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Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

Bulldogs hope to slow down Mules' balanced attack

Thursday, October 30, 2003

(Photo)
Scotty Keenan
POPLAR BLUFF - Last season, the Poplar Bluff Mules football team rushed for 430 yards.

Not in a game, but the entire season.

It was probably the No. 1 contributing factor to the Mules finishing 4-6 on the season and last in the SEMO North Conference.

Three games into the 2003 season, the Mules had already eclipsed their season rushing total from last year.

And just like that, Poplar Bluff went from the worst team in the conference, to the No. 1 ranked team in the area this season entering their home game with the Sikeston Bulldogs on Friday night at 7:30.

The Mules come into the game 7-0, the first time they have been undefeated this late in the season since 1990.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, come in with a two-game losing streak, including a 44-19 district opening loss to Cape Central last week.

For the Bulldogs to have any chance at winning their first district title since 1995, they will have to win their next two games, and hope that Poplar Bluff can beat Cape Central.

"There's always a let-down after you lose that first game but you've got to pick up the pieces and keep going," said Sikeston head coach Charlie Vickery. "You can't just give up and throw in the towel."

Although most thought the Mules would be improved, nobody thought they would be undefeated at this point.

Vickery attributes the turnaround to the team's ability to run the ball this year.

"Last year they had to revert all to a passing game because they had no running game," he said. "They're running game has been the biggest difference this year."

Leading the way on the ground for the Mules has been junior tailback Todd Tinsley, the younger brother of former all-state Mule Austin Tinsley and all-conference Travis Tinsley.

The younger Tinsley has 923 yards rushing on 110 carries for an 8.4-yard per carry average. He's also caught eight passes for 164 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns this season.

"He's an outstanding running back -- he's very hard to tackle because number one, he's got good balance, he's got great vision and he's got a tremendous amount of speed," said Vickery. "I think people underestimate his speed a little bit. He can not only run outside, but he's got great cutback ability inside."

Even with the newfound running game this year, Poplar Bluff is still quite efficient throwing the football.

Mark Gum, who threw for 2,018 yards last year but had 20 interceptions, has improved drastically. This season he has 1,458 yards passing, and has 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

"Gum is a year more experienced back there," said Vickery. "He's bigger, he's stronger and he's a quality quarterback. He puts the ball on the money and he doesn't make very many mistakes at all."

Gum's top target is Andrew Heuiser, who has an area-leading 34 receptions for 708 yards. Lucas Edington follows up with 18 catches for 350 yards.

"You can't stop everything, but you've got to zero in on the things that they do well," said Vickery. "I think number one we've got to slow down the running game and make them throw the football."

But perhaps the biggest reason for Poplar Bluff's success has been a stringent defense. Last year the Mules allowed 33.5 points per game, the most in school history. But so far this season they have allowed just 11.6 points per game.

"We went up and saw them play Jackson a couple weeks ago and they played extremely well," said Vickery. "They were hitting on all cylinders. Their defense held Jackson down and offensively they did pretty much what they wanted to do. I think that was their coming-out game where they showed exactly how good they actually are."

The Bulldogs have been somewhat enigmatic this year. Early on, the defense played stellar while the offense struggled. But the last few games it's been the other way around. The offense has been putting up big numbers, but the defense hasn't been stopping teams.

"I think other than the second half against New Madrid, I think our offense has played pretty well," said Vickery. "We're just going to have to put a total game together. When we do that we are very competitive with anybody."

First year starting quarterback Stephen Miller has been better than almost anyone could imagine. The senior has thrown for 944 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

"When teams have pressured the quarterback he's struggled a little bit," said Poplar Bluff head coach Mike Dormady. "When teams don't pressure the QB or he gets time to throw the football, he's a pretty good thrower. He had some success against Cape when he had time, when he didn't have time he wasn't as successful."

Miller's top receiver, Scotty Keenan, is the second leading receiver in the area, hauling in 31 passes for 651 yards.

Felante Larry and Nathan Eaves both have over 100 yards receiving.

Junior running back Apollo Patterson leads the team with 516 yards rushing on 112 carries.

Fullback Jacob Priday is second on the squad with 231 carries, but he is questionable for Friday's game due to a shoulder injury suffered against Cape Central.

His status will probably be a game-time decision.

Sikeston has totally dominated the all-time series with Poplar Bluff with a 48-27-4 lead, but it's the Mules that have had the most laughs the last few years. Prior to last season, Poplar Bluff won five straight against the Bulldogs from 1997-2001.

But Sikeston won six straight from 1991-1996 prior to the Mules' streak.

Since Vickery took over the head coaching position at Sikeston in 1978, he has edged the Mules in 15 of the 26 meetings.

"I think Sikeston-Poplar Bluff pretty much says it all," said Dormady. "I'm expecting those phone calls from a few old-timers that really make sure they impress upon me the importance of winning this ballgame, which I already know the importance of the ballgame, I'm thinking the big picture not just the rivalry."

Vickery's parting assessment of the Mules leaves a scary thought for Bulldog fans, and not because the game will be played on Halloween.

"As good as Cape is, I think Bluff may even be better," he said.