(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
DEXTER -- After falling behind early to the Dexter Bearcats on Friday night at Charles Bland Stadium, Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs was not sure how his team would react.
The Bulldogs have not faced early deficits very often the past three years and with a team full of inexperience and youth, things can unravel quickly.
Gibbs' Bulldogs not only responded to the adversity, but they completely took the game over on their way to a 57-30 rout of the Class 3 No. 8 ranked Bearcats.
It was the kind of win the Bulldogs needed heading into back-to-back conference games with rivals Poplar Bluff and Jackson.
"It's huge," Gibbs said. "You look at where we were and what we started with and knowing what (Dexter has) got coming back and the fact that they are a state-ranked team -- for our team, with our maturity level right now to beat a quality opponent like that, you know that's just awesome."
Sikeston (2-1) amassed 558 yards of offense, including 486 on the ground, both season-highs by far.
"It's one of those things that if we could stay within our gameplan and become consistent, we think we've got the ability to move the ball," Gibbs said. "You can't say, 'I think we can get 500 yards.' That's just something special that doesn't always happen. But certainly we're proud of the linemen and the kids. We blocked really well on the edge tonight."
But it was also a record-breaking night for senior running back James Watson, who broke the Sikeston single-game rushing record with 328 yards on 25 carries with a pair of touchdowns.
Watson's total eclipsed the old mark of 318 yards set by Justin Robinson during his legendary 2,000-yard season in 1999.
"We tell James all the time he's got a lot of ability," Gibbs said. "He's got a chance to do some really fun things this year for himself as well as for our team. He showed tonight that he's got some moves. He showed tonight that he's got some speed. And he'll also tell you that he got very good blocking up front. Most of his runs come from the inside, but there's some on the edge. He got a lot of tough inside yards and would make one or two cuts and he got big yards. Our offensive line did a nice job and obviously James ran really hard."
Watson, who now has 573 yards on the season, had touchdown runs of 32 and 81 yards in the game. He had 206 yards at the half, yet he said he wasn't aware that he had broken Robinson's record.
"I feel like my team did all the work," Watson said. "The linemen did what they had to do so I had to keep playing and working hard too. I couldn't let my team down -- I just kept pushing. I didn't know I was close to any record. I was just playing hard. I feel pretty good about it, but I just want to keep winning."
The Bearcats scored with relative ease to start the game, needing just over a minute and four plays to reach the end zone, taking a 7-0 lead.
Dexter forced punts on Sikeston's first two possessions and had opportunities to extend its lead, but an interception in the end zone by Watson and an interception in the red zone by Traveon Dennis thwarted two scoring chances.
Sikeston took full advantage from there as Watson scored on a 32-yard run to get the Bulldogs on the board. With place kicker Hunter Williams missing the game due to a soccer match, Sikeston was forced to go for two-point conversions.
Watson scored the two-pointer, giving Sikeston the lead at 8-7 with 10:19 left in the second quarter.
Following a Dexter punt, Watson broke off an 81-yard TD run. Kyland Gross scored the two-point conversion to push Sikeston's lead to 16-7.
The Bearcats' Nick Summers cut the lead to 16-14 with a 3-yard run with 2:06 left in the half, but Sikeston's explosive offense responded again, this time on a 14-yard swing pass from David Foster to Gross to give the Bulldogs a 22-14 halftime edge.
After a Sikeston fumble, Dexter tied the game at 22-22 to start the third quarter on a Cody Stevens 6-yard run.
But Sikeston answered with 29 straight points to lead 49-22, effectively putting the game out of reach.
"We talked about it all week long didn't we -- that we've got to tackle these guys," Dexter coach Aaron Pixley said. "Whenever you get in space in there with them you've got to make sure you wrap up well. I think we were over-pursuing quite a bit on defense."
Sikeston never could completely stop Dexter from keeping the chains moving either, but three first half interceptions, and a fumble in the third quarter, proved to be backbreakers for the Bearcats.
"(Dexter) slugged us in the mouth early and were really smoking us pretty good and getting after us," Gibbs said. "We just kind of bent a little bit and bent a little bit, but we were lucky enough to get three turnovers in that first half and we didn't give in to the pressure. We didn't give in to being down and we came back and played really hard with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion.
"One of the things we talked about at halftime was, they were moving the ball on us, but the bottom line was they only had two touchdowns and we had three turnovers. We didn't make any adjustments so to speak, just minor stuff. I can't say that we ever stopped them because we didn't really stop them. But we did play hard, we did run to the football and we did try and swarm as much as we could when he got out of the pocket. We need to learn how to knock some passes down and those kind of things."
But after the game, all the talk centered on Watson's record-breaking performance.
"He's good -- he's not an overly big kid," Pixley said of Watson. "He's very fast. Their style of offense they run is really conducive for a super fast kid like that. Yes, he's very good. Their other backs are good, but the Watson kid, they really got us on their (hand offs) up the middle and off tackle, and part of the reason for that is their misdirection prior to the hand-off. They are a good football team, very good football team. Our football team is going to get over this and move on."
It's the fourth straight year Sikeston has defeated Dexter, averaging nearly 50 points per game in the four victories.
Sikeston will host Poplar Bluff next Friday.
"If we'll learn to practice every day to our capabilities and get better every day, I think we'll start making a little bit more progress," Gibbs said. "This game should give us some momentum that we need. I know there were a lot of people getting in parachutes ready to jump out of airplanes after the first week, but the big thing about it was Gateway Tech's got a quality football team and I think they're ranked in the state now too. So we feel like if we can continue to work and avoid injuries that we'll be competitive."
D -- Joshua Overall 6 run (Alex Cliff kick), 10:54
S -- James Watson 32 run (James Watson run), 10:19
S -- Watson 81 run (Kyland Gross run), 6:44
D -- Nick Summers 3 run (Cliff kick), 2:06
S -- Gross 14 pass from David Foster (run failed), 1:03
D -- Cody Stevens 6 run (Overall run), 8:07
S -- Foster 6 run (run failed), 6:42
S -- Keldon Warfield 26 pass from Foster (Spenser Clark pass from Foster), 4:15
S -- Gross 3 run (Watson run), 0:09
S -- Kenton Robinson 6 run (Markeith Bratcher kick), 4:18
D -- Tyler Miller 28 pass from Stevens (Stevens run), 3:58
S -- Chris Word 45 run (kick failed), 3:13
Sikeston -- James Watson 25-328, Chris Word 1-45, Markeith Bratcher 4-43, Kyland Gross 8-38, David Foster 5-26, Kenton Robinson 1-6, Reese Porter 1-5, Team 1-(-5). Dexter -- Cody Stevens 15-96, Nick Summers 13-73, Joshua Overall 11-67, Tyler Miller 1-11.
Sikeston -- David Foster 5-8-0 72, Kyland Gross 0-1-0 0. Dexter -- Cody Stevens 9-22-3 147.
Sikeston -- Kyland Gross 3-39, Keldon Warfield 2-33. Dexter -- Tyler Miller 6-94, Chase Young 3-53.