(Photo by Josh Mills, Staff)
SIKESTON-- Football fans will be in for a treat Friday night as they file into Sikeston Public Schools stadium to see two of the fastest and most talented teams in Southeast Missouri square off in the Sikeston Bulldogs and New Madrid County Central Eagles.
The teams match up very well, with both offering plenty of speed and playmakers on offense.
New Madrid (3-2), led by head coach Arlen Pixley, will look to stop Sikeston's running back Eli Jackson and Bulldog quarterback Charlie Bohannon.
"(Eli) Jackson is a great open field runner so we have to bottle him up early," Pixley said. "We also have to do a good job neutralizing (Charlie) Bohannon, their quarterback, he is the thing that makes Sikeston tick as an offense."
Sikeston (3-2), led by head coach Kent Gibbs, will look to neutralize NMCC's stacked backfield of G'Darius Stevenson, Rodney Anderson, and Bryan Waters, as well as quarterback Dontre Jenkins.
Gibbs feels totally stopping NMCC's run attack would be a tall order.
"That's going to be hard to do," Gibbs said. "I'm not sure anyone is going to completely stop New Madrid. Our hope is to be aggressive on defense. Scouting is a big help to us, as far as to know what to expect. New Madrid is very good at counters, misdirection, running the option, and attacking the edge. If we give them a crease, we know they going to make a play on us. We have to be very assignment conscious on defense Friday night. That means we have to know what we are supposed to do on every play and in every situation. We have to arrive to the football with four of five red helmets. We have to make our tackles, missed tackles turn into touchdowns. All of that will be very key to our success Friday. If we play like we need to on defense, we'll be in the ballgame."
Gibbs stated that a quick offensive start will be very important to a Bulldog victory Friday.
"We need to really focus hard starting fast on offense," he said. "We can't spot them two touchdowns or any momentum."
Pixley points out his teams need to continue to score Friday night to contend with the Bulldogs.
"We have got to score," he said. "We have to move the chains and score. We've had to score right with the upper level teams we've played this year, when we haven't done that we have lost."
Gibbs cites NMCC's speed on defense as a special challenge to his offense this Friday.
"There are a couple of things we have to do on offense," Gibbs said. "The battle at the point of attack this Friday is going to be very important. The chances of us getting some of the big plays we have had in games past is not going to be as great because of New Madrid's speed. The point of attack will very important in that regard. Our linemen are going to have to double team when they need to double team and to kick out when they need to kick out. We have to get the yards that are there and not try and force something that's not there. If we can do that and not turn the ball over and make other mistakes, then there are somethings we feel we can throw at them. We need to make sure our ball fakes and things like that are working well so we can get their defense sitting still a little bit. If we don't have them sitting still on defense some, they are going to fly to the ball and make plays. We have to realize that instead of getting 15 yards, we may have to settle for three or four sometimes and put together long drives. We have to press the issue at the point of attack and focus on being patient and grind this one out."
Gibbs feels his offensive line is more than up to this task.
"We've really improved up front," he said. "Sam Gleason, Ben Burton, Bryan Armstrong, Gabe McClung and Cory Porter have really stepped up on the offensive line. If you have some speed and talent in the backfield and can get those guys up front doing what we need them to do, you can really begin to put things together. Which is what we are starting to do."
Gibbs knows that Pixley and his team will be very aggressive on defense Friday night.
"He will be very aggressive on defense," Gibbs said of Pixley. "He is going to put eight or nine guys in the box at a time and really get after us. Coach Pixley doesn't get credit for having the physical teams he has had in the past. Sure, everyone knows they are fast every year, but they play very physical as well. We know that they will be disciplined, fast and physical. When you do that you have not only a good team, but a good program as well. Sure, we are playing the team Friday night, but we also have to play the program as well. We haven't had a lot of success against the program in the recent past. We have to play them hard and see what happens."
Both coaches note that ball and clock control will play pivotal roles in Friday's matchup.
"For years, I coached against New Madrid when I was at Fredricktown," Gibbs said. "We always had to watch things like the clock and ball control to try and slow them down. We are going to have to do some of that Friday. But, you can only do that when you get ahead. That is why a fast start offensively is so important. By the same token, if we let them get up on us quick, it will really be a struggle for us. We need to hold on to the ball and convert for scores every chance we get."
Pixley echoed the sentiment of the importance of ball control.
"We have to have zero turnovers," he said. "We can not afford to give them any more opportunities to score than they are already going to have. We have to play from the coin flip on. We have to do a good job taking care of the football. If we can do that we have shot."
Special teams will play an important role in the game.
"In our special teams game, we have to do a good job kicking away from their best returners," Gibbs said. "We know that once the ball touches some of those guys hands, they take off like rockets. That's going to be tough to play, but we have to try our best to neutralize it."
"Sikeston has a good kicking game and special teams," Pixley said. "We have to play well on special teams to be competitive in that regard."
Gibbs feels that NMCC will be a tough opponent and that his team will have to focus the whole game to come out on top.
"The big thing is that New Madrid is a quality football team," he said. "Any time you can play with a quality football team and have a chance to win that's a good thing. Especially as you get deeper into your schedule. If you look at New Madrid, they have a lot of explosive weapons, they play good defense, they are doing the things they need to do. Week to week things aren't going to change to much for us, we just look to get better at what we already do. That means we have to play fast on offense and play physical on defense. If we do those things and play hard and focus for four quarters, we have a chance to be in every ballgame we play. Particularly with New Madrid, if we don't come out ready to play, we could be in trouble. That's why it's so important for us to get a quick start on offense. We also have to do a good job controlling the football and keeping them out of their rhythm."
Pixley feels that his squad will "have their hands full" as well.
"Sikeston does a good job at the things that they do," he said. "They are extremely well coached. We have to play very good to stay with them. They have a lot of people who could present problems for us and we have to do the things we need to do to have a chance to win. They are at a turning point in their program where things could really go well for them."
Focus could be the deciding factor Friday.
"Focus will be everything in this game," Pixley said. "Bottom line, they should gain some intensity from the fact that it is their homecoming. It is going to be a hard hitting affair. Whoever controls the clock, the momentum, and the football will have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter."