WEST PLAINS - If first impressions count for anything, then the West Plains Zizzers may be giving Sikeston and other district teams nightmares for years to come.
Meeting for the first time ever on the gridiron, West Plains sent a statement to the rest of Class 4, District 1 that there may be a new sheriff in town after a 35-0 trouncing of the visiting Bulldogs at Zizzer Stadium on Friday.
West Plains replaced a Perryville team that was 0-12 against District 1 opponents the last four years.
So instead of getting a short drive up the interstate to play the Pirates, Sikeston had to make the 2 1/2 hour trek into the Ozark Foothills where they were soundly greeted by their new district foe.
West Plains moves to 4-4 on the season and 1-0 in district play while Sikeston falls to 2-6 and 0-1 in the district. Sikeston was held to 113 yards of offense, their second worst total of the season, while allowing the Zizzers to rack up 317 yards on the ground with a variety of option and misdirection plays.
"We weren't physically ready to play at all," said Sikeston coach Jerry Dement. "They took it to us up front and we didn't respond. I'm very disappointed in the way we played. I think our kids were mentally ready until they smacked us in the mouth a little bit and we kind of backed off instead of going after them. I'm very disappointed in our play on both sides of the ball."
The turnover bug also came back to bite the Bulldogs as they lost the ball five times, including a season-high four interceptions by quarterback Bryce Wibbenmeyer.
Four of the five Zizzer scoring drives started in Sikeston territory.
"Too many turnovers, we didn't block very well, we didn't maintain the line of scrimmage," said Dement. "Bryce had pressure all night and got forced into poor decisions. We just didn't play well. I don't have any excuses. West Plains played good and we played bad."
The Bulldog defense looked to be up to the challenge early on as the first quarter was played to a scoreless stalemate. Twice the Zizzers started drives in Bulldog territory and twice they were thwarted. But the third time Sikeston couldn't contain them as quarterback Matt Cromer kept it on an option run and scored untouched from 37 yards out with 10:01 left in the second quarter.
After an interception set up the Zizzers at the Sikeston 39, West Plains eventually scored on a Danny Meyer 1-yard plunge with 5:45 left in the half to make it 14-0.
Sikeston had their best chance to score on the ensuing drive as they had two cracks at the end zone in the waning moments of the first half.
On one play, a Sikeston receiver deflected the ball away from his own teammate on what looked to be a sure touchdown.
The second chance resulted in a pass that barely slipped out of Felante Larry's hands as he dove into the end zone as the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs at the 27.
It marked the closest the Bulldogs would come to scoring.
"That hurt us," said Dement. "We had two guys go up for the ball and knock it away from each other. Felante also had a chance to get one and we didn't execute it. We had a couple chances to make it interesting in the first half and get some momentum and we didn't do that. That's kind of been the story of our season."
It proved to be demoralizing for the Bulldogs as West Plains scored on its first three possessions of the second half with relative ease as two of the drives were set up by interceptions.
Their longest drive of the game covered 60 yards, but they needed just three plays to get it in. Meyer scored on runs of 5 and 3 yards and John Morrison scored on a 3-yard run with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter to enforce the mercy rule.
West Plains coach Greg Simpkins said getting the stop on the Bulldogs' final drive of the half was the key to the game.
"Obviously that's big," said Simpkins. "It's a game of momentum. If you go in 14-7 at the half instead of 14-0 and then something happens on the kickoff, then everyone's in the ballgame. I'll brag on our defense -- I thought they did the things to make a nice goalline stand. We were very fortunate too, because I know there was a player wide open. I don't know if it was deflected or they dropped it. But that was a big play."
West Plains used most of the fourth quarter by churning out short-yardage runs with reserves as they ate up 8:32 of clock before turning it over on downs at the Bulldog 14.
Simpkins said he was concerned with Sikeston's superior speed on offense, but his senior-laden team was up to the challenge.
"They had a few plays where they were just five or six inches from breaking them," said Simpkins. "They have some speed over there and you've got to be able to tackle that. We've been stopping people on the run inside the tackles all year, and some of that has to do with some senior defensive linemen and linebackers. They had a good night. It was Senior Night and they took it to heart and played with a lot of pride."
Sikeston rushed for just 39 yards on 26 carries. Other than a 14-yard reverse by Larry in the waning moments, Sikeston's longest run from scrimmage was seven yards on the second play of the night.
Wibbenmeyer completed 6-of-17 passes for 74 yards. Larry caught four passes for 55 yards. He had 120 all-purpose yards on the night.
Meyer led all rushers with 137 yards on 21 carries with three scores.
Cromer was just 2-of-6 passing for eight yards with two interceptions.
Simpkins said he was content not to throw as long as his offensive line created holes for his running backs.
"I was a little surprised we could move the ball on the ground like we did," said Simpkins. "But I don't think this score indicates the physicalness of the ballgame. It was closer than the score's indicating, but a lot of that had to do with field position and turnover situations."
Sikeston has now lost its district opener five straight times and seven of the last eight.
The Bulldogs will wrap up their schedule with two straight home games, hosting Poplar Bluff and Cape Central respectively.
Sikeston's fate in the district is now out of their hands. The Bulldogs will have to win their next two games and hope for a West Plains loss by 13 points or more to have a chance at the title.
"I didn't know how this game would turn out -- we didn't know anything about Sikeston," said Simpkins.
"I think the Zizzers were just as new and different to the Bulldogs as the Bulldogs were to Zizzers. I was really surprised MSHSAA put us in like this. I don't understand why we're sent over there or why they're sent over here in district games."
West Plains will have a long road trip ahead of them this Thursday as they take on Cape Central at Houck Stadium in what could possibly be the district championship game after the Tigers' 27-7 win against Poplar Bluff on Friday.