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Third-seeded Sikeston hosts No. 6 Festus in first round of districts

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In this Sept. 30 file photo, Sikeston's Dre Johnson is tackled by a trio of Poplar Bluff defenders in the second quarter at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
SIKESTON -- The Sikeston football team did its part in securing home-field advantage for the first round of Class 4, District 1 play after defeating previous undefeated Park Hills Central last Friday.

Now they will see if they can hold serve.

Third-seeded Sikeston (6-3) will host No. 6 Festus (5-4) Friday night at 7:00 at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium in the first round of district play.

In this Sept. 16 file photo, Sikeston's Don Larry intercepts a pass intended for Dexter's Nick Trout (85) at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
The Bulldogs, which two weeks ago sat as the sixth seed and entered last week's game against Park Hills Central as the fourth seed, needed to win its final two games to achieve home field in the first round.

Sikeston responded by defeating New Madrid County Central (54-6) and the state-ranked Park Hills Central squad 54-30.

Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs, who has now guided the Bulldogs to eight straight winning seasons, said he hopes his team can continue the momentum tomorrow night.

"It's a double-edged sword now, you not only want to play well at home but you want to play so your seniors can keep playing," Gibbs said. "It was big for us, big for our program, big for our seniors and our whole staff to be honest about it to be able to play another home game. After that we'll see how it takes us, but one thing I know is you have to win to keep playing."

Sikeston will be playing a Festus team that is riding a two-game losing streak after falling to St. Francis Borgia 34-7 and then last week to Poplar Bluff, 42-13.

Festus won its first two games to start the season by defeating Vashon 29-26 and Sullivan 16-12. They followed that with back-to-back losses to North County (31-21) and a last-second loss to Hillsboro (22-20).

The Tigers got back on track by beating De Soto (56-42), Windsor (70-49) and Pacific (43-20).

"They're a solid football team," Gibbs said. "They got beat late by two good football teams. They had Hillsboro down 20-0 at one time and got beat 22-20 and missed a game-winning field goal, if you will. We'll have to play a good game if we want to advance, there's no doubt about it."

Festus averages 30.6 points per game and allows 30.9 points per game.

The Tigers operate a ground-based offense while utilizing play-action to open up passing lanes.

"They run a Wing-T offense," Gibbs said. "They run motion, a lot of misdirection type stuff. Obviously it's an assignment type thing again that we'll have to do on defense. They have a really good receiver that we can't let loose on us and make plays. The quarterback's a young kid but he's a runner and he can hurt you if he gets loose."

Festus' quarterback is Justice Johnson, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound sophomore. He has thrown for 765 yards, completing 48 of 101 passes (47 percent) with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has 135 yards rushing on 41 carries.

The Tigers' top ground-gainer is Tyler Sexton, a 6-2, 215-pound senior. Sexton leads the team with 960 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

Jordan Fiedler (58 carries, 240 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Braden Cox (21-221) are second and third in rushing on the team.

The top receiving target on the team is 6-2, 205-pound senior receiver Elijah Richeson, who has 20 catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns.

One area of concern for Gibbs is his team's struggles against the pass this season. While the Bulldogs are very stout against the run, allowing just 106.4 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry, teams have had substantial success through the air. Sikeston allows 192 passing yards per game.

Festus is predominantly a run team, but have shown big-play capabilities throwing the football.

"People are going to do different things against us to combat what we do well, we understand that," Gibbs said. "We've just got to play the ball a little bit more. We stand and watch or we let an assignment break down and let a kid run across the field free so it's a matter of taking care of our assignments on defense. We can't give them the big play because they're going to grind and grind and grind and use the clock and then lull you to sleep a little bit and then hit a pass to No. 10 (Richeson) over the top with some of their bootleg action. Hopefully we can limit their run game and not give up the big play with the pass."

Festus also has a strong-legged kicker in Chase Cole, who has booted three field goals this season.

"They're solid in special teams. They've got a real good field goal kicker that can kick it from about anywhere," Gibbs said.

Sikeston averages 33.3 points per game and allows an average of 19.8 points per game.

The Bulldogs have gotten a boost with the return of senior running back Justus Faulkner, who has 750 yards rushing in the last three games that he has played. He missed three games with mononucleosis, but still has 995 yards rushing on the season and 12 touchdowns.

But Faulkner hasn't been the lone contributor.

Senior Dre Johnson has thrown for 673 yards, completing 43 of 111 passes (39 percent) with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also rushed for 498 yards with six touchdowns.

Senior Phayzun Fobbs follows up with 304 yards rushing and two touchdowns with a team-leading 21 receptions for 249 yards and two scores.

Sophomore receiver Ricky Scott has 13 catches for a team-leading 327 yards and three touchdowns.

Gibbs says that line play will be crucial against an aggressive, blitzing Festus defense.

"Defensively they give a lot of different looks and a lot of different stunts with linebackers," Gibbs said. "We'll have to be sharp up front and have to take care of things. We're getting solid play across the board and I know all the signs point to Justus because he's back and certainly he's a big boost to us, but we're doing some other things. Dre's doing a really good job of directing things and carrying the ball when he needs to. He's done a good job in the passing game and we're certainly going to have to throw the ball some against these guys. Ricky's made some big catches and Phayzun has made some big catches. Offense is so much of a rhythm and to do that you have to have your pieces for a while and hopefully we'll continue to improve in both passing and running."

Sikeston's defense is led by senior nose tackle Josh Stinnett with 85 tackles and 22 tackles for a loss.

Jason Moore follows up with 69 tackles. Keshawn Ellis and Jeland Allen each have 63 tackles.

NOTES -- Friday will mark just the second meeting ever between Sikeston and Festus. The two first met in a Polio Bowl game held at Charleston High School in 1949 in front of a crowd of 4,500. Fundraising bowl games in those days were common prior to the advent of the MSHSAA playoff system that was implemented in 1968. Sikeston beat the previously undefeated Festus squad 14-0 to complete a 10-0 undefeated season for legendary coach Kenneth Knox, running its streak of unbeaten to 19 straight. In four years at Sikeston, Knox never lost a game, finishing with a record of 35-0-2.

Knox eventually left Sikeston to become head coach and director of athletics at Southeast Missouri State University from 1952-1967 in which he was one of the inaugural inductees in the SEMO Athletics Hall of Fame following his retirement. At SEMO, Knox's teams won six Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships, the most ever by any coach at the school. His 1955 team was undefeated and untied, which is still the only time a SEMO team has ever accomplished the feat.

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