(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Although to some it may have been an early and disappointing way to end the Sikeston football season, but with what they lost to graduation and the players they had to develop to fill those holes throughout the year, the Bulldogs may have overachieved when it came to wins and losses.
"We knew going in we weren't going to be where we wanted to be early," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We just had to plug away and get better and I think we did that. Maybe we didn't show as much progress as I would have liked, but I thought we were definitely a better football team at the end of the year.
"From that standpoint, we were successful in that."
After their gut-wrenching 34-32 Class 4 regional loss to the Hillsboro Hawks on Wednesday, the Bulldogs wrapped up their year with an 8-3 record and their third-straight playoff appearance.
"Every year, our goal is to win a district and conference championship as well as get in the playoffs," Gibbs said. "It just didn't work out for us this year. We did get into the playoffs but we didn't get the 3-peat that we wanted so badly, but, sometimes that happens."
The year began with an unfamiliar result as the Bulldogs fell to quarterback Paul Rice and Gateway Tech, 34-14 in the season opener.
Rice led Gateway with a total of 330 yards -- 147 rushing and 183 passing -- which put a hold on Sikeston's third-straight undefeated season bid right out of the gate.
"I think maybe as a coaching staff, that game made us more aware of some of the things we were going to have to overcome and some of the things we were going to have to get better.
"After that, our kids saw that we can't rely on what we've done in the past. This was a different team and we just couldn't wait for thing to come to us. We had to go out and get it."
From there, however, the Bulldogs rolled through most of their regular season with little resistance. They rattled off eight-straight wins following the loss to Gateway.
"You've got to look at things in the total picture," said Gibbs. "We always tell our kids that 'we don't measure ourselves in one game'. Over an 8-game stretch, we did get better and got better as a team and became a little bit more consistent."
Their Week 10 matchup with district and conference foe Farmington ended that streak.
The Knights, with both a high-powered running and passing game, hurdled over the defending Class 4, District 1 champs with a 55-21 victory to end Sikeston's third-straight district and conference title bids.
Although they finished 2-1 in their district, Sikeston advanced to the first round of the playoffs against District 2 champion, Hillsboro, where the Bulldogs' season came to an end.
"The last few games, we weren't as consistent as we had been and maybe that had to do with some of the people we were playing -- the competition level," Gibbs said. "We had a lot of guys on our team this year that started that weren't starters the previous year. It was a little bit different deal when you get them under the gun and get them in the pressures of big ball games. Not that I was disappointed in their effort, it's just a different deal when it's a new experience for them."
Leading what would end up being one of the regions quickest and fastest backfields, was Sikeston running back James Watson.
With a slew of long runs and cuts around defenders, the senior racked up 1,605 rushing yards 189 attempts. His rushing total was good enough to place him as the fourth best rusher in Sikeston school history behind Justin Robinson (1999, 2,030), Raphael "Tiger Boyd (1991, 1,771) and Darryl Howard (2010, 1,770).
"James had a very good year and to be honest about it, we expected him to do well," Gibbs said. "We expected him to get his yards if he could stay healthy. This was his year to stand up and take the ball and he did.
"James was exceptional with what he did."
As with all good running performances, the offensive line are the unsung heroes.
"The reason James was able to have a good year like he did was because of guys like Clayton Driskill, who did a really good job of leading our line and making our line calls," Gibbs said. "He did the things we needed him to do to put people in the right spot. They did the things necessary to get James loose."
Kyland Gross added 653 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The speedy junior averaged 8.6 yards per carry.
Although their running game did much of their damage, the Bulldogs pulled out a somewhat surprising 1,100 passing yards from quarterback David Foster.
Foster stepped in as quarterback after early questions of who was indeed going to be the Bulldogs signal caller. After solidifying his position, Foster ended with 11 touchdown passes and completed a very efficient 61 percent of his passes and threw only two interceptions on top of running Sikeston's option offense.
"That's the position everybody wants to look at and wants to know who's going to be there," Gibbs said. "Certainly, it's a big position but it has to be within the scheme of what you want to do. You're not always going to get the talent that we've had two years prior and our deal with David was that we wanted him to manage the game. We asked him to do the things he was capable of doing and, for the most part, he did that.
"Overall, you have to consider this a successful year for David based on what he was capable of doing."
Keldon Warfield was the Bulldogs' leading receiver with 27 catches and 406 receiving yards. He also hauled in five touchdowns.
Kicker Hunter Williams was nearly automatic during extra point kicks driving home 39 of 41 for a 95 percent average.
As a team, Sikeston finished with a combined 2,995 rushing yards. They had a 7.3 yard average per attempt as well. They finished with 4,121 yards of offense and outscored their opponents, on average, 40.9 points per game to 18.7.
What may have been overshadowed, which in most cases it is, was the Sikeston defense who completed two shutouts on the year on top of allowing less than 10 points a total of five times as well.
They held opponents to 249.5 yards per game and forced 28 fumbles while recovering 14 of them. They also intercepted 13 passes and had 14 sacks on the season.
Linebacker Blake Flannigan led the defense with 99 total tackles on the year. He had 13 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Matt Green and Keldon Warfield added 77 and 72 tackles respectively. Warfield ended up being Sikeston's biggest ballhawk, picking off six passes on the year.
Overall, Gibbs is pleased with his teams performance this season considering the major holes Sikeston's previous two squads had left him.
"From where we started, I thought we got better," Gibbs said. "I thought we improved and came a long way as a team. I was pretty pleased with that part of things. Certainly, we didn't end like we wanted to but, in between we got a little bit better considering the number of starters we had coming back."