SIKESTON -- In his first varsity football game, sophomore running back Eli Jackson helped the Sikeston Bulldogs overcome the Caruthersville Tigers during Week 1.
Now, Sikeston (1-0 overall), which received 179 yards and three touchdowns from Jackson in the first half of Friday's 34-20 victory, must deal with the fact that the Bulldogs' leading rusher will be out for an undetermined amount of time because of a foot problem.
"Eli Jackson will not play, so we're going to have to plug some other guys into our mix at running back," said head coach Kent Gibbs, whose squad will play its first home contest this season at 7 p.m. Friday against the Charleston Blue Jays (0-1 overall).
Jackson, who was limping noticeably after the game Friday, finished with 194 yards. He is the second SHS running back this season who has been set back by injury. Junior Vince Howard has been injured since training camp and is also out for a questionable period of time.
What this means for the Bulldogs is that more of the rushing attack will be carried by the feet of senior Gaviland Bland, who amassed 138 yards on 19 attempts and scored two touchdowns on Friday. He has switched from his spot at fullback to being the Sikeston tailback.
"He was totally relentless when he had the ball," Gibbs said of Bland's effort against Caruthersville.
With the Bulldogs thin in their offensive backfield, Sikeston must find other ways to move the ball downfield. Bland could get 20-25 rushing attempts, if another effective runner does not step forward in Week 2. Junior Courvirseya Strickland, who has been moved to fullback, netted 20 yards on five carries as SHS ran the ball 48 times for 352 yards. Sophomore Jarian Wims could also spend some time at fullback against Charleston.
"We want to grind-out our drives for as long as we can," Gibbs said. "At the same time, we have to use the players who will give us the best chance to win. We will always run the football. But if there some chances to take it downfield with a pass, we'll do that too."
Sikeston may also choose to put more of its offense in the hands of junior quarterback Charlie Bohannon, who was 6-of-9 for 99 yards against Caruthersville. Most of his passing attempts on Friday came on short routes to Bland (two receptions for three yards) and senior tight end Brandon Wright (three receptions for 40 yards). Wideout Josh Pierce caught one pass for 36 yards.
Another option for the Bulldogs could have Bohannon spending time in the their offensive backfield while senior quarterback Chase Ferrell handles the signal-calling duties.
On the defensive side of the ball, Gibbs said he remained pleased with Sikeston's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, but showed concern for the Bulldogs' conditioning.
"We need to get better in the third quarter," Gibbs said. "After building a 26-8 lead in the first half (against Caruthersville), the third quarter is the time when we need to put teams away. I think we grew a little tired, but that comes when you're doing a lot of running laterally. This team is slowly rounding itself into shape."
With the loss of Jackson, Sikeston's special teams unit will turn to Bohannon in a punting situation and sophomore Josh Carlyle will handle kickoffs and extra points.
The Blue Jays come into Friday's matchup with Sikeston after suffering a 21-19 loss in Week 1 at Kennett. It was a Charleston defeat that was haunted by the kicking game, which failed to convert two extra-point attempts.
"We worked so much on offense and defense (during training camp) that we may have neglected our special teams," Blue Jays head coach Dan Kesselring said. "It certainly was an area that cost us. We worked extremely hard in preparing for Kennett that I can't believe we didn't win that game."
Running backs Jerquawn Sherrell (14 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD) and Marquez Ware (14 carries, 46 yards) and quarterback Chase McClendon (nine carries, 44 yards, 2 TDs) provided balance to the Blue Jays' running game, which accumulated 149 of Charleston's 240 total yards against the Indians.
McClendon completed 6-of-10 passes for 91 yards through the air. He connected with five different receivers, including Matt Medlock (two catches, 27 yards), Brian Caldwell (one catch, 46 yards), Claude Armstrong (one catch, 12 yards), Sherrell (one catch, nine yards) and Ware (one catch, minus-three yards).
"Our theory is to spread the ball around," Kesselring said. "I was impressed with Chase's ability to run the option and throw the ball in his first varsity start at quarterback. But with our numbers, we can't afford to rely on a single player. We have to get everyone involved."
Despite the loss, the Blue Jays won the battle of total yards 240-208. The biggest play Charleston's defense allowed was a 45-yard fourth-quarter TD toss from Kennett quarterback Blake Parr to receiver Cameron Conder.
Charleston offensive tackles Garrison Eastman and James Davenport will have key roles Friday night.
Not only will Eastman and Davenport have to open up running lanes for Sherrell, Ware and McClendon, but they will also have to fend off Sikeston defensive ends Robert Madison and Stephen Jackson, who consistently bowled over Caruthersville linemen en route to quarterback Jake VanAusdall.
The contest between the Bulldogs and the Blue Jays on Friday will be the 122nd meeting of the Sikeston and Charleston high schools on the prep football gridiron. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 83-34-4 ... Charleston, which was a 13-6 victor against Sikeston in 2006, has won the last three games of the series ... The last Sikeston victory was a 21-12 decision in 2002.