SIKESTON - The Sikeston Bulldogs may have the overwhelming edge in the long-time series with the Charleston Bluejays, but none of that will matter when the two meet for the 120th time tomorrow night at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
The Bluejays, which defeated the Bulldogs for the first time since 1996 last season, will once again be the favorites as they come into the game ranked sixth in the latest SEMO poll.
Charleston defeated Kennett 31-19 last week while the Bulldogs dropped their home opener to Caruthersville, 43-16.
But as everyone knows, records don't matter much when Charleston and Sikeston meet on the football field.
"When you grow up in Charleston like I have and Jerry (Dement) grew up in Sikeston, you know how big this game is," said first-year Charleston coach Al Marshall. "Jerry and I have been lifelong friends -- like a brother to me -- but when it comes to strapping on the blue and white and the red and black, you still want to beat the tar out of them. When it comes to Sikeston and Charleston, you can throw all the records out the window because it's going to be a dogfight."
Dement and Marshall attended Southeast Missouri State University for four years together and have been friends, and at least on the football field, rivals ever since.
"It's kind of neat because we've known each other for so long," said Dement, who is in his second season as the Bulldog head coach. "I'm proud for him that he got selected as head coach over there. It's a job that he had been wanting for years and years. Like me here in Sikeston, he comes from a family in Charleston that's been involved with football for decades. That's kind of a neat deal and it adds some spice to it. But we're not playing, we're just trying to get our teams prepared to play."
The Bluejays have started the season 2-0 just twice in the last 15 years, mostly due to Sikeston's dominance of the team in their annual meeting in Week 2.
Charleston hasn't defeated Sikeston in two consecutive seasons since 1973 and 1974.
High schools go through up and down cycles of athletic talent. And according to Marshall, the Bluejays appear to be on the upswing here lately.
"Right now we're very blessed with a lot of talented people," said Marshall. "You can be a great football coach, but you have the have the horses to win. Sometimes all the X's and O's and all the teaching is great, but when you line up it takes ball players to play the game. And right now from the ninth grade up, we've got a lot of ball players."
Namely, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in junior Joseph Watts. In last week's victory against Kennett, Watts rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.
The Bluejays also have a talented receiving corps led by 6-foot-5, 213-pound tight end Jamarcus Williams, who had four catches for 103 yards with a score last week.
Justin Clark, a 6-2, 179-pound junior, caught three passes for 74 yards. And the multi-talented Bobby Clark, who only had two receptions for 24 yards, still made his mark with a 40-yard interception return for a TD.
Taking the snaps is senior quarterback Josh Marshall, the coach's son. Josh completed 9-of-19 passes for 201 yards with one score and one interception. He also rushed for two short touchdowns.
Fullbacks James Williams and Billy Butler can keep defenses honest with runs up the gut.
"We know they're going to be a very talented ballclub," said Dement. "It's a big rivalry and there's going to be a lot of motivation to win for both teams. They've got a talented bunch with weapons at running back, receiver and quarterback. We're going to have to try to keep their offense off the field and keep our offense on the field, especially with as young as we are on defense. We're going to have to play mistake-free and take great angles to the ball because they've got tremendous ability at those skill positions. They've got a tough inside runner with their fullback too. We know we've got our hands full."
Sikeston struggled on both sides of the ball with the quicker and faster Caruthersville team. Defensively, the Bulldogs missed tackles and had some blown coverages.
On offense, Sikeston missed scoring opportunities with dropped passes and missed blocking assignments.
Dement says the coaching staff has addressed those issues this week in practice.
"We practice everything every day," said Dement. "We try to work on the things where we had weaknesses, catching the football and sustaining blocks. The main thing is we've done a lot of extra tackling in practice this week because we missed a lot of tackles last week. That's something we've put a lot of emphasis on and we hope to do a much better job this week against a team that can be hard to tackle because they're so dangerous in the open field."
Sikeston's bright spots on offense were the play of senior fullbacks Acie Dixon and Adrian Douglas.
Dixon led the team with 43 yards rushing on eight carries with a score. Douglas caught a screen pass and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown.
"They've got two great fullbacks -- two big 240-pound guys," said Marshall. "I know they are both very solid players. They both had some great runs in the first game. (Robbie) Howard is a gifted athlete."
The Bulldogs will need better blocking and better running out of junior tailback Michael Geralds, who was limited to 23 yards on 11 carries last week.
Dement has also settled on a quarterback in sophomore Chase Ferrell. Joey Williams will remain at backup.
"This is always a highly-motivated game between the communities and between the players and teams," said Dement. "You don't have to say a whole lot this week to get your players ready."