FARMINGTON - The Sikeston Bulldogs' early-season schedule hasn't given the young team many breaks.
Things won't be any easier on Friday night when they travel to Farmington to take on the No. 3 Class 4 state-ranked Knights.
Farmington enters the game 4-0 and haven't been seriously challenged all season except perhaps a 21-6 road win against St. Clair.
The Bulldogs are 0-4 and three of their opponents have spent time in the state rankings at some point this season.
"We've played some good ballclubs this year and to be honest this may be the best one we've played," said Sikeston coach Jerry Dement. "We know it's a big challenge ahead of us. I think our kids are going to go up and play hard. I'm as much concerned about eliminating our mistakes and just playing as solid as we can and just look for improvement with each game."
Farmington offers up a solid running attack balanced out by an efficient passing game.
All-state quarterback Stuart Sago graduated, but Josh Kimrey has filled in nicely behind center. He's completed 22-of-41 passes for 366 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception.
Kimrey is also a running threat as he's rushed for 198 yards on 31 carries with four touchdowns.
Eric Schweiss is the team's leading receiver, catching five passes for 136 yards and two scores. Parks Peterson has six receptions for 63 yards.
Tailback Travis Ribbing leads the team with 488 yards on 65 carries with six TDs.
Kendall May, a sophomore, follows up with 141 yards on 17 carries with a score, all coming in last week's win against Kennett.
And perhaps the most important statistic -- Farmington has only fumbled three times this season.
"We like to be as balanced as we can," said Farmington coach John Bacon. "We like to see what the defense is giving us and then take advantage of it. That's our gameplan every week."
The Bulldogs will counter with an offense and a defense that is still trying to find an identity.
"They present a lot of challenges because they crowd the line of scrimmage and bring so many people up," said Dement. "We're not anywhere near what we need to be offensively. We've run the ball pretty well for the most part on the inside but we haven't run the ball very well on the edge.
"Last week Jackson put a lot of pressure on our young quarterback and got him rattled a little bit so we've tried to do some things to settle him down somewhat."
Acie Dixon leads the team with 201 rushing yards on 41 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Chase Ferrell has throw for 213 yards, completing 24-of-56 passes with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Senior flanker Robbie Howard leads the team with 121 yards receiving on 13 catches.
"They do a good job of balancing out the run and the pass," said Bacon. "You can't key on one of the other. We don't do anything fancy. We just try to get after people. We've got kids that are aggressive and like to run to the football. We haven't given up many big plays and I think that's been a big key for us."
The Bulldog defense has had difficulty stopping opponents' ground attack, but they've fared decently well in stopping the pass. Sikeston has allowed an average of 290 rushing yards per game and a whopping 7.3 yards per carry this season.
"They replaced a guy that was pretty much a pure passer with a guy that is more of a multi-dimensional guy," said Dement. "He's a kid that can run and pass which presents us with a few more problems.
"They're running the ball more often than they did last year. We know we've got to stop the run first and we've had difficulty in that obviously. That's something we've put a lot of emphasis on."
Dement knows that Farmington's running attack could very well be the most potent the Bulldogs have seen to date. The Knights average 287 yards rushing per game and 100 yards passing per outing.
"They're a very, very solid ballclub," said Dement. "They've earned their No. 3 ranking. They make very few mistakes and they're a senior-laden ballclub. They're pretty aggressive attacking on defense. They run a pretty good offense with a mix of option and running the ball and they also throw it effectively.
"We know it's going to be a big handful. We're playing them on their homecoming on their new turf field which will be different for our kids. We know we've got a tough row to hoe."
Sikeston hasn't had much success against the Knights recently since they've been on the schedule. In the two teams' seven meetings, Farmington has won five.
Sikeston managed to take two straight in 2002 and 2003, but Farmington won last year's contest 34-13.
Sikeston does, however, lead the all-time series with the Knights 16-10-1.