(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
JACKSON -- When the Sikeston Bulldogs take the field at Jackson High School on Friday night, they will be entering a stadium that has not been very kind to the Bulldogs over the years.
It's a place that Sikeston has not won at since 2002 when the Blake DeWitt-led Bulldogs escaped Jackson with a 21-14 victory.
The Bulldogs have dominated the Indians the past two seasons by an average score of 38-9, but both of those games were at the friendly confines of SPS Stadium.
Now Sikeston will have to test its mettle on the road against the Indians, who are off to a 1-3 start, including a 14-12 loss to arch rival Cape Central last week.
"It's a difficult place to play -- going up there, a packed house, I expect to have our hands full," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We went up there a few years ago when it rained, we had a pretty good shot at beating them at the end, we just couldn't get things done. We kind of dug ourselves a hole. It's going to be important not to get yourself in a bad spot early -- with the crowd and everything that goes on up there, all the fans right on top of you. If you get behind and get yourself in a hole, it just makes it that much tougher to work yourself out of it. A key for us is to start quick, play well on defense and play awful good on special teams like we did last week."
Sikeston won its third straight game last week, defeating Poplar Bluff, 36-7. The Bulldogs played perhaps their best defensive game of the year, and unquestionably their most impressive special teams performance, which included a punt return for a score, a recovered fumble on a punt return and a safety caused on a punt attempt.
This came after Sikeston's most impressive offensive performance of the season the previous week against Dexter.
So the improvement of the Bulldogs is evident, something Gibbs wants to keep building on.
"For us, we've got to keep improving because we're not where we're going to have to be later on in the season," Gibbs said. "We tell our kids every day, 'just come out and compete against yourselves and try to make yourself better.' Last week Bluff had a really good gameplan and they had a lot to do with our offensive problems. We've got to keep our intensity up on special teams, which were just awesome. And we got a whole lot better on defense."
Jackson comes into the game with a lineup full of underclassmen -- only five seniors are in the starting lineup. The Indians average 14 points per game and surrender 24 per contest.
"The big thing that I see is they are a much improved team," Gibbs said. "They've put some younger kids in there and they're playing with a lot of emotion and flying around to the ball and those kinds of things. They had a little bit of a problem offensively, but defensively they played real well against Cape. To be honest about it, they fumbled the ball away a couple times, the youth and inexperience kind of got them, or that game would've been a different game."
Junior quarterback Lowgn Wren triggers the offense. He's a threat with his legs, rushing for 62 yards on eight carries last week against Cape Central.
Sophomore running back Colten Proffer has provided the biggest spark for the Indians, rushing for 271 yards on 47 carries.
Junior Brannon Wright is the biggest game-breaker on the team, leading the team with 80 yards receiving on five catches. He also returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown last week against Cape Central.
"They run a lot of formations and do a lot of different things offensively and we'll have to be up on our toes with our assignments and those kind of things, which is what we've really worked hard on last week," Gibbs said.
The Bulldogs counter with the area's leading rusher in James Watson, rushing for 726 yards on 74 carries and four touchdowns. Junior Kyland Gross follows up with 257 yards on 32 carries with five touchdowns.
Senior quarterback David Foster has thrown for 251 yards, completing 16-of-34 passes with three touchdowns and one interception.
Senior receiver Keldon Warfield has caught nine passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
One area that Sikeston has excelled has been in turnover margin. The Bulldogs have turned it over just once in the past three games and they've forced 10 in that same span, returning three of them for touchdowns.
With Jackson off to a rugged start for the third straight year combined with the Bulldogs' lopsided victories over the Indians the previous two meetings, Gibbs is trying to make sure that his team stays focused and does not take the Indians lightly.
"You can't overlook any opponent, but at the same time we focus so much on ourselves," Gibbs said. "But certainly if we're not ready to go and we do overlook them, we're going to be in for a long night. Another flip side to that, we're not what we've been in the past. We want to get there. You like to think your kids will keep working and want to get there. We've got to worry about ourselves and get better in practice and hopefully be ready to go. I don't think we've had a problem getting started this year. We've pretty much been ready to go at the onset and certainly that's what we want to do Friday night."