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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sikeston football: Thinking of what could have been

Monday, November 19, 2001

After watching Cape Central make it all the way to the Class 4A Quarterfinals, it only reminded me of what the Sikeston Bulldogs could have done.

The Tigers won their second consecutive 4A District 1 title, defeated North County in a classic double-overtime thriller and then fell last Monday to Washington 18-17 on a missed field goal with no time left.

Of course, if Sikeston had won a district title, there's no guarantee that they could have reached the quarterfinals, but who's to say they wouldn't have either?

The Bulldogs were the favorite entering district competition, but a season-ending knee injury to standout lineman Kevin Keller proved to be more of a severe blow than initially thought.

Also leading tackler Kyle Duncan was only about half speed with an ankle injury in the last few games. And on top of that, perhaps Sikeston's best defensive lineman, Justin Lowes, went down early in the Cape Central game with a shoulder injury.

With those three injuries, Sikeston's district title hopes were dashed.

Cape Central defeated the Bulldogs 32-9, and then the following week, Sikeston fell to Farmington 37-31.

Now with the way Cape played on that Thursday night, it may not have mattered if Sikeston was healthy or not. Everything the Tigers touched was gold.

But I feel that with Keller, Lowes and Duncan patrolling the interior defense, then the Tigers wouldn't have been as successful running up the middle, which is where they dominated the game.

Same goes for the Farmington game, where Sikeston was forced to throw the ball 32 times with Keller and Lowes both out. If healthy, then the Bulldogs would've certainly been able to smashmouth like they had done all year.

Now this may sound like sour grapes. Every team experiences injuries and the good ones can overcome such adversity. But hey, that's just my opinion.

I think a healthy Sikeston team would have won the district title.

The Bulldogs had possibly their best defense they've had since the 1995 district championship team.

The opponents' 19 points per game may not jump out at you, but much of that can be attributed to an offense that constantly put the defense in a bad position.

What the Bulldogs did do was contain the two best running backs in the area.

They held Jackson's Mario Whitney to 90 yards on 16 carries in the season-opener. He averages 223 yards per game and 11 yards per carry. They also held New Madrid County Central's Dereke Tipler to 93 yards on 17 carries with no touchdowns. He averages 163 yards per game and 10 yards per carry

The Bulldogs were the only team to defeat NMCC and they had a chance to take down Poplar Bluff, but eventually lost 8-6.

Sikeston's opponents had a combined record of 72-36 heading into Saturday's semifinal games. Only two of the Bulldogs' opponents had losing records (Kennett and Perryville).

Several Bulldog seniors put together all-state caliber seasons. Andrew Lambert as a kicker and a defensive back is worthy. He was the top kicker in the area, booting 7-of-9 with a long of 45 yards, and he led the area in interceptions with eight, with two each coming against Jackson and NMCC.

Justin Lowes and Myron Hardin both had outstanding seasons on the defensive line while highly recruited Keller, despite missing the final three games, had a stellar season on the offensive line.

The Bulldogs lose 21 seniors to graduation, including about the entire offensive and defensive line.

But most of the skill players return along with most of the defense, returning five of the top six tacklers. This year's freshman class also boasts plenty of talent and speed that could also contribute.

So improving on this year's 6-4 record is a definite possibility, especially with the balance of power likely to shift with Jackson, NMCC and Poplar Bluff all being hit hard with graduation.