(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
CARUTHERSVILLE -- On the running of Eli Jackson and Gaviland Bland, the Sikeston Bulldogs made the debut of varsity head coach Kent Gibbs one with great success.
Sikeston erased a frustrating 2006 season Friday night by rolling past Caruthersville 34-20 as its top two rushers combined for 332 yards and five touchdowns in the 2007 season-opener. The Bulldogs also commanded a 451-254 edge in total offensive yards.
"With all the hard work that we did (in practice), we thought we would come out here and get it done," said Jackson, a sophomore who gained 179 yards and scored three TDs in the first half of his first varsity game.
Although he led all rushers with 194 yards on 23 carries, Jackson played sparingly in the second half after leaving the game with a mild foot injury. Bland added 138 yards on 19 ground attempts.
(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"Our linemen stepped it up in the first half. I give all the thanks to them because they made me good at what I'm doing," Jackson said.
"At the beginning of the game, the holes weren't really there. But as the game went on, the linemen got pumped up. That got me pumped up and holes just kept getting bigger and bigger," he added.
Jackson ran for two touchdowns of 32 yards -- the first coming with 6:02 left in the first quarter after Sikeston completed an 80-yard drive that covered eight plays. After the Bulldogs crossed midfield, Bland rambled for 11 yards to the Caruthersville 32, where Jackson did the rest of the work one play later on a scamper down the left sideline.
"We've been working hard in practice," Sikeston lineman Adrian Dixon said. "Coach Gibbs has been hard on us, and its paid off. There's a new attitude on this team. We're a better team because of it."
"Our youth and inexperience showed," said Caruthersville coach Brad Gerling, whose team came into the 2007 season after graduating 15 of its 22 starters. "It was a well-played game by both teams. We just have a lot to improve on if we want to get back into the playoffs like last year."
Senior quarterback Jake VanAusdall, who was under pressure from Bulldogs' defensive linemen Madison and Stephen Jackson for most of the night, tried to put the Tigers in position to tie the game. On 3rd-and-inches from the Sikeston 38, his pass to Chris Smith went for 16 yards before Haggerman plunged ahead for a 2-yard gain.
VanAusdall called his own number on the next play, which was a run up the middle for what might have resulted in a touchdown. But as the Caruthersville quarterback reached the 1-yard line, the ball was left laying on the turf three yards behind him, where the Sikeston defense stripped him and recovered it.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs controlled the ball, but temporarily lost control of the game. Junior quarterback Charlie Bohannon, who was 6-for-9 for 99 yards, hit senior tight end Brandon Wright for what appeared to be a first down after a nine-yard gain.
But Wright, who looked as if he was down on the turf, was ruled to have fumbled the ball. Sophomore linebacker Jovan Haggerman scooped up the loose ball for Caruthersville and raced 52 yards to the end zone. After the return tied the game at 6, senior rusher and University of Mississippi recruit Rashad Fields eluded the Bulldogs' defense as he ran for a 2-point conversion and an 8-6 lead for the Tigers.
Fields, who finished with 84 yards on 14 carries, was held out of the end zone.
It only took Sikeston seven plays to provide an answer. With a drive that started on the Bulldogs' 35, Bland ran for a first down before Bohannon connected with Wright for another set of downs as SHS moved to the Tigers' 35. Two plays later, Jackson picked up a block for Bland, who eliminated Fields from his spot at safety, while the game's top rusher turned the left corner and headed to the end zone for his second 32-yard touchdown with 6:51 left in the first half.
With about three minutes left before halftime and leading 12-8, Sikeston's defense pinned the Tigers in a 4th-and-25 situation on their own 16-yard line. Forced to punt deep in its own territory, Caruthersville asked Roy Leasure, who lined up only seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, tried to kick the Tigers out of trouble.
But after the ball came off of Leasure's foot, Sikeston defensive linemen Robert Madison and Stephen Jackson leaped into the air to block the punt. The ball landed on the Caruthersville 8, exactly eight yards behind the initial spot.
Jackson needed only two attempts to post his third rushing TD of the game, which came from nine yards out as the Bulldogs grabbed a 20-8 lead as 2:53 remained in the first half. Bohannon tossed a 2-point conversion pass to Nequavious Dixon as Sikeston scored eight points on the possession.
The Sikeston lead grew to 26-8 about 2 1/2 minutes later after the Bulldogs' defense stopped VanAusdall on 4th-and-3 at the Tigers' 38 and capped a quick seven-play drive with an 11-yard TD run by Bland.
VanAusdall's 24-yard TD run burned the Bulldogs and was the only scoring of the third quarter. He ran 13 times for 112 yards for the Tigers.
Bland helped the Bulldogs take time off the clock in the fourth quarter. He ran four times during a seven-play Sikeston drive that ended with a 2-yard TD plunge with 10:04 left in the game. Bohannon threw a 2-point conversion pass to Dixon as SHS took a 34-14 lead.
"Our effort was good, but we still made some mistakes. Even I made some mistakes in my play-calling," Gibbs said. "I feel like we got a little tired chasing around all of the things that Caruthersville does. We haven't been in a position where we've had to put a team away in a while, especially in a season-opener."
VanAusdall, who was 4-of-13 for 30 yards, completed the scoring when his 4-yard TD pass to Lorenzo Borders rallied the Tigers to a 34-20 deficit. The extra-point kick was blocked.
With five minutes remaining, Sikeston turned to Bland, who was able to run out the clock with a pair of first-down runs and Courvirseya Strickland, who gave the Bulldogs another set of downs after a eight-yard run.