(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- Both the New Madrid County Central and Sikeston football teams witnessed the same kind of mistakes in their season-opening games last week.
Several fumbles, missed assignments and special teams gaffes led to NMCC getting rolled up by Malden 32-6 and Sikeston narrowly escaping upset-minded Charleston 27-14.
The two squads will try to correct those mistakes tomorrow night at 7 p.m. as Sikeston will travel to NMCC.
While the Bulldogs were able to pull out the victory last week, there were more than enough errors in the Charleston game to give Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs a reason to pay special attention to the basics this week in practice, most notably ball security.
"That has been emphasized this week, you betcha," Gibbs said. "We're hoping with the work that we've done this week and kind of settling some guys into positions that we will be a little bit better in that area and continue to get better. You just can't turn the ball over five times and mishandle punts and those kind of things. We got those first game jitters out of the way and we turned the ball over way too much on offense last week. Hopefully we got that out of our system."
The Bulldogs, however, were pretty sharp defensively last week, limiting Charleston to just 89 yards of offense.
Also, senior quarterback Kyland Gross proved that he can be a dynamic playmaker with his feet, rushing for 150 yards and three touchdowns, but the passing game struggled as he completed 2-of-8 passes for 26 yards and an interception.
Gibbs says the Bulldog passing game will have to see improvement against an aggressive, attacking NMCC defense.
"They run multiple type looks," Gibbs said. "They will bring a lot of blitzing linebackers and play man coverage in the secondary. We will have to do a real good job of tightening things up both in our run blocking and our pass blocking because they bring a lot of people. Hopefully some of our receivers can get loose and make some plays."
Sikeston comes into the game banged up, though. Fullback Chris Word will be held out due to a sprained ankle he suffered against Charleston. Also, senior linebacker Matt Green and sophomore running back Marquez Newman will both miss tomorrow's game due to injuries.
The Bulldogs will get senior running back Pat Gross back this week after missing the Charleston game.
"Those guys are still beat up a little bit and probably will be for a while, but getting Pat Gross back this week will enable us to solidify a couple positions," Gibbs said. "We've made numerous lineup changes. I think last week we started nine guys both ways. This week we're only starting five both ways. We'll just see how it works."
The Bulldogs will be taking on an NMCC squad that had its own problems last week as they lost four fumbles, including one on the opening kickoff.
"We need to cut out the mental errors," NMCC coach Arlen Pixley said. "We put the ball on the ground just like Sikeston last week. It's hard to give yourself a chance when you give your opponent extra opportunities. You can't give your opponent a short field. We hope to improve on some things that we messed up last week as far as assignments and responsibilities."
The Eagles came into the season with a youthful lineup and inexperience at key positions, including at quarterback. Senior Jashawn Daniel, who played running back last season, was 0-for-9 passing last week, but he rushed for 69 yards with a touchdown.
Pixley says his offensive line will need to step up to the challenge against an athletic Sikeston defensive line.
"Sikeston's a very good club and they have some really athletic defensive ends," Pixley said. "Their interior linemen are hard chargers. If we don't control that it could be a long night for us. All we can hope to do and expect to do is take advantage of their aggressiveness."
Malik Stevenson, Corey Guest, Stanley Smith and Mikeal Walker all provide speed out of the backfield position.
"They're fast and anytime you've got speed and you have guys that can run like that you risk giving up big plays," Gibbs said. "Certainly for us we need to contain their speed. They're going to spread you out and they will run a lot of motion. They like to run the football. Some people spread you out to throw. They will spread you out to run, very similar to us. Their quarterback is a really good athlete and they have some other really good athletes.
"We did well defensively last week as far as running to the ball, but we need to sharpen up on our tackling and sharpen up on our assignments."
Pixley said he is aware of the running threat that Gross provides and knows containing him will be a key.
"Kyland's a great player and he's a great runner," Pixley said. "He made a play in the third quarter that was a career highlight for most people. But we can't just worry about one because they have multiple tools."
Sikeston leads the all-time series with NMCC 15-9, having won the last three games by an average score of 46-11. It's the Bulldogs' longest winning streak against the Eagles since winning three straight from 1994 to 1996.
"We always just want to get a week better and a day better," Gibbs said. "I know people may get tired of hearing me say it, but that's what we're looking for. We're looking for improvement from Week 1 and Week 2. I think that between the Week 1 and Week 2 ballgame is when you ought to have as much improvement as anytime in the year."