(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
HILLSBORO -- Trailing 34-32 in a Class 4 Regional playoff football game at Hillsboro, Sikeston had one last hope for a miracle comeback with an onside kick attempt with 1:08 left.
Markeith Bratcher's kick was executed well and appeared to have taken a perfect bounce right into the hands of Sikeston's Spenser Clark, giving the Bulldogs one final chance at victory.
However, when the players were cleared from the pile, the officials ruled that the ball was touched by a Bulldog player before it traveled the required 10 yards. The ball was awarded to Hillsboro, effectively ending the game, 34-32, and Sikeston's season.
Hillsboro took over possession and kneeled out the remaining minute on the clock to improve to 10-1 and a sectional matchup at Farmington (10-1) on Monday.
It was a bitter way to end the season for the Bulldogs, as they dropped back to back games to close out the 2011 campaign with a final record of 8-3.
The final onside kick recovery that wasn't, proved to be a microcosm of how the game went for the Bulldogs -- close calls and missed chances.
Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said he had a good view of the play and thought his team had recovered the kick successfully.
"Obviously I think we had the ball -- I was right there by it," Gibbs said. "But the bottom line about that is we had some other opportunities where we should've done some things and we didn't. We gave up two big pass plays that we should have never given up. So to say it came down to one call, that's hard to do. But I'd like to have the ball with a minute left, you bet."
The play was set up after Sikeston scored with 1:08 left on a 2-yard quarterback scramble by David Foster, capping a 12-play, 65-yard drive. Keldon Warfield caught the two-point conversion pass to cut the lead to 34-32, setting up the onside kick drama.
Even Hillsboro's players felt they were about to have to strap it up on defense for one final stand.
"I was worried," Hillsboro running back Nathan Walsh said. "I won't lie, it scared the crap out of me. The call was made and it happened to work out for us."
Walsh, himself, was a big reason that things worked out for Hillsboro. The senior rushed for a game-high 136 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.
It was his hard-nosed running, along with the Hawks' physical style and timely big pass plays that led to Sikeston's defeat.
"We beat a quality football team tonight -- a team with a lot of tradition that is well-coached and very good athletes all over the place," Hillsboro coach Brian Robbins said. "I was really happy that our kids battled through the adversity and just found a way to get it done."
Sikeston never could get much going on offense, and on the flip side, could not find a way to slow down Hillsboro's smashmouth running game consistently.
"They did what we thought they would do," Gibbs said. "We talked about how they were going to control the clock and limit our possessions and that's exactly what they did. We had three possessions in the first quarter, two in the second quarter, five total in the first half. If you're only going to get those kind of possessions you've got to score with those opportunities."
The Hawks controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, which allowed long, drawn out possessions while also keeping the ball out of Sikeston's hands.
When Sikeston did have the ball, Hillsboro seemed to have answers for everything the Bulldogs threw at them for most of the night.
"They were doing a good job with us up front and they weren't letting us to the edge," Gibbs said. "We were having a hard time getting bodies in front of bodies and getting our kids in space. If we don't get in space we're going to have a hard time. We had a couple pass plays that we didn't connect on. We were wide open on a go route, but David couldn't get it off because he had a kid in his face. If we get that pass off then that's a touchdown and it's a different ballgame. We just couldn't click right on offense tonight and a lot of that is because of them and what they did and how they played physical."
Hillsboro started the scoring in the game with an 11-yard TD run by Austin Wagner, capping a 5-minute, 55-yard drive.
Sikeston got on the board with 1:41 left in the first quarter when Kyland Gross, operating out of the "wild dog" formation as quarterback, kept it for a 51-yard run. With placekicker Hunter Williams out due to the district championship soccer match in Perryville, Sikeston was forced to go for two-point conversions all night.
Gross ran in the two-pointer to give Sikeston an 8-7 lead.
With 9:07 left in the second quarter, Warfield intercepted a Justin Horn pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown, Sikeston's ninth defensive or special teams score this season. Bratcher caught the two-point conversion pass to extend Sikeston's lead to 16-7.
However, Hillsboro closed out the half strong. A 45-yard run by Walsh set up Horn's 1-yard sneak to cut the lead to 16-14 with 5:27 left in the half.
Then, with 1:15 left, Horn found Brian Perez, who got behind the Bulldog secondary, for a 60-yard TD reception to give Hillsboro a 21-16 lead at halftime.
The Hawks extended the lead even further on their opening drive of the third quarter, marching 61 yards in five minutes, scoring on a 2-yard run by Walsh to lead 28-16.
"I thought in the first half we did alright, but in the second half they buckled down a little bit and did a good job with some of the things we were trying to do," Robbins said. "(Sikeston has) big kids up front. We're not very big. We don't have a whole lot of size -- I think our biggest kid might be 215. I think our kids overachieve a lot."
Sikeston's big play offense would not be contained for long, though, as James Watson broke free for a 72-yard TD run. Watson ran in the two-point conversion to trim the lead to 28-24 with 1:46 left in the third.
"We told the kids with the athletes they have on the field, they're going to break a couple, it's just a matter of making them earn it and drive the field on you and not give up those big plays," Robbins said. "They got a couple on us. When you play speed like that, you're going to have to tackle in space. If you miss, it's trouble. We missed a couple tonight. It's a quality ballclub, I've got a lot of respect for coach Gibbs and that bunch over there."
Following Watson's big run, Sikeston got the ball back twice with opportunities to take the lead, but both drives ended in punts for the Bulldogs.
Hillsboro put the apparent final nail in the coffin on Sikeston with Horn's 30-yard TD pass to Wagner with 4:48 left to lead 34-24, setting up the Bulldogs' final offensive drive.
Gibbs, however, was pleased that his team put up a fight in the final minutes to try to save the season.
"I do like the way we battled back in the second half," Gibbs said. "We played hard in the third and fourth quarter. But (Hillsboro is) strong and physical. They do things really well, they're fundamentally sound -- I'm not sure they had a penalty tonight. They did what a football team has to do. I take my hat off to them. They worked hard to get to this point and they get to go play Farmington. We'd certainly like to have the chance to do that, but they took it away from us."
Hillsboro finished with 379 yards of offense with 267 of the total coming on the ground.
Sikeston finished with 256 yards of offense.
Gross rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries.
Watson finished the game with 120 yards on 11 carries to close out his breakout season with 1,605 yards and 18 touchdowns. His rushing total is the fourth highest single season mark in Sikeston history behind Justin Robinson, Tiger Boyd and Darryl Howard.
After the game, Gibbs reflected on a season that started with many question marks.
"I think we progressed from game one to Week 10 to now," Gibbs said. "I think we got better. But it's disappointing because our goal is always going to be to win a district championship and a conference championship and make a deep run in the playoffs. We're not going to back down from that regardless of how many people we lose. We just fell short of our goal. The thing that we've got to really do is thank the seniors, start over and start working on next year here real shortly. We've got to get in the weight room and get a lot stronger because we were certainly the weakest team on the field physically tonight."
H -- Austin Wagner 11 run (Larry Kirkpatrick kick), 4:30
S -- Kyland Gross 51 run (Gross run), 1:41
S -- Keldon Warfield 49 interception return (Markeith Bratcher pass from David Foster), 9:07
H -- Justin Horn 1 run (Kirkpatrick kick), 5:27
H -- Brian Perez 60 pass from Horn (Kirkpatrick kick), 1:15
H -- Nathan Walsh 2 run (Kirkpatrick kick), 7:04
S -- James Watson 72 run (Watson run), 1:46
H -- Wagner 30 pass from Horn (kick failed), 4:48
S -- Foster 2 run (Warfield pass from Foster), 1:08
Sikeston --James Watson 11-120, Kyland Gross 11-96, Chris Word 3-7, Keldon Warfield 1-0, David Foster 3-(-4). Hillsboro -- Nathan Walsh 20-136, Austin Wagner 16-79, David McClellan 9-48, Ryan Deckard 1-7, Justin Horn 1-1, Christopher Walsh 1-1, Team 2-(-2), Brian Perez 1-(-3).
Sikeston -- David Foster 9-17-0 40, Kyland Gross 1-1-0 (-3). Hillsboro -- Justin Horn 4-9-1 112.
Sikeston -- Spenser Clark 3-28, Kyland Gross 3-13, Keldon Warfield 1-(-3), James Watson 2-(-10). Hillsboro -- Brian Perez 1-60, Austin Wagner 1-30, Ryan Deckard 2-22.