(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
JENNINGS -- With conference play already wrapped up as well as a large lead in the district standings, the Sikeston Bulldogs will try to keep its undefeated season alive with a Saturday afternoon game in St. Louis against an unfamiliar opponent.
The Bulldogs will play against Jennings at 1 p.m. at Jennings High School, marking the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The Warriors come into the game with a 2-4 record, snapping a four-game losing streak last week with a 36-12 victory over Affton.
Jennings' struggles this season have come on the heels of back-to-back playoff appearances in which they were 8-3 last season and reached the sectionals two years ago, falling to Warrenton, 22-18 -- yes, that Warrenton team -- the same one that crushed Sikeston's dreams in the semifinals two games later.
It was then that Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs knew he wanted to beef up the schedule with more Class 4 playoff-type teams.
Little did he know, Jennings would fall on hard times this season.
"Two years ago when we made our schedule they were doing well and in the playoffs and they were again last year," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We've just got to be focused. It's a long haul. We've got to handle Friday good. We've got to handle Saturday morning good and stay focused on the trip up and play like we can play."
Part of the Warriors struggles can be attributed to a brutal schedule in which they owe a 52-0 loss to Class 5 power McCluer, a 38-0 loss to McCluer South-Berkeley and a 21-14 loss to Clayton, a traditionally strong Class 3 team.
The Warriors average 15.3 points and allow 31 points per game.
Gibbs isn't fooled by the Warriors' record.
"They have a lot of talent," Gibbs said. "They do a lot of different things offensively. They run a double-tight formation, a double-wing formation, but they'll also spread it out and throw the ball a little bit."
Jennings' main offense is keeping the ball on the ground with its' offensive linemen "toe-to-toe."
"It's kind of a dogfight -- you get in there and it's a big scrum," Gibbs said of Jennings' offense. "Basically you've got 22 guys in about a 10-yard square there. You've just got to stay low, get off the ball, take care of your assignments and not leave any gaps uncovered."
Jennings only threw two passes in last week's game against Affton, but inclement weather played some part in that.
Quarterback Darrell Green is a threat with his feet as much as his arm as he rushed for 159 yards on 19 carries last week. The Warriors will also rotate in sophomore Jordan Cook at quarterback.
Running back Ryan Lindsey, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior is the team's leading rusher on the season followed by Green. Cornell Nelson, a 5-7, 170-pound sophomore is also a top ball-carrier.
Senior Tyreese Brown lines up at fullback.
"One of the things they like to do is lull you to sleep a little bit with the fullback and then they'll run their counters wide, and then you start playing the counters they'll hit you with that big fullback up the gut again," Gibbs said. "They're pretty slick with the fullback hiding the ball -- he's real close to the quarterback. We've just got to be sharp with what we're doing mentally and stay focused. Our inside linebackers have to play well to stop the fullback and we have to play well on the edge.
"The big thing is make a play when you're in a position to make it. They do run real well, they do have really good team speed. We've really got to dominate up front."
Sikeston's defense has been the strength of the team, allowing just over 10 points per game while limiting opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game.
Senior inside linebacker Blake Flannigan leads the defense with 80 tackles with 14 for losses. Fellow inside linebacker Clay Porter follows up with 59 tackles.
Defensive end Nick Nichols has 57 tackles, 21 of those for loss along with six quarterback sacks.
Outside linebacker Aundrea Golden has 48 tackles and nine for loss and leads the team with seven takeaways.
On offense, the Bulldogs will try to counter with its own ground-based offense led by senior quarterback Kyland Gross, who is one of the leading rushers in the area with 972 yards on 108 carries, averaging nine yards per carry with 10 touchdowns.
Gross has thrown for 465 yards, completing 30-of-74 passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Junior running back Chris Word has emerged the last two weeks with the biggest games of his career, rushing for 199 yards against Jackson and 190 yards last week in the rain against Cape Central to bring his season total to 643 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Defensively they do a lot of blitzing with their inside backers and run to the ball so our offensive line will have to continue to improve and our backs will have to hit the holes hard," Gibbs said.
The Bulldogs come into the game with a 7-0 record for the third time in the last four years. They are currently ranked No. 3 in Class 4 and have already clinched the SEMO North Division Conference title. They lead the district standings over Festus and Hillsboro, each having 5-2 records, by more than 10 points.
So how does Gibbs keep his team motivated to play an unknown opponent on the road on a Saturday afternoon?
"That's a legitimate concern," Gibbs said. "Our deal is play yourself every day in practice. Play to get better every day and concentrate on what you're doing. Don't worry about what's going on or what's going to happen two days down the road. Lets take care of right now and get better as we go. Pretty soon you look up and it's game time and now you can be focused on your opponent and do what you need to do when you get there."