes for 286 yards and three TDs for the Tigers while junior wideout Jake Money has 11 catches for 136 yards.
Senior running back Jesse Hays' workload will likely pick up if Karnes is out. Hays has rushed for 453 yards on 83 carries, including an 82-yard effort against Moberly.