(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
CAPE GIRARDEAU -- After winning its first six games rather comfortably, the Sikeston Bulldogs have not faced much adversity this season.
But on cold, wet and windy Friday night at Cape Central's Tiger Stadium, the Bulldogs were presented with a myriad of challenges in its 25-21 come-from-behind victory.
As Sikeston found itself battling from behind for most of the night, lightning in the area forced the game into a 50-minute delay with the Bulldogs behind 21-19 with 8:49 left in the game.
The Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 SEMO Conference) came out of the break looking like a different team as they marched 66 yards for the go-ahead score. The defense did the rest as Sikeston held on to clinch the SEMO Conference North title outright for the third time in four years.
Asked what he said to the team during the delay, Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs simply credited his players for rising to the challenge.
"There's no secrets," Gibbs said. "I wish I could say how smart I was, but we just talked about being a team and playing hard, and we did and we finished. It's just a big win to be a conference champion and it's also a big deal to be 7-0 in the districts."
Coming out of the delay, Sikeston had a 1st-and-10 at its own 34-yard line. Following a procedure penalty, the Bulldogs methodically moved the chains with quarterback Kyland Gross and running back Chris Word providing all of the yardage.
Word scored the go-ahead touchdown from three yards out with 6:17 left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 25-21 lead.
Sikeston's defense then forced a Cape Central punt on the ensuing possession which was downed at the Bulldog 12 with 5:07 left.
Facing a 3rd-and-18 from the 22, Sikeston needed a big play. They got it from one of the most unlikeliest players as Gross rolled to his right and found Austin Brown for a 39-yard reception to secure the first down and keep the drive alive.
The Bulldogs were able to bleed the clock down to 1:03, forcing the Tigers to use all of its timeouts in the process, before turning the ball over on downs at the Cape Central 24.
Sikeston's defense locked up the win with back-to-back sacks by Markeith Bratcher and Nick Nichols on Tiger quarterback Dennis Vinson and a pair of incompletions.
But it was Brown's huge reception, the first of his career, that was the biggest play of the game.
Prior to that play, Brown had never been used much on the offensive side of the ball, but an injury to leading receiver Spenser Clark led to a shakeup for the Bulldogs this week in practice.
"You never know when your opportunity is going to come," Gibbs said. "You never know if somebody gets hurt and you have to go catch the big pass or make the big hit. (Brown) certainly stepped up. Kyland threw the ball with a great pass and he caught the ball and made a great play when we really needed there at the end."
Word continued his strong play against the Tigers. After rushing for a career-high 199 yards last week against Jackson, Word nearly matched it on Friday, rushing for 190 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns.
Gross followed up with a career-high in rushing yards himself, with 167 yards on 24 carries.
"Their quarterback and running back is such a good combination," Cape Central coach Nathan Norman said. "They just did a nice job of being consistent and staying with their gameplan. You give Gross a crease and he's going to make you pay for it. And he completed some nice passes that hurt us today too. Looking back at that third down play, that was the ballgame."
The game started well for the Bulldogs. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Word broke free down the right sideline for a season-long 62-yard touchdown run. Nathan Hampton's extra point made it 7-0 just one minute and 15 seconds into the contest.
After a failed onside kick attempt by the Bulldogs, Cape Central had good field position at the Sikeston 45.
The Tigers took advantage as the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Vinson converted a 3rd-and-6 with a 13-yard scramble in which he avoided a sack. On the next play, Vinson found tight end Jacob Boerboom wide open in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:44 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kick, Sikeston sophomore Marquez Newman broke through the wedge untouched for a 97-yard kick return straight into the wind to give the Bulldogs a 13-7 lead.
It's Newman's second kick return for a touchdown this year.
Two possessions later, Cape Central's Jacob Campbell capped a 56-yard drive when he scored on an 8-yard run to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead with 3:54 left in the first.
Following an 11-yard Bulldog punt into the strong wind, Cape Central had great field position again at the Sikeston 32.
Three plays later, Vinson snuck it in from the 1-yard line to extend the Tigers' lead to 21-13 with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
"You've got to hand it to them, they really took it to us early and kind of owned us for a while," Gibbs said.
From that point forward, though, Sikeston's defense took over.
The Tigers finished with 148 yards of offense in the first quarter alone, but they only managed 45 yards of offense in the final three quarters combined.
"We didn't make any adjustments," Gross said. "It was just bad mistakes -- hand tackling or arm tackling. We were flat defensively, but we got it together. They didn't surprise us. I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and a good battle."
The Tigers (2-5, 0-4 SEMO Conference) maintained its 21-13 lead heading into halftime, but Sikeston's offense, despite not scoring in the period, was beginning to find its footing in the second quarter.
After forcing a punt on the Tigers' opening possession of the third quarter, Sikeston marched 66 yards on 13 plays capped by a 2-yard run by Word on an option pitch from Gross to cut the lead to 21-19.
After a short Tiger punt to the Sikeston 25, the Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead, but Word fumbled inside the 5-yard line which Cape Central recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Word redeemed himself later in the quarter with his third touchdown of the night that gave Sikeston the lead for good.
"We blocked better in the second half," Gibbs said. "Really we started moving the ball pretty good in that third quarter. We came in wanting to throw the ball a little bit more and felt like we could, but it wasn't conducive to doing that. The offensive line caught fire in that third and fourth quarter and you saw what can happen when you've got a couple people involved with Chris and Kyland. Hopefully we can continue to do that and get more people involved."
Sikeston finished with 399 yards of offense, its second-best total of the season.
The Bulldog defense allowed 200 yards of offense in the first half, but completely shut the Tigers down in the second half, holding them to minus-seven yards of offense to finish with 193 total yards.
Cape Central did not attain a first down in the second half.
Sikeston held the Tigers to either a three-and-out or four-and-out on its final seven possessions of the game.
"It's awesome the way we did it," Gibbs said. "To come from behind and do it with the weather conditions and come from behind late in the game."
Campbell, after rushing for 110 yards by halftime, finished with 100 yards on 24 carries.
Vinson finished with 59 yards rushing on 11 carries while throwing for 28 yards, completing 1-of-8 passes.
"Hats off to Sikeston, their kids and their coaching staff," Norman said. "That shows their mental toughness that they were able to fight back and come back in this type of scenario and get the win."
The victory marks Sikeston's sixth straight over the Tigers.
"It was really big because we came back and got the win," Gross said. "We really went out there and went for it. We never gave up."
Sikeston will travel to Jennings on Saturday at 2 p.m.
S -- Chris Word 62 run (Nathan Hampton kick), 10:45
C -- Jacob Boerboom 28 pass from Dennis Vinson (Calvin Lovig kick), 8:44
S -- Marquez Newman 97 kick return (kick blocked), 8:28
C -- Jacob Campbell 8 run (Lovig kick), 3:54
C -- Vinson 1 run (Lovig kick), 1:24
S -- Word 2 run (run failed), 3:55
S -- Word 3 run (pass failed), 6:17
RUSHING -- Sikeston, Chris Word 30-190, Kyland Gross 24-167, Markeith Bratcher 2-0, Jeterrence Harris 1-(minus 5), Team 2-( minus 11). Cape Central, Jacob Campbell 24-100, Dennis Vinson 11-59, Mikey Jones 3-9, Jacob Margetta 1-0, Team 1-(minus 3).
PASSING -- Sikeston, Kyland Gross 2-10-0 58. Cape Central, Dennis Vinson 1-8-0 28.
RECEIVING -- Sikeston, Austin Brown 1-39, Pat Gross 1-19. Cape Central, Jacob Boerboom 1-28.