That all changed once head coach Lawrence Brookins jumped on board.
After a rough start in Brookins' initial season in which the team went 1-9 in 1999, he has led the team to three straight Class 4, District 1 championships, a feat that only Charleston has matched in all of Southeast Missouri.
The Tigers will be looking to add to the streak starting on Thursday when they host the Sikeston Bulldogs at Houck Stadium at 7 p.m.
Cape Central entered 2003 as the prohibitive favorites to 4-peat as the district champs. The team entered the week with a 5-2 mark, but they have struggled somewhat this season.
The team struggled last week with a 1-6 Sumner team, eventually winning 17-14.
Is it a sign that the Tigers have lost their edge?
Sikeston head coach Charlie Vickery says no.
"They're the defending district champions," he said. "They've got an outstanding team. Last week they didn't play probably as well as they would've liked, but they still got the win. They were coming off the big emotional game against Jackson. You toss that game aside, I think they've played well all season."
Sikeston (3-3), which hasn't won a district title since 1995, enters tomorrow's game coming off a bye week. The Bulldogs have been up and down this year, playing well enough to lead NMCC 25-7 at the half, but bad enough to lose that same game 35-25.
Sikeston has defeated Charleston, Kennett and Farmington. Their other two losses were down-to-the-wire affairs with Jackson (12-7) and Dexter (14-7).
Brookins thinks the Bulldogs are a sleeping giant waiting to come out of hibernation.
"I think they're a good squad," said Brookins. "They stubbed their toe a few times this year just like we have. But they're a very dangerous bunch. I don't think either of our teams has even scratched the surface of our potential. Fans could be treated to quite a show if both of us come out hitting on all cylinders. It could be an exciting ballgame."
The Bulldogs probably reached their full potential in the first half of the NMCC game.
They're also a team that is just two plays away from being 5-1, and probably a couple more plays in the NMCC game from being 6-0 right now.
But as it is, the Bulldogs will be underdogs the next two weeks for sure.
However, Vickery thinks the district, which also includes Poplar Bluff and Perryville, is wide open.
"I don't think there's anybody that's a clear-cut favorite," said Vickery. "I just think the team that comes out and gets hot the last three games will be the district champion."
The Tigers still have three-year starter Mitch Craft at quarterback. While he hasn't been as sharp as last year, he has thrown for a SEMO Conference best 1,419 yards. He's completed 81-of-139 passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
He also leads the team with 279 yards rushing on 86 carries with three TDs. His rushing yards leads all SEMO Conference quarterbacks.
"He's going to make plays," said Vickery. "He's equally strong at throwing or running and that presents a lot of problems. You can't sit back and play the pass because he's very dangerous on the run. You try to play the run and he'll kill you with the passing game. He's a multiple threat and he makes them go."
While the Tigers had Craft entrenched at the quarterback spot, the Bulldogs had to groom a new starter with the departure of Blake DeWitt.
Senior Stephen Miller, who had never taken a varsity snap before this year, has filled the void admirably. He's thrown for 693 yards, completing 40-of-93 passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
He's also second in the area among quarterbacks in rushing with 150 yards on 58 carries with five TDs.
Brookins has been impressed with Miller.
"I thought they handled that very well," said Brookins. "That was a major blow to those guys. I know a lot of teams would totally crumble if a quarterback of that caliber suddenly was not available. I think their quarterback is playing as cool as you can right now. I'm sure there's things he can improve on, but he's a guy that can hurt you."
Craft is surrounded by plenty of talent. Brandon Twiggs, Gabe Edwards, Marcus Rice, Tyrone Reece and Mikell Abraham all get plenty of carries out of the backfield.
Wide receiver Mark Dunaway is among area leaders with 410 yards receiving on 21 catches. Reece follows up with 258 yards on 14 catches.
Clay Schermann, Twiggs, Will Johnson and Scott Brueckner all have over 100 yards receiving.
"They run inside, they run outside, they've got good running backs, their receivers are good," said Vickery. "They're so dangerous because they're so good at so many different spots. I think probably one of the most dangerous things they have is the kicking game. You talk about Cape, you've got to talk about their kicking game right up there with their high-powered offense and their good defense. They've pretty much got it all."
Colin Schermann handles the kicking duties, booting six field goals, including a long of 51 yards.
Miller is surrounded with some talent as well. His primary target is wide receiver Scotty Keenan, who is second in the area with 522 yards on 25 catches.
Brookins expressed concern with the Miller-Keenan connection.
"We've had trouble this year in defending the pass and letting receivers get behind us," he said. "Hopefully we'll have that corrected Thursday."
Junior tailback Apollo Patterson leads the team with 428 yards rushing on 94 carries. He also leads the team with six touchdowns. Fullback Jacob Priday has 225 yards rushing on 46 carries with a pair of scores.
Also an all-state linebacker, Priday leads the team with 90 tackles.
"Jake Priday is obviously one of the best players in Southeast Missouri, if not, one of the best players in the state of Missouri," said Brookins. "He's already proven that. He plays so hard on both sides of the ball. Apollo's a bad boy. If he gets unwound and gets loose on you, it could be a long night. They've got some weapons at their disposal."
While the Bulldogs weren't able to stay sharp with a game last week, Vickery said the team took advantage of the week off with solid practice time.
"Obviously we would've rather had a game, but since we didn't get one we just tried to improve ourselves a little bit," said Vickery. "We didn't have anything big, but we were able to heal up a few minor injuries. I think the time off helped us there, but we would've rather had played a game."