(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It doesn't seem to be a playoff until Sikeston and Cape Central take the field against one another.
For the second time in three years, Sikeston and Cape Central renew their rivalry during the Class 4 playoffs, Wednesday in the District 1 semifinals at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium at 7 p.m.
"It should be a good match-up," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "I think both teams are evenly matched. Cape has had some things happen to them where they lose games late, but it looks like they've put it together the last two to three weeks."
During the 2010 regular season in front of a packed Houck Stadium crowd, the Bulldogs defeated Cape Central 21-0 and then again during the second round of the playoffs, 40-0.
The Bulldogs own the series record between the two schools, 50-40-7, and have topped the Tigers in their last six meetings -- their latest victory being in Week 7.
Already this season, Sikeston overcame a 21-13 first quarter deficit to come away with a 25-21 victory.
"They took it to us," Gibbs said about their first meeting this season. "They took it to us early. We turned the ball over a little bit and they took advantage of some things.
"It was big for us to be able to come back. It was a strain, but at the same time, you can't allow a good team to get up on you two or three scores and wait and start late in the game like we did."
Their first match-up, however, was played without Cape Central senior Chris Martin.
Martin, who had been sidelined with an ankle injury since Week 6 against Farmington, has ran for 350 yards during Cape Central's last two games -- both against Festus.
The Tigers are hoping the return of Martin will boost their running attack which was out-gained 332 to 170 -- which 148 of Cape Central's rushing was gained in the first half -- during their first meeting.
"It's just like us without Chris Word or Kyland (Gross), it's huge for (Cape Central)," Gibbs said about the return of Martin. "We know that with him -- he's a big playmaker. He had a lot of yards on a lot of carries last week so he's a work-horse for them and definitely makes a big difference."
Martin (138 carries, 977 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Jacob Campbell (146-830, 9 TDs) lead the ground attack.
The Bulldogs, however, may have gotten their swagger back after pounding Perryville 71-7 last week after suffering the first loss to Cardinal Ritter in their season finale.
"I think we've got the confidence if we perform," said Gibbs. "We've dug ourselves so many holes on offense that we've had to slug it out. For us, when we're operating how we want to, we want to go fast, we want to go smooth and anytime you get momentum it's big in games like this.
"We want to see if we can get a good start and withstand the momentum they may get after and, after we settle in, let it play out."
With the addition of Martin, the Tigers, arguable, exceed Sikeston in both athleticism and speed, but the Bulldogs will rely on their stifling defense which has allowed a paltry 11.7 points per game to go along with 164 yards a game as well.
Senior middle linebacker Blake Flannigan leads the team with 115 tackles to go along with 19 tackles for loss. Senior defensive lineman Nick Nichols, who has earned a reputation of being a dominant pass rusher, is second on the team with 91 tackles and leads the team by far with 34 tackles for a loss. Nichols tops the team lead in sacks as well.
Senior Aundrea Golden strengthens an injury-depleted, defensive backfield with his opportunistic play of late, with 66 tackles and a team-leading six interceptions. He's also third on the team with 16 tackles for a loss.
"Defensively, you're not going to stop them dead in their tracks, but we've got to do a good job of limiting big plays and giving them cheap scores," said Gibbs.
On offense, the Bulldogs have been led all season by senior quarterback Kyland Gross, who time and time again, has proven to be a dynamic difference maker for his team.
Gross has rushed for a team-high 1,378 yards so far this season, slotting him ninth all-time in career rushing yards in Sikeston history.
He's also thrown for 620 yards, completing 40-of-103 passes (39 percent) with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Junior running back Chris Word scored four touchdowns on seven carries last week, rushing for 88 yards against Perryville to raise his season total to 800 yards to go with his 14 touchdowns.
Sikeston's offense averages 31 points per game.
"Offensively, we've got to continue what we kind of started against Perryville -- hanging on to the ball, no penalties. We need a quick start. I think that is going to be big."
The Tigers' offense is averaging 23.6 points per contest in what Gibbs says
The tandem of linebackers Jared Thomas, Jacob Margetta and Jacob Boerboom as well as nose guard Chris Bryant are the Tigers' top defensive players.
Cape Central's defense gives up 22 points per game.
Tigers quarterback, junior Dennis Vinson, has completed 40 of 100 passes for 799 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Vinson looks mostly for senior Garan Evans, who has 18 catches, 395 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's going to be a hard, tough ball game," Gibbs said. "One that could go either way."