(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It won't go down as one of the prettiest games they've played, but the Sikeston Bulldogs continue to put 'W's' in the win column as they defeated Poplar Bluff 19-7 on Friday night at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
In a game that slowed to a crawl in the second half due penalties and sloppy play, Bulldog quarterback Kyland Gross had one of the best games of his career.
The 5-foot-10 senior rushed for a career-high 167 yards on nine carries, scoring on touchdown runs of 71 and 57 yards. He threw for a career-high 105 yards with a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass on defense.
"If we don't have Kyland we don't win, to be real honest about it," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said.
The Bulldogs needed every bit of his explosiveness as the team began shooting itself in the foot with a rash of penalties that began to accumulate in the second half. On top of that, the Bulldogs had several inexplicable mistakes that kept the Mules in the game.
Poplar Bluff's only touchdown came on a missed handoff by Sikeston that was fumbled in the end zone, which the Mules recovered. Gross had a nice 41-yard touchdown run brought back with a penalty that was flagged 20 yards behind the play. The Bulldogs never got the points back.
Those two mistakes were the most glaring, but it was also the 11 penalties for 90 yards that left Gibbs shaking his head after the game.
"We made plenty of mistakes to last us the rest of the year," Gibbs said. "You can't get points back. The yardage you give up on penalties when you're in the red zone, you can't get those back. You can never run backwards 30 yards. We had running backs that went the wrong way tonight. The first two series we had the ball, four of the six plays we called were not the plays that we called. Certainly we know we've got to get better and we've got to clean some things up."
Despite the sour taste that was left from the sloppy performance, the Bulldogs can still take solace in a fairly dominant performance in which the Mules didn't seriously threaten to score on offense.
After forcing six turnovers in last week's win over Farmington, Sikeston's defense forced five more turnovers on Friday against the Mules while limiting them to just 142 yards of total offense.
For the fifth straight game, the Bulldogs held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing -- holding the Mules to 97.
"If they don't score, they don't win," Gibbs said. "We gave them one on offense, but our defense continued to be lights out. At times they did a nice job of tackling. They made a few plays and got some yards, but we didn't break and we didn't give up a really big play that gets them on the scoreboard. You've got to be pleased with how we did on defense."
Sikeston (5-0) got on the board in the first quarter when Gross hit Aundrea Golden with a perfectly thrown pass for a 22-yard touchdown. Freshman Nathan Hampton provided the extra point to make it 7-0 with 6:36 left in the quarter.
In the second quarter, Poplar Bluff's best offensive scoring opportunity ended on an interception on fourth down.
The Mules put together a 10-play drive before facing fourth-and-long when senior linebacker Blake Flannigan intercepted Kortez Ellis' pass and returned it 21 yards to the Poplar Bluff 29.
On the Sikeston's first play of the ensuing drive, Gross got loose, and turned on his jets to split two Mules defenders in the secondary to reach the end zone for a 71-yard score, increasing the Bulldogs' lead to 13-0 with 10:17 left in the half.
Sikeston missed out on a scoring chance right before the half when Markeith Bratcher couldn't haul in Gross' pass in the end zone, leaving the score 13-0 at the half.
In the third quarter, Sikeston took advantage of another Mule turnover, this time a fumble recovery by Nick Nichols at the Poplar Bluff 43.
Three plays later, Gross rolled out for a bootleg pass, but he kept it instead, cutting back across the field and sprinting to the end zone for a 57-yard TD to extend the lead to 19-0 with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
"We knew coming in that (Gross) could be the difference in the game and we didn't take him out of the game like we wanted to take him out," Poplar Bluff coach Mark Barousse said. "We wanted to lock down on him and not give him anything, and he still got it. He's a great athlete."
Poplar Bluff (2-3) got its only touchdown following a punt to the Bulldog 5-yard line. On Sikeston's next play, the ball was fumbled on a bobbled exchange with the running back.
The Mules' T.J. Boner recovered the fumble in the end zone for the touchdown with 2:09 left in the third quarter, trimming Sikeston's lead to 19-7.
"We lined up wrong and we went the wrong way," Gibbs said of the fumble. "Our running back went the wrong way and we put the ball on the ground."
Sikeston's defense was able keep the Mules at bay the rest of the night, forcing two punts and two turnovers to close out the game.
"We're making way too many mistakes on offense and we're not good enough up front to blow an assignment and overcome it," Barousse said. "I don't think we're protecting the ball at the quarterback position like we should be. We had two really good drives in the first half and moved the ball well and just couldn't finish down there. We just had too many negative plays on offense and we can't overcome them."
Sikeston's defense unofficially recorded five sacks and had 14 tackles for loss in the game.
"They're real athletic up front," Barousse said of Sikeston's defense. "Two or three times they'd spike inside on us and we didn't pick it up and we gave up some big negative plays. They're really quick up front."
The Bulldogs were held to a season-low 291 yards in the game with Gross accounting for 275 of those yards.
"I thought Bluff played really well on defense," Gibbs said. "I thought they flew around and they obviously took it to our offensive line. They played the edge real well, they were playing an extra guy, following our motion. They took it to us."
Friday's win marks Sikeston's sixth straight over the Mules.
Sikeston will host Jackson on Friday in a battle of unbeaten teams for homecoming night. Poplar Bluff will travel to play Northwest on Friday.
S -- Aundrea Golden 22 pass from Kyland Gross (Nathan Hampton kick), 6:36
S -- Gross 71 run (pass failed), 10:17
S -- Gross 57 run (run failed), 4:19
P -- T.J. Boner fumble recovery in end zone (Collin Jones kick), 2:09
Poplar Bluff -- Bi Nguyen 14-67, Cornelius Timothy 10-49, Alex Lewis 7-24, Jake Pulliam 1-6, T.J. Boner 1-0, Team 1-(-10), Kortez Ellis 10-(-39). Sikeston -- Kyland Gross 9-167, Chris Word 15-31, Marquez Newman 2-6, Ray Council 1-2, Pat Gross 1-0, Reese Porter 1-(-1), Team 5-(-19).
Poplar Bluff -- Kortez Ellis 5-14-3 45, Alex Lewis 0-1-0 0. Sikeston -- 4-11-0 105.
Poplar Bluff -- Taylor Coleman 3-27, Drew Dowd 2-18. Sikeston -- Spenser Clark 1-40, Chris Word 1-39, Aundrea Golden 1-22, Jeterrence Harris 1-4.