City of Cape Girardeau Brick by brick: Cape football teams put in work, see success

Any municipality—and Cape Girardeau is no exception—has a basic responsibility for infrastructure. The city has to make sure that water runs, that fires are tackled, that crime is blocked, and good game plans are drawn up and executed. Every city has the basic fundamentals it needs to master.

But every city has to make room for some fun and a healthy dose of competition as well. Every city is improved, in a sentimental way, by winning football.

The two primary football teams in the city of Cape Girardeau—Southeast Missouri State University and Cape Central High School—made the city a better place to live in 2022.

The Central Tigers pulled off a dramatic turnaround, reaching the Missouri state semifinals with a 10-4 record under head coach Kent Gibbs, after winning just two games the year before.

Southeast Missouri State University, meanwhile, was nationally ranked at No. 12 heading into a playoff matchup in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the ultimate bracket for colleges in the FCS division. It held a first-half lead against a perennial FCS power, but ultimately succumbed to some big plays in the second half for a 34-24 loss.

Both the Redhawks and the Tigers played meaningful playoff games after Thanksgiving. The vibes resonated at the stadiums and spilled over into social media.

Geno Hess, Redhawks lay several more bricks

Southeast Missouri State coach Tom Matukewicz, affectionately known as Coach Tuke, has been at the helm for nine years, a span that has produced some of the best college football in the school’s history. Southeast has consistently defeated ranked opponents and landed in the FCS polls several times.

The last couple of years weren’t quite stellar, but this year, the Redhawks stormed back into the national picture, and fans witnessed the greatest season by any running back in school history. Geno Hess gained 317 yards in a single game. Hess, the All-American from Peoria, Illinois, broke all sorts of school and Ohio Valley Conference records this year. He rushed for 1,691 yards (7.2 per carry) with 21 touchdowns. What an amazing talent.

Years ago, Coach Tuke, perhaps looking to make a general municipality analogy as to be better understood, adopted the mantra “brick by brick,” when he took over the job. That phrase encapsulates the idea the city knows quite well: that hard work leads to one success, which builds upon another. We get that.

Central hopes success is stepping stone

As for the Central Tigers, the high school squad climbed back into relevance along with the best football programs in the region. The Tigers advanced all the way to the state semifinals before being knocked off by Fort Osage 56-20.

Central, led by small-but-dynamic sophomore running back Zai’Aire Thomas, took the region by surprise with its dramatic turnaround.

“I’d like to think this is a stepping stone,” Gibbs told “At the end of the day it’s hard to get this far and you can only use this as a stepping stone if you’re willing to work for what it takes to get you there. This experience should be invaluable. If we take this experience and turn it into work and get some more kids in the program and keep pushing through then it’ll be a valuable experience.”

Bricks, stepping stones, the Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail … it all comes back to infrastructure, doesn’t it?

The City of Cape Girardeau is always proud of the athletes who represent us on the fields of competition. Win or lose, we support our Tigers and Redhawks. But when both programs are winning at high levels on the football field, it sure does make the fall just a bit more enjoyable. Running the city’s leaf sweeper is fun. But not quite like Friday night lights and Saturday tailgates during the playoffs.

Oh, by the way, if you’re buying Central or Redhawk gear to support the team this Christmas, be sure to shop local. Money spent here stays here. Local economies are built brick by brick (and mortar), too.


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