For six years Sikeston opened with perennial power Jackson, only going 2-4 against the Indians during that stretch.
The Bulldogs finally got the Indians off that opening game date. The replacement?
Try a Caruthersville team that went 11-2 last season and reached the Class 2 semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Centralia.
The Bulldogs will get this stern test to start the season tomorrow night at Caruthersville's Hopke Stadium at 7 p.m.
Sikeston leads the all-time series with the Tigers 31-7-1, but the two teams haven't met since 1977.
The Tigers return the majority of their defense, their entire offensive line and some talented skill position players for the 2004 season, giving the Sikeston coaching staff plenty to think about this summer.
"They're a veteran team with a lot of returning players, especially on the line," said first-year Sikeston coach Jerry Dement, whose team went 4-5 last year. "They've got good skill people. I think they're well-coached, particularly offensively and they're going to be a big challenge for our defense. They have speed and athleticism at about every position. We're going to have to defend the whole field and keep a close eye on several different players.
"We've got a big challenge ahead of us. Especially playing down in their territory and with them coming off a successful season. They have their system in place and they're going to be a handful for us."
Even with all the talent they return, the Tigers did lose first team all-state running back Jimmy Jackson, who is currently a freshman for the University Missouri, and veteran all-conference quarterback Rogers VanAusdall.
"You don't replace what they gave us last year," said Caruthersville coach David Gilmore. "We basically lost 5,000 yards of offense and 63 touchdowns between those two. We're not asking our players to be Rogers VanAusdall and Jimmy Jackson. We're just asking them to play within their capabilities and the scheme we have offensively will take care of itself.
"If our quarterback sits back in the pocket, makes his reads and makes the proper throws, big plays are going to happen. If our running back takes the correct lead steps and hits the hole hard, then big plays are going to happen."
On top of those two, the Tigers unexpectedly lost 6-foot-3, 280-pound all-conference linebacker Aleric Mullins, who moved to North Carolina over the summer, and leading wide receiver Dominic Branch, who already turned 19 and is too old to play under the MSHSAA guidelines.
Still, the senior-dominated Tigers have been tabbed as the team to beat once again in the SEMO Central Conference and are also ripe to make another playoff run in Class 2.
Gilmore views his matchup with Sikeston as a measuring stick for the rest of the season.
"We're approaching this as a real test for us right out of the gate," said Gilmore. "All the teams in our conference play Sikeston already so we felt it would be a good fit for us also and give us a gauge for a common opponent. We're real excited about playing a team of Sikeston's caliber to start the year to give us a starting point to see how good we're going to be and what we need to work on.
"One thing we're going to see out of Sikeston that we didn't see much until the playoffs last year is they've got a combination of size and speed. They're going to be real big up front and that's something that's given us problems over the years. We need to see that early."
Both teams' offensive lines are nearly identical in size, with Sikeston averaging 246 pounds to Caruthersville's 243. Both teams are green behind center. The Tigers' new quarterback, Keith Creekmore, completed 5-of-8 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown last year as a sophomore.
Sikeston's new quarterback, senior Bryce Wibbenmeyer, has never attempted a varsity pass.
Despite the loss of Jackson, Caruthersville returns sophomore Kendrickus Reed, who had 270 yards rushing on 28 carries last season as a freshman.
Senior Apollo Patterson was the leading ground gainer for the Bulldogs last season, rushing for 516 yards and six touchdowns.
Caruthersville is has a solid duo in the receiving department in Kyle Hubbard (24 catches, 391 yards, 6 TDs) and Plessie Ellitt (21-406, 3 TDs).
Both are tall, physical receivers that could cause matchup problems for Sikeston's smallish secondary.
Senior Felante Larry, a track and field all-stater, is the top statistical returning receiver with 108 yards on six catches. The 5-7, 141-pounder also returned a kick for a touchdown last year.
Caruthersville employs a wide open offense which Gilmore has called "run and gun."
The Tigers will use four and sometimes five wide receiver sets out of the shotgun with a steady dose of no-huddle.
Dement thinks his defense, which is strong up front on the defensive line, will be up to the task.
"We run some of the same things so our kids know what that stuff's about," said Dement. "It does make you be a little simpler defensively because you don't have time to make calls in the huddle. We think it will be a big challenge for us. We're just excited to get to play."
All-region and all-conference defensive tackle Joe Johnson headlines the defense returnees.
The Bulldogs also got a boost when senior Cullen DeHart, an all-conference player as a sophomore, was cleared to play this year after missing all of last season with Tommy John surgery.
The Tigers return several top players on the defensive side, including all-conference linebacker Adam Cecil and Hubbard, an all-conference safety.
In terms of enrollment, Sikeston will be the largest school to play Caruthersville in over a decade.
But Gilmore doesn't think his players will be in awe.
"This is going to set the tone for our whole year," said Gilmore. "We don't want our kids to be intimidated because a 4A team is coming to town to play us. We're just looking at it as a football game and we've got to win all three phases of the game to win. We've still got a bitter taste in our mouth after losing to Centralia and I see a lot of similarities in the team Sikeston has as far as size and the combination of speed. We're pleased to take a challenge like this the opening game. We're going to know real quick where we stand and what we need to do."