POPLAR BLUFF - On paper, Friday night's SEMO North game between Sikeston and Poplar Bluff looks fairly even.
Both teams enter the 7 p.m. matchup at Morrow Stadium with identical 1-7 records. Both teams start and play a large number of underclassmen. And both teams have gone through growing pains this season.
"I just think we're at the point where we're expecting bad things to happen and not preparing for the good things," said Poplar Bluff coach Mike Dormady. "It's just about a mindset right now more than anything. It's not scheme, it's not talent, it's not that."
The Mules' only victory came in Week 5 as they came from behind to beat Dexter 27-20.
They lost their Class 4, District 1 opener last week against Cape Central, 31
The Mules average 14.6 points per game and allow 33 on average.
Poplar Bluff has played a brutal schedule, with games against three Arkansas schools and Jefferson City.
"They've played an extremely tough schedule -- and also they're like us in a lot of ways in that they have a lot of young players playing," said Sikeston coach Jerry Dement. "You combine those things and it makes it tough on you. That's very similar to what we've gone through, except their schedule's probably a little tougher."
Similarly, Sikeston averages 12.5 points per game and allows 33.4 on average.
The Bulldogs didn't win their first game until Week 7 as they held on to defeat Kennett 26-20. Sikeston lost its district opener last week to West Plains, 49
Although Sikeston holds a huge lead in the all-time series with Poplar Bluff at 48-29-4, the Mules have been controlling things here lately, winning seven of the last eight matchups.
This will be the 82nd game between the two schools, who first met on the field in 1911.
"It's always a good local rivalry between us and Poplar Bluff," said Dement. "We play each other every year and they're always well-fought, well-contested games. Both schools have put themselves in a tough spot. Right now we're playing for pride because we've got to wait for somebody else to help us."
The Mules will present the Bulldogs with a passing attack unlike any they have seen this year.
Junior quarterback Asa Wyatt has thrown for a conference-leading 1,448 yards with 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Last week against Cape Central he threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
"They run it some, but they're predominantly a passing team," said Dement. "They use a shotgun, spread offense. They're probably in the shotgun 95 percent of the time. They probably average 30 to 35 passes a game. We've got to get some pressure on their quarterback and play solid in the secondary. It's going to be a big challenge for us defensively. Knock on wood, but for the most part we've played pretty good pass defense this year. We hope we can keep that going this week."
The Bulldogs have allowed 93.3 yards passing per game this season, although most of the teams they've played have been run-oriented squads.
Opponents have only attempted 87 passes this season while the Bulldogs have intercepted seven passes this year.
By comparison, Wyatt has attempted 221 passes alone.
His top receiver is junior Nick Stith, who has 37 receptions for 841 yards with nine touchdowns -- all of which lead the conference.
Patrick Edington, Tim Stonecipher and Jarred Osborn have combined to catch 33 passes for 491 yards.
When they do run the ball, Allan Spencer gets most of the carries, rushing for 320 yards on 87 carries with four scores.
Sikeston is the exact opposite of the Mules.
The Bulldogs want to keep things on the ground and keep the clock moving. Fullback Acie Dixon leads the team with 473 rushing yards on 88 carries with seven touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have tried several different tailbacks this year. Michael Geralds and Jerod Scott have both started this season, and now sophomore Byron Davis will get his first start.
All three have combined to rush for 278 yards on 82 carries. Geralds has scored the only rushing touchdown from the tailback position this year for the Bulldogs.
Leading receiver Robbie Howard makes his return to the lineup after missing the last two games. Second-leading receiver Julian Beard is still doubtful with a leg injury.
Sophomore quarterback Chase Ferrell has completed 42-of-96 passes for 398 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Both teams have been plagued by turnovers, losing the ball 23 times apiece. Sikeston has forced 14 turnovers compared to 10 forced by the Mules.
Cape Central travels to West Plains Friday night for what could be the district title.