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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bulldogs prepare for talented Tigers

Thursday, September 1, 2005

(Photo)
Siekston quarterback Chase Ferrell prepares to throw a pass during last week's jamboree scrimmage.
SIKESTON - It didn't seem that long ago that the Caruthersville football team was bringing up the rear in the SEMO Conference nearly every year.

But seemingly overnight, the Tigers have become one of the premier football programs in the area the last two seasons.

After winning 17 games combined in eight years from 1995-2002, the Tigers have ripped off back-to-back conference and district titles en route to 23 wins and just three losses.

Both times the Tigers came up short of a state championship game appearance with losses in the semifinals, both times to the eventual state champion.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sikeston, a tradition-rich football school, has endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1985 and 1986, including 3-7 last season.

And last year, in the season-opener and head coach Jerry Dement's debut with the Bulldogs, Caruthersville handed Sikeston one of its worst losses in school history, 60-6.

"You can't forget that -- it's the worst experience all of us have ever had," said Dement. "They had an excellent ballclub and we didn't play well and they played excellent. It was an embarrassing defeat. It left a bad taste in our mouth and we want to get rid of it."

But to do that Sikeston will have to make do with 14 new starters on both sides of the ball as the Bulldogs kick off the season Friday night when they host the Tigers at SPS Stadium at 7 p.m.

Caruthersville graduated the bulk of its lineup as well, but they return several key personnel, including quarterback Keith Creekmore, who led the area with 2,700 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.

They also return multi-talented running back Kendrickus Reed, who rushed for nearly 700 yards despite missing seven weeks of action with an injured foot.

Combine those two with some other experienced returners and the Tigers certainly appear to have reloaded from last season.

"We know Caruthersville is a quality opponent," said Dement. "They're very good at the skill positions -- their quarterback, fullback and tailback are as good as there is in the whole area. They have a couple real good linemen and we think they'll be a big handful."

But Caruthersville will be under new leadership as David Gilmore left to take an administrative position at Hayti.

Brad Gerling, the team's offensive coordinator the last couple years, is the new head coach.

"Expectations are going to be high coming off back-to-back semifinal years," said Gerling. "The kids have a bad taste in their mouths after coming up short and we've set it as a goal to get to the championship game."

Caruthersville's biggest losses were not only Carr Trophy winner Adam Cecil and a plethora of athletes at the skill positions, but an experienced and tough offensive and defensive line that may have been the best in Southeast Missouri last year.

Only senior Joe Mixon (5-11, 235) and junior Ted VanAusdall (6-2, 275) return as linemen that saw playing time.

"We lost five guys that started, but the VanAusdall kid and Mixon kid both saw considerable time last year," said Gerling. "Both of those guys are solid. We're going to be pretty solid again up front. Replacing all those guys from last year will be tough, but we're simplifying some things until they get into the flow of the season."

Plus Caruthersville has moved 6-1, 220-pound senior Evan Gibson to fullback after playing tight end last year.

Jason Tate, Rashad Fields and Chima Nwora are all brand new wide receivers that Gerling is very high on coming into the season.

"We've got some new guys out this year that can definitely get the job done," said Gerling. "They can flat out run and jump and perform. So we're excited about our chances there."

Gerling also pointed out that he won't be changing much with his offense, which is a wide open, spread look.

"We've got the same system in that we had last year," said Gerling. "But of course every year you're going to adjust to the personnel that you have. We're going to run the same system but we'll tweak it a little bit."

On the defensive side of the ball, Caruthersville will start seven players that also start on offense.

Running the defense will be former Kennett coach Ronnie Jones, who also coached at New Madrid County Central for 18 years.

Gerling thinks his defense will be a team strength this year.

"We've got a lot of speed to burn on the defensive side," said Gerling. "With Ronnie Jones coming over and helping me out on the defensive side, we've been able to get together and put in a package that will really excite the people in the stands. The kids have rallied behind it and I think it's going to be a real strength of the team."

For the Bulldogs, Dement said neither of his two quarterback candidates -- junior Joey Williams and sophomore Chase Ferrell -- out-performed the other so he will platoon them Friday night.

Ferrell attempted one pass last year as a freshman in a varsity game. Williams has only taken snaps in varsity action.

"I don't have a plan on exactly how much each one will play because they're both pretty close in our evaluations this fall," said Dement.

"We'll give them both a chance and see which one moves the team to the best and he'll get the most snaps. We'll kind of play it by ear."

The Bulldogs also will have a new starting tailback in junior Michael Geralds, nephew of former Bulldog record-setting wide receiver Steven Geralds.

Geralds rushed for 88 yards in limited action last year, but Dement feels he can provide the Bulldogs with game-breaking speed at running back.

Acie Dixon, a 5-foot-8, 240-pound fullback, rushed for 460 yards with six touchdowns last year. Adrian Douglas, also a 5-8, 240-pounder, will also get some carries at fullback.

The team will also have a new receiving corps with Julian Beard and Robbie Howard getting the starting nod in Week 1.

The team had to retool most of the offensive but Craig Millington and Joe Moore both saw extensive playing time a year ago.

"They've definitely got a lot of size -- they're a lot bigger than us up front," said Gerling. "They've got some real big fullbacks and a tailback that can flat run. It will be a matter of containing that offense.

"I think it will be a lot tougher game. For one they will have a lot more motivation than what they may have last year with the way we were able to beat them. But also they're in their second year under coach Dement and that always helps. I expect it to be a much closer ballgame."

On defense, the Bulldogs will look for Tyler Baker to anchor the defensive line along with seniors Stephon Turner and Douglas and 6-2, 275-pound sophomore Robert Madison.

The team will have an entire new unit at linebacker with Salamar Cox, Tyler Dame and Gerald Winfield.

In the secondary, all-conference performer Howard returns. Beard, B.J. Green and Geralds will also get the start at defensive back.