WEST PLAINS - A season that looked to be lost two weeks ago, all of a sudden has found some life for the Sikeston Bulldogs football team.
After starting 0-5 for the first time in 30 years, the Bulldogs have now won two straight with convincing victories against New Madrid County Central (49-14) and Kennett (34-13).
Now they will get a chance to keep the streak going when they travel into unfamiliar territory with their district opener at West Plains on Friday at 7 p.m.
The two teams have never played but Sikeston coach Jerry Dement has seen game film on the Zizzers, who enter the game 3-4 after playing a difficult schedule.
"They're a big physical ballclub," said Dement. "They've got real good size on both the offensive and defensive lines. They run a lot of misdirection with multiple sets. They're predominantly a running team, but they have thrown up to 20 to 25 passes in a game. They present a challenge to us defensively not only with multiple formations, but they're probably the largest most physical team we've seen since Jackson."
The Bulldogs were defeated by Jackson 28-8 four weeks ago, but the second half of that game signaled a change in direction for Sikeston.
The Bulldogs out-scored Jackson 8-7 in the second half, played an undefeated Farmington team tight for three and a half quarters, and have followed up with two straight wins.
The Bulldogs have also strayed away from the balanced, spread offense they started with in the first few weeks and have gone to a more power, run-oriented attack.
It has resulted in two solid running backs in Apollo Patterson, who has two straight 100-yard games and fullback Acie Dixon, who leads the team in touchdowns (6) and yards per carry (5.7).
Patterson leads the way with 404 yards rushing while Dixon follows up at 349 yards.
Sikeston also has seen speedy Felante Larry get loose for scores in a variety of ways with two coming on runs, one on a reception and one on a kick return.
Larry leads the team with 812 all-purpose yards.
Quarterback Bryce Wibbenmeyer has thrown for 560 yards, completing 54-of-113 passes with nine interceptions and three touchdowns.
"We've kind of shifted our focus a little bit," said Dement. "Earlier in the season we tried to be balanced and spread it around and throw it more. I think our personality is better suited to being a run-first team and be physical up front. I think the most improved part of our ballclub has been our offensive line. As they've improved, we've improved."
West Plains will offer up a challenge to the Bulldog offensive line with more size than their previous two opponents.
"I think the strength of their team is their defense," said Dement. "Their front eight are almost intact from last year. They've got two good inside linebackers. If they have an Achilles heel they don't run quite as well as we do. But we're going to have to be assignment oriented and very fundamental to beat them. They don't make mistakes and they don't beat themselves."
Sikeston hasn't won a district championship since 1995 and has only had a chance to win one just once time since that time, with that coming in 1996 when they lost the final game to Jackson.
Sikeston is 8-13 in district games since 1997 and haven't won a district opener since 1999 when they upset state-ranked North County.
"We've got a long road trip, we're going to play at their house," said Dement.
"It's going to be a tough district opener for us. They're unfamiliar to us other than what we've seen on tape. Our kids are excited about having a chance to start over. District play is what you point to and this is the time of year that it's all about."