(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- The Sikeston Bulldogs are 2-0 and ranked seventh in the latest state poll in Class 4 so far on the young season, but that means very little without improvement every week according to head coach Kent Gibbs.
The Bulldogs showed small signs of some improvement in last week's 12-0 victory over New Madrid County Central and Gibbs hopes things will continue to get better tomorrow night when they host Dexter at 7 p.m.
While the Bulldogs' offense has sputtered somewhat with turnovers and finishing off drives, it has been the team's defense that has dominated its opponents the first two weeks, giving up 89 and 77 total yards to Charleston and NMCC, respectively.
Gibbs knows his defense will need to be sharp against a diverse, multiple offense that the Bearcats will show.
"They run a lot of different formations, a lot of counters and misdirection stuff," Gibbs said. "They like to throw the ball up and over and get it out to their wideouts. They do a lot of different things on offense. We just have to continue to be consistent on defense and know our assignments. If it's 6-0 and the defense gets a pick and runs it in, as long as we win that's the big thing right now."
With the return of some key personnel this week, Gibbs is hoping his offense can get more consistent starting tomorrow night against the Bearcats.
"We've pretty much got everybody back with the exception of Matt (Green) so we're starting to get a little bit healthy," Gibbs said. "We feel like with continued work, and some time, eventually we'll get to where we need to be."
One of the returners is junior running back Chris Word, who rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown in one half against Charleston before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
He was held out of last week's game, but is expected to be back to full strength tomorrow night. Also returning is sophomore running back Marquez Newman, who will be making his varsity debut tomorrow night.
The two will give much-needed depth to the running back position. Last week against NMCC, Gibbs turned to a freshman, Earnest Fobbs, for the bulk of the carries and he filled in admirably, rushing for 53 yards on 14 carries.
While the running back position appears to be in good shape, Gibbs is now setting his sights on fixing the offensive line.
"We've still got some issues up front offensive line-wise -- we're still making changes almost daily up there," Gibbs said. "We just need to find the right formula up front, because right now we really need to step it up and do a little bit better getting off the ball and staying on blocks."
The quarterback position was a question mark coming into the season, but converted all-conference running back Kyland Gross has performed well, rushing for 287 yards and five touchdowns and throwing for 113 yards.
Dexter comes into the game 0-2, getting drilled 47-14 in Week 1 by Ste. Genevieve, and dropping a heartbreaker to Poplar Bluff last week, 14-7.
"I expect us to play as hard as we can," Dexter coach Aaron Pixley said. "We played pretty hard against Poplar Bluff -- we didn't play real good, but we played pretty hard. We will have to have maximum effort on every single play. Sikeston's a good football team, so we'll have to be mentally ready to play. Defensively you've got to have 11 guys run to the ball. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. They have very good athletes on offense and they're good up front."
Pixley is also starting a new quarterback this season in junior D.J. Dowdy, who rushed for 103 yards in the opener, but was limited to negative-seven rushing yards on 16 attempts last week against Poplar Bluff. He has thrown for 131 yards, completing 7-of-20 passes with two touchdowns and one interception.
"We're not where we want to be on offense, but I think our quarterback is doing fine," Pixley said of Dowdy. "I think there's been a big improvement from the beginning of the summer until now and he can only go up."
Dexter's leading rusher is senior Ryan Joyner with 144 yards on 28 carries.
Like the Bulldogs, Pixley says the Bearcats could use some improvement on the offensive line.
"We've got to stay with blocks up front," Pixley said. "That's something we're not doing a very good job of right now. We'll have to get better at that this week because their defensive front and linebackers are so physical. Their defensive line gets off really well and our kids can't be shocked by that. We can't show them their speed or physicality in practice, so we've got to make sure we prepare by watching film and just do the fundamentals correct and do them as hard as we can."
The Sikeston-Dexter rivalry dates back to 1924, a game Dexter won 9-6. The two teams have played every year since 1960 with Sikeston holding a 48-19 lead in the all-time series.
The series has taken on streaks in the past three decades, with Sikeston winning 11 out of 12 from 1990-2001, only to see Dexter reel off six straight from 2002-2007.
The Bulldogs have reclaimed control of the series, winning the last four by an average score of 49-14.
"As always, Dexter's going to be physical," Gibbs said. "They're going to put eight people in the box defensively. They will be tough physically and they will come after you. We've got to hang onto the ball. We got a little bit better with that last week. We've got to get consistent in the red zone and be able to throw the football a little bit better."