(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
ST. LOUIS -- Heading into the 2012 season, the Sikeston Bulldogs were a lock to play in the dome.
It was a guarantee, as some of the coaches said in the preseason.
And they were right, because on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Sikeston and Farmington will play at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis in the Great American Football Classic.
It's not the state championships, which are annually held in the dome, but it is certainly a high-profile game on a big stage between two teams that have come to know each other very well for over a decade, particularly after Farmington's entry into the SEMO Conference four years ago.
The two teams will square off in the second of four games featured at the dome on Saturday.
Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs knows he won't have to give any special pep talks for this matchup.
"If you have to get them fired up to play in the dome then they're probably not going to do real well anyway," Gibbs said. "We think the effort will be good and we're excited about it. How we handle the trip and playing in the dome, we'll just have to wait and see."
The Bulldogs and Knights were chosen for the game for a variety of reasons, but most notably because both schools traditionally have large fan bases that travel well, and also both teams have ranked among the best in Class 4 in recent years, with Sikeston reaching the state semifinals in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010 and Farmington reaching the semifinals last season.
"I just think it's going to be a great experience for our kids and for both communities," Farmington coach Todd Vaughn said. "What an honor for both programs and communities to be able to do this. I think it speaks volumes for our program and also for what coach Gibbs has done down there in Sikeston. It's going to be fun and it will be something our kids will always remember."
Sikeston is off to a 3-0 start this season and ranked No. 6 in Class 4 in the latest polls. Farmington is off to a rockier start than they are accustomed, dropping two of its first three games to Festus and Jackson.
"They've played two really good football teams, so their record is a little misleading," Gibbs said.
Sikeston, despite being undefeated so far, has had some shaky moments offensively with turnovers and an inability to finish drives in wins against Charleston and New Madrid County Central, but the Bulldogs had its most impressive game of the season with a 47-7 win last week against Dexter.
Senior quarterback Kyland Gross, a converted all-conference running back, has established himself as the primary playmaker for the Bulldogs, rushing for over 100 yards in all three games and showing steady improvement in the passing game.
Running backs Chris Word, Nick Nichols, Reese Porter and Marquez Newman have all shown to be capable ball carriers at the running back positions.
"They do a lot of good things schematically and you've got to be prepared for that and we have to be prepared for their athleticism," Vaughn said. "We've got to contain their speed and prevent the big play, which you've got to do that against just about any high school team, but especially against Sikeston. You have to contain their speed and defend the run really well and try to make them a one-dimensional team."
The Knights will counter Sikeston's ground attack with more of an air assault led by first-year quarterback Justin Boehn.
Colton Coulter will see the majority of the carries while Boehn's favorite targets are Jarrett Dunlap and Evan Dunivan.
"It's a typical Farmington team," Gibbs said. "They're going to do a lot of things offensively in the pass game. They're running the ball a little bit more this year, but basically they want to throw the football to win the game. They've got some kids that can catch it and they've got a quarterback that is a new kid but he throws the ball really well. Last week we didn't do so well on pass defense so we've got to do a little bit better."
The Bulldog defense has been an area of strength for the team so far, giving up just seven points per game and allowing just 116 total yards per outing.
Farmington's defense has been fairly strong so far as well, allowing 19 points per game.
"We're going to see a mixture of fronts and a mixture of blitzes," Gibbs said of Farmington's defense. "How we handle that will determine our success. We need to get out on the edge and utilize our speed and pass protect well. We're back to full strength and we'll be ready to go. So far we've had a good practice week."
Sikeston is also looking for some payback after a 55-21 whipping the Knights put on the Bulldogs at SPS Stadium last year.
"I think that incentive is there," Gibbs said. "They put it on us pretty good last year and we kind of want to get back to doing what we do and winning those kind of games. It's going to be a challenge. But you accept those challenges with open arms and you bring it on and you go play. But the big incentive for us is it's a district game. Any district game that you can win enhances your ability to get a top seed. That's the name of the game, you want in that top four so you can host a game and go into the playoffs with a good frame of mind. We take them one at a time, but we know this has conference ramifications and district ramifications."
The Bulldogs and Knights first met on the football field way back in 1914, a 65-9 Sikeston victory, but they played sparingly over the next seven decades, last meeting in 1981.
Sikeston leads the all-time series 18-15-1, but the Knights have had the Bulldogs' number since the series resumed in 1998, winning 10 of the 14 meetings.
"The matchup, like always, is an important game for both programs," Vaughn said. "We've been so competitive back and forth the last few years. We've won a few and they've won a few."
Sikeston did beat the Knights in 2009 and 2010 before losing to them last season. Gibbs is hoping to get it turned around Sikeston's way on arguably the biggest platform the team has ever performed on the gridiron.
"You can't really be in awe of it -- you can't sit back and say 'oh my, we're playing in the dome,'" Gibbs said. "You've got to welcome the opportunity that we've got a chance to show what we've got in front of people from different communities. Hopefully we won't be in awe of the dome and we'll go out and we'll play."
Tickets for Saturday's game are still available at area businesses in the Sikeston area. See the calendar on page 7 for more information.