SIKESTON -- The wait for the start of the 2007 MSHSAA football season is almost over. On Friday night, it's game time!
That's when the Sikeston Bulldogs, with new varsity head coach Kent Gibbs, will debut at 7 p.m. in Week 1 on the brand-new gridiron at Caruthersville High School.
"One of our goals is to get off on the right foot," Gibbs said about the matchup his Bulldogs have with the Tigers. "I've noticed that in the last three years, Caruthersville has outscored us 141-30. That gives us a lot of ground that we need to cover."
The Tigers won their contest against Sikeston 38-8 in Week 1 of 2006. The Bulldogs have a 31-10-1 lead in the all-time series.
Caruthersville, a Bootheel region city that was victimized by a massive tornado April 2, 2006, was forced to play all of its home football games at Hayti High School last season. On Friday, the Tigers host the Bulldogs on a field that has been totally reconstructed.
"It's been an interesting week of practice," Gibbs said. "I think our offense has taken a step backward after the jamboree Friday at New Madrid, when I was really excited by what I saw. But, this week, the defense has given me a new reason to be excited. What it all comes down to is that we need to be dominant somewhere Friday night."
"Something that concerns me is that we have not faced live competition yet this season," Caruthersville varsity head coach Brad Gerling said. "We did not participate in a jamboree, so we will have to see where we are at when we take the field Friday night."
Junior Charlie Bohannon has won the starting job as Sikeston's varsity quarterback after having a close battle with senior Chase Farrell. It was a competition that Gibbs called "dead-even" during the later stages of training camp.
In 2006, Bohannon completed 44-of-83 (53 percent) of his varsity passing attempts for 516 yards. He had four touchdown passes and three interceptions.
When the Bulldogs want to take time off the clock, sophomore tailback Eli Jackson and senior fullback Gaviland Bland will start in the Sikeston backfield. Bland, who is the Bulldogs' top rusher from 2006, gained 290 and scored five touchdowns on 86 carries.
Bohannon will have three targets from which to choose in the passing game -- sophomore wideouts C.J. Council and Niquavious Dixon and senior tight end Brandon Wright.
The Bulldogs, who will be featuring an offensive line that averages 236 pounds per player, have junior Dylan Tangen (260) at left tackle, senior A.J. Vanover (195) at left guard, senior Ryan Mitchell (270) at center, junior Adrian Dixon (220) at right guard and senior Robert Madison (235) at right tackle.
By allowing Sikeston to score an average of 10 points per game during the last three meetings, the Tigers defense has given the Bulldogs' offense fits in the recent past. Sikeston will be facing a Caruthersville set that is a 5-3 scheme.
Gerling listed a defensive line that includes ends Jake Vanausdalle (senior) and Josh Swanson (senior) and tackles DeSean Flowers (senior), Matt Myers (junior) and James Hollywood (sophomore).
Among the Tigers' linebackers are Seth Littrell (sophomore), Jeremiah Wilson (junior) and Chase Cunningham (sophomore).
The Bulldogs' receivers will be battling cornerbacks Roy Leasure (senior) and Rakeem Sanders (junior) and safety Rashad Fields (senior).
The Tigers have averaged 47 points per game against the Sikeston defense since 2004 after putting up point-totals of 60 (in 2004), 43 (in 2005) and 38 (in 2006). Two ways the Bulldogs can keep Caruthersville off the scoreboard is limit the number of plays by the Tigers' offense and control the clock when Sikeston has the ball.
"They seem to have a lot of team speed, which means that we need to prevent them making the big plays," Gibbs said. "If they have the ability to score quickly, it might mean they could score often. In contrast, we need to make those big plays happen when we're on offense."
"When your whole offense revolves around a running back like Kendrickus Reed, who had more than 6,000 yards in his career for us, it seems like the team became one-dimensional," Gerling said. "I believe that we have the chance now to open up the offense a little more by throwing the ball more and by getting more people involved."
When Caruthersville has the ball, Vanausdalle will be guiding the Tigers from his spot at quarterback. The running game consists of Sanders and Fields, who Gibbs believes has committed to playing on the collegiate level at the University of Mississippi.
A trio of Tigers form their corps of wide receivers. They include Leasure, Swanson and Lorenzo Borders (senior).
The Caruthersville offensive line is made up of two sophomores (Littrell, LT, and Cunninhgam, C), two juniors (Myers, RG, and Wilson, RT) and a senior (Flowers, LG).
The Bulldogs will sport a defensive scheme that is a 3-5 arrangement. With only three defensive linemen, some Sikeston linebackers may be counted upon for support against the Tigers' rushing attack.
Madison is the starter at nose guard, and he is flanked by Dixon and Maltbia at defensive end positions. With Bland at the middle linebacker spot, the Bulldogs are supporting him with Josh Pierce (senior) and Wright on the inside and Stephen Jackson (senior) and Eli Jackson on the outside.
Nequavious Dixon and JuQualin Wiggins (sophomore) are the Sikeston cornerbacks, while Courvirseya Strickland (junior) is the Bulldogs' safety.
Gerling will not only deal with the loss of Reed, but he has also lost 15 of his 22 starters from a Caruthersville squad that went 7-5 overall and 2-2 against the Southeast Missouri Conference Central Division.
The Tigers won the Class 2, District 1 title last season and went 1-1 in the playoffs, beating Crystal City 28-22 and losing to Hermann 48-16.
Gibbs said that his team is still "a work in progress." He awaits the opportunity to see how the Bulldogs will react during gamelike conditions.
"There may be a lot of changes heading into Week 2. We believe that we have the right kids playing in the right spots right now, but that will ultimately be determined on Friday night," Gibbs said.
On the injury front, Gibbs is concerned about the levels of depth the Bulldogs have at each position.
"There were not a lot injuries when practice started three weeks ago. Since then, some kids have been beaten up a little bit. We'll just have to wait and see," Gibbs said.
"All of the injured players have practiced this week, even if it has been on a limited basis," he added.