(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- After rolling through the regular season and being ranked as high as No. 2 in the state in Class 4, the Sikeston Bulldogs' football season came to an abrupt and sudden end on Wednesday night.
Similar to the team's only loss in the regular season two weeks ago in which Cardinal Ritter came from behind to ruin an undefeated season, the Bulldogs saw the same thing happen on Wednesday in a Class 4, District 1 semifinal matchup at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
The Bulldogs had chances to seal the game, but couldn't make the plays as fourth-seeded Cape Central scored a late touchdown to upset top-seeded Sikeston, 17-14.
The Tigers' win avenged a 25-21 loss to the Bulldogs earlier this season and snapped a six-game losing streak to Sikeston, dating back to 2006.
Cape Central (5-6) advances to the district championship game where they will play at second-seeded Hillsboro on Monday.
Sikeston's season ends at 9-2, dropping two of its last three games.
"You set your goals high and we will continue to do that, but it is a cruel reality that it doesn't always turn out like you want," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "But we had a good year. We won our conference and we probably played over our heads a little bit. We got a lot out of them. The coaches did a good job and the kids did a good job, we just came up short in the last game."
Kyland Gross scored on a 65-yard run with 6:14 left in the game to give Sikeston a 14-10 lead.
The Bulldog defense held firm, forcing a turnover on downs by the Tigers with 3:31 left in the game.
Sikeston was able to move the ball to the Cape Central 26-yard line where the Bulldogs came up one yard short on a 4th-and-8 run, turning the ball back over to the Tigers with 2:18 left.
With no timeouts remaining, the Tigers needed to go 74 yards to win the game. Junior quarterback Dennis Vinson came up huge during the drive, completing a middle screen on a 4th-and-13 play to Mikey Jones for 27 yards and a 12-yard pass to Garan Evans on a 4th-and-5 to keep the chains moving.
Sikeston had two chances to intercept passes during the drive, but the passes slipped through the Bulldog defender's fingers.
"It's a game of inches so to speak and they certainly made plays at the end," Gibbs said of the Tigers. "We were just a little bit short on a first down. If we get the first down, it's over. We were a little bit short on a couple picks. If we get the pick, the game's over. We missed a tackle here or there. It's a game of inches, but credit Cape. They made the plays and we didn't."
Cape Central running back Chris Martin then scored from four yards out to give the Tigers a 17-14 lead with 45 seconds left to cap the 12-play drive.
The Bulldogs' final desperation pass was intercepted by Evans at the 30-yard line with 16 seconds left in the game to clinch the victory.
"We were 2-6 at one time and that leaves a bad feeling in our kids and they didn't want no part of that," Cape Central coach Nathan Norman said. "They didn't want this to be our last game. Because of the last game when we lost to Sikeston and how we played, and on film they saw mistakes we could correct. Losing the first game close really benefitted us."
Turnovers were once again public enemy No. 1 for the Bulldogs as they lost three fumbles and had the final interception.
The game started in ominous fashion as the Bulldogs fumbled the opening kickoff, leading to a 22-yard field goal by Calvin Lovig to give the Tigers the early 3-0 lead.
Sikeston responded on the ensuing drive, converting five third-down conversions and marching 78 yards on 13 plays capped by Gross' 2-yard touchdown pass to Pat Gross. Nathan Hampton's extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs maintained the 7-3 lead until the third quarter when Cape Central took advantage of another Bulldog fumble at the Sikeston 25. The Tigers scored in five plays when Martin dove in from four yards out to give his team a 10-7 lead with 5:57 left in the third.
It was Sikeston's second fumble of the third quarter. Earlier in the period, Sikeston's Aundrea Golden recovered a Martin fumble at the Tiger 20 on the first play of the half.
On the following possession, the Bulldogs' Chris Word then appeared to be headed for the end zone on a run up the middle but the ball was poked out of his grasp from behind inside the five-yard line, as the fumble bounced out of the end zone for a touchback for the Tigers, ruining a chance for Sikeston to take a two-possession lead.
"Turnovers were a big problem," Gibbs said. "We probably would have had at least one more score. I think 10 of their points came on turnovers. But still yet, we had a chance to win both on offense and on defense and we just didn't do what we needed to do."
After the Tigers took the lead, both teams' defenses stiffened up. With the clock ticking in the fourth quarter, Sikeston's defense came up with another fumble on Martin, giving the Bulldogs the ball at their own 16-yard line.
Three plays later, Gross tried to run up the middle, only to find it clogged up. He then bounced to his right to the outside and exploded down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 14-10 lead.
"I don't know if you ever keep (Gross) in check, but we kind of keep him under control and then he busts one," Norman said. "That's him. You can count on him getting one on you and it came at a bad time for us."
But the Tigers' came up with its own big drive in the end. Martin, who missed the first game against Sikeston with an injury, finished with a game-high 165 yards on 26 carries with two scores.
"He's a great athlete and a great player," Gibbs said of Martin. "You take an athlete like him out of their lineup it makes a difference to your team. He did a great job tonight, no doubt about that."
Gross finished the game with 143 yards on 19 carries. He finished the season with 1,521 rushing yards, setting a school record for most rushing yards by a quarterback and moving him up to sixth on the most rushing yards in a single season by a Bulldog player.
Gross finished his Bulldog career with 2,450 rushing yards, pushing him past former Bulldog great James Wilder for fifth on the all-time rushing list.
"He had a great year," Gibbs said of Gross. "He played a position that he hadn't played. We went in there and did a fine job for us. He was a leader for us in his actions more than anything."
Word also had a big game, rushing for 153 yards on 22 carries to finish with 953 yards rushing on the season despite missing two games.
"Chris had a good year and we're looking for a big year out of him next year," Gibbs said. "One thing about Chris is he is going to give you everything he's got, whether it's in practice or in a game. He was slowed by injuries or he'd be well over 1,000, but overall he had a great junior year."
The Bulldogs will lose the services of three standout seniors in Blake Flannigan, Nick Nichols and Golden, who all had all-state caliber seasons on the team's stout defense.
The Bulldogs will graduate 14 seniors in all this season.
"Anytime you have a good football team and a good football program, you've got to have good, strong senior leadership and certainly all of those guys were leaders," Gibbs said. "They played hard. They left it on the field. They were here every day and did what was expected of them. To have good programs and to have good teams, you've got to have those kind of people. Certainly one of the things we'll have to do is regroup and start figuring out who will be those kids for us next year."
C -- Calvin Lovig 22 field goal, 9:23
S -- Pat Gross 2 pass from Kyland Gross (Nathan Hampton kick), 1:42
C -- Chris Martin 4 run (Lovig kick), 5:57
S -- Kyland Gross 65 run (Hampton kick), 6:14
C -- Martin 4 run (Lovig kick), 0:45
RUSHING -- Cape Central, Chris Martin 26-165, Jacob Campbell 10-36, Kyle Thompson 4-33, Dennis Vinson 4-(minus 9). Sikeston, Chris Word 22-153, Kyland Gross 19-143, Nick Nichols 1-11, Pat Gross 1-(minus 6), Team 1-(minus 8).
PASSING -- Cape Central, Dennis Vinson 3-10-0 69. Sikeston, Kyland Gross 5-12-1 55.
RECEIVING -- Cape Central, Jacob Boerboom 1-30, Mikey Jones 1-27, Garan Evans 1-12. Sikeston, Pat Gross 3-23, Reese Porter 1-17, Austin Brown 1-15.