(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
SIKESTON -- After ending the regular season in the worst possible way with the team's first loss of the season, the Sikeston Bulldogs bounced back in the best possible way on Thursday.
Top-seeded Sikeston (9-1) racked up 71 points in the first half on its way to a 71-7 victory over eighth-seeded Perryville at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium to advance to the semifinals of the Class 4, District 1 playoffs.
The Bulldogs will play No. 4 seed Cape Central on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Tigers defeated fifth-seeded Festus, 31-6, on Thursday and will get a chance at redemption with Sikeston after falling 25-21 to the Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium three weeks ago.
And already, after the game, Sikeston players were talking about the rematch with Cape Central.
"This game's over now so we're not looking at it anymore. It's done," senior linebacker Blake Flannigan said. "Now we've got our rivals, the big Cape game."
Following Sikeston's come-from-behind victory over Cape Central and then another rally against Jennings the following week, the Bulldogs seemed to have a rabbit's foot in its back pocket.
But the Bulldogs lost its regular season finale in heartbreaking fashion, letting a late lead slip away in the final minutes to Cardinal Ritter in a 24-16 loss. Turnovers were the problem in that game -- particularly fumbles.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs made a full recovery on every front.
Sikeston had no turnovers against the Pirates and not one ball was put on the ground.
"Basically we just executed," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We caught the ball instead of having drops. We didn't have all the penalties and we certainly didn't have all the fumbles. Going into the playoffs you want to be sharp. I wasn't real sure how we would come out and how we would handle the loss, but I think we handled it well and I think our kids learned some things. I hope it carries over into next week."
All season long senior quarterback Kyland Gross has carried the bulk of the Sikeston offense. But on Thursday, he took a backseat to some of his teammates.
Junior running back Chris Word scored five touchdowns in the first quarter. Senior linebacker Aundrea Golden had two interception returns of 40 and 43 yards for touchdowns, his third and fourth defensive scores of the season.
In addition, sophomore running back Marquez Newman rushed for a career-high 169 yards on four carries, all in the second quarter. He had touchdown runs of 39 and 93 yards, the latter being one of the longest runs in Sikeston history, coming one yard shy of Ed Felker's school-record 94-yard run in 1967.
Also getting in on the scoring was junior running back Deyonte Baker with the first touchdown of his career late in the second quarter.
"We had a chance to get some young kids in there and that's something we'd like to do more often -- of course games determine that," Gibbs said. "Certainly Marquez has got talent. We kind of would like for him to put that talent together and put it to use on the field. Hopefully this will give him a shot in the arm where he can help us going forward."
When the first half ended, Sikeston had already scored an unbelievable 71 points and had racked up 466 yards of offense.
Gross only played in the first quarter and threw for a career-high 109 yards with a touchdown, completing 4-of-5 passes. He also rushed for 62 yards on four carries in leading the Bulldogs to a 45-0 advantage in the first quarter, setting a modern-day school record for most points in a quarter.
Gross hit Pat Gross for a 41-yard pass on the Bulldogs' first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for what was to come.
"We talked all week about bouncing back a little bit and being focused from the get-go and not doing silly things that would set us back," Gibbs said. "I think we were focused tonight, our kids came out and we were very precise and very sharp on what we did. We were able to hit some passes, which is what we wanted to do early."
With such a lopsided score, both sides agreed to let the clock run continuously the entire second half, not even stopping for scoring or timeouts.
The Bulldogs, with the option to receive in the second half, even elected to kickoff to the Pirates, who promptly fumbled the ball right back to Sikeston.
"Sometimes it's Murphy's Law," second-year Perryville coach Mike Wojtczuk said. "When you're talking about a team the caliber of Sikeston, when things start going south, I've told my kids time and time again, 'you've just got to reach down and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you've got to move on and get better and find a way.'"
The Pirates finally did find a way in the fourth quarter, putting together a 7-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Cody Crawford to break the shutout with 10:15 left in the game.
Crawford finished with 91 yards on 19 carries.
After gaining just 42 yards of offense in the first half, the Pirates (3-7) finished with 170 total yards of offense.
"We've hit some tough patches and they always keep fighting and they always keep playing," Wojtczuk said. "It would have been easy for them to roll over and say, 'heck with it.' But they didn't."
Sikeston finished with a season-high 492 yards of offense, including 383 yards rushing on only 30 attempts, averaging 13 yards per carry.
"Kent does a great job," Wojtczuk said of Gibbs. "He's pulled (Sikeston) up. They were in the shape that we were in several years ago. I don't know if they were in as bad a shape, but they were in bad shape. But he's got exemplary talent, the kids work hard and they bought into what he's selling. Because of that, he's made them contenders. They believe in themselves. That's what it takes."
Sikeston's 71 points is the most scored by a Bulldog team in 93 years, but coming up far short of the school record of 148 points scored against Caruthersville in 1919.
Gibbs, who received a standing ovation during the game when it was announced that he will be inducted into the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, is just happy that his team performed to his expectations and played one of its cleanest games this season.
"We talked about from Sunday afternoon on about how we had to focus and be ready to play and how there are no givens," said Gibbs. "I know you look at people and think you're going to win this or win that, but when you play like we did the other night, there are no givens. You've got to play well all the time. I hope we've learned some lessons on those things and I hope we'll focus this week in practice and continue what we did tonight. It was a good night. But it's short-lived and now it's time to prepare."
S -- Chris Word 5 run (Word run), 11:01
S -- Word 9 pass from Kyland Gross (Word run), 7:34
S -- Word 2 run (Nathan Hampton kick), 4:57
S -- Word 5 run (Jacob Stinnett run), 4:36
S -- Word 48 run (Hampton kick), 1:19
S -- Aundrea Golden 40 interception return (Hampton kick), 1:02
S -- Marquez Newman 39 run (Hampton kick), 10:09
S -- Newman 93 run (Hampton kick), 7:25
S -- Deyonte Baker 2 run (kick blocked), 2:35
S -- Golden 43 interception return (kick failed), 2:14
P -- Cody Crawford 15 run (Tyler Holligan kick), 10:15
RUSHING -- Perryville, Cody Crawford 19-91, Levi Zook 7-34, Aaron Hadler 8-28, Alex Plunkett 1-7, Matt Keller 1-4, Ethan Faries 1-(minus 1), Jonny Pruiett 3-(minus 8). Sikeston, Marquez Newman 4-169, Chris Word 7-88, Kyland Gross 4-62, Nathan Hampton 6-36, Deyonte Baker 5-25, Pat Gross 1-2, Courtney Hawkins 2-1, Richie Garcia 1-0.
PASSING -- Perryville, Tyler Holligan 2-6-2 15, Alex Plunkett 0-2-0 0, Zach Elder 0-1-0 0. Sikeston, Kyland Gross 4-5-0 109.
RECEIVING -- Perryville, Alex Plunkett 1-11, Devin Blandford 1-4. Sikeston, Pat Gross 2-71, Jeterrence Harris 1-29, Chris Word 1-9.