(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
ST. LOUIS -- All season long the Sikeston defense has been the Bulldogs' strength.
That trend continued on Saturday as Sikeston rolled over Farmington 38-6 in the Great American Football Classic at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
The Bulldog defense forced six turnovers, returning two for touchdowns, and pretty well bottled up the Farmington offense all day in a game that not only was big because of the stage it was played, but also because it was a district and conference matchup.
The Bulldogs, ranked sixth in the state in Class 4, were up to the challenge on Saturday.
Backed by a large contingent of Bulldog fans that out-numbered Farmington's fan base, Sikeston opened the game with a kick return for a touchdown and they never looked back, jumping out to a 26-0 halftime lead and cruising through the second half in the team's most lopsided win against the Knights since 1980.
On the opening kickoff, Bulldog sophomore Marquez Newman broke through the middle of the wedge and sprinted to the end zone 86 yards to start the game.
"All the help you can get in scoring points is always appreciated," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. " What a great way to start the game, getting a kickoff return for a touchdown. It kind of set the tone and it kind of got our energy level going a little bit to be real honest about it."
After forcing a three-and-out and Farmington's first possession, the Bulldogs struck again. Facing a 4th-and-4 at midfield, Sikeston quarterback Kyland Gross hit a streaking Pat Gross on a short pass over the middle as he raced untouched for a 54-yard touchdown to quickly lead 12-0 less than four minutes into the game.
From that point on, Sikeston's defense took center-stage, forcing three punts and three turnovers on Farmington's remaining possessions of the half.
With 8:10 left in the second quarter, Bulldog senior linebacker Aundrea Golden stripped Farmington quarterback Justin Boehm, sending the ball up in the air. Golden recovered the loose ball and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
Pat Gross' two-point conversion catch made it 20-0.
"Our defense has played well all year long," Gibbs said. "They've been getting turnovers. Today they got turnovers and turned them into touchdowns."
On Farmington's ensuing possession, Golden intercepted a Boehm pass, returning it 12 yards to the Sikeston 33.
The Bulldogs scored in four plays capped by a Chris Word 3-yard run to extend the lead to 26-0 with 3:59 left in the half.
The Knights (1-3) showed possible signs of nerves in the first half as a Farmington player dropped a sure touchdown pass on a deep ball in the first quarter and also a sure interception was dropped by a Farmington defender in the second quarter.
"You've got to give Sikeston some credit," Farmington coach Todd Vaughn said. "They're a good football team and we made too many mistakes. You can't turn the ball over as much as we did and drop touchdown passes and miss blocks and things like that. When you do that you're going to get beat."
The third quarter saw two more interceptions by Bulldog defenders, one apiece from Spenser Clark and Clay Porter, to thwart Farmington drives.
But Sikeston could not take advantage of those turnovers with its drives ending in punts.
The Knights finally broke the shutout in the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 48-yard drive when Boehm rolled right and found Evan Dunivan for a 1-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 26-6 with 11:37 left in the game.
The Bulldogs responded with its best drive of the game, marching 67 yards in 11 plays. Kyland Gross, carrying out a slick fake on a read-option play, ran untouched for an 18-yard TD with 7:50 left in the game, extending the lead to 32-6.
On Farmington's next possession, the opportunistic Golden stepped up again, intercepting Boehm's pass and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown with 7:06 remaining.
It was a night to remember for Golden with his two defensive scores and three takeaways.
"Aundrea is a kid that's come in and worked, been to practice on time, worked his tail off every day," Gibbs said. "He went to all of our offseason stuff and he's made himself into a pretty good player. The thing about it is he puts himself in the right positions, and if you put yourself in the right position then you're going to be able to make plays. We talked about two things coming up. Number one was playing hard with great effort, and the other was playing smart. You saw what Aundrea did today. He took care of his assignments, playing smart, you saw his effort out there on the picks and how he ran them in. I'm pretty proud of what he did."
Sikeston was able to hold the Knights on downs on their final two possessions as the Bulldog reserves ran out the remaining time on the clock, kneeling out the final minute inside the Farmington 10-yard line.
Sikeston finished with 307 yards of offense led by Kyland Gross with 80 yards rushing on 13 carries while also throwing for 77 yards and a score.
Newman carried nine times for 68 yards, all in the second half.
Sikeston's offense, however, still sputters at times with missed blocks, dropped passes and fumbles. The team fumbled four times in the game, although losing none.
"I thought our defense played well," Vaughn said. "We gave up a score at the end there and we were trying some different things with different kids, but defensively I thought we played really well. We dropped an interception in our hands and they put the ball on the ground four times and we didn't get one of them. We've got to at least get one or two of those."
Sikeston's defense completely stifled Farmington's rushing attack, limiting them to 17 yards on 24 carries.
The Knights lone source of offense came through the air as Boehm completed 21 of 41 passes for 179 yards, but it came at a cost with his four interceptions.
"I think that's the misconception," Vaughn said. "We don't always throw in the past. The problem is not that we're throwing the ball any better or worse than we've done in the past, but we're not running the ball as well. Last year we had over 6,000 yards of offense and I think people think it was all passing, and it wasn't. We rushed way more yardage-wise than we threw for."
The Bulldogs also harassed Boehm into five sacks led by defensive end Nick Nichols, who has been a one-man wrecking crew all season. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior was named Player of the Game for the Bulldogs.
"We felt like going into this year that Nick could have a big year if he did the things we wanted him to do," Gibbs said. "He's still not quite where we want him but he's getting there."
The Bulldogs improve to 4-0 on the season and will host Poplar Bluff in another conference game on Friday at 7 p.m. Sikeston has now defeated Farmington three times in the last four years.
Gibbs said Saturday's game against the Knights went much deeper than playing in the dome.
"Being in the dome obviously makes it big -- that's memories for the people in the community, that's memories for our coaches and certainly that's memories for our kids," Gibbs said. "That's big to come into this venue and come away with a win. The big picture for me was it's a big district game. Farmington is in our district and you have to beat those people when you're in a position to do that so you can get one of those top four seeds and host that last game. When you take consideration that it's at the dome, take into consideration that it's a district game, take into consideration that it's a conference game, it's a big win."
S -- Marquez Newman 86 kick return (kick failed), 11:47
S -- Pat Gross 54 pass from Kyland Gross (run failed), 8:17
S -- Aundrea Golden 32 fumble return (P. Gross catch from K. Gross), 8:10
S -- Chris Word 3 run (pass failed), 3:59
F -- Evan Dunivan 1 pass from Justin Boehm (kick failed), 11:37
S -- K. Gross 18 run (kick failed), 7:50
S -- Golden 50 interception return (kick failed), 7:06
Rushing -- Sikeston, Kyland Gross 13-80, Marquez Newman 9-68, Chris Word 16-52, Dustin Oakes 1-9, Pat Gross 2-8, Reese Porter 1-7, Jeterrence Harris 1-4, Matt Price 1-2, Nathan Hampton 1-1, Ray Council 1-0, Team 1-(-1). Farmington, Justin Boehm 12-42, Colten Coulter 11-(-1), Team 1-(-24).
Passing -- Sikeston, Kyland Gross 4-10-1 77. Farmington, Justin Boehm 21-41-4 179.
Receiving -- Sikeston, Pat Gross 1-54, Jacob Stinnett 1-13, Markeith Bratcher 2-10. Farmington, Evan Dunivan 7-81, Calvin Lynch 4-51, Cameron Corter 4-23, Jared Dunlap 4-18, Devin Nagel 1-8, Coby Moon 1-(-2).