If the last three weeks are any indication, the Sikeston Bulldogs appear to be doing just that.
Sikeston continued its emergence with a 59-10 victory over Festus on Friday night in a Class 4, District 1 first round game at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
The third-seeded Bulldogs advance to the district semifinal round where they will travel to play second-seeded Hillsboro next Friday at 7 p.m. Hillsboro defeated No. 7 DeSoto 40-6 on Friday.
Friday's game marked the Bulldogs' third straight victory, topping 50 points in all three games.
Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said he felt good about his team's preparation heading into the game.
"I thought our kids were extremely focused. We came out ready to go," Gibbs said. "I think it's the best game we've played all year from first quarter to the fourth quarter. I think it's got a lot to do with how we practiced last week. It was our best week of practice by far."
The Bulldogs (7-3) dominated the line of scrimmage against Festus (5-5), rushing for 393 yards and averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
Quarterback Dre Johnson also had a big game, rushing for 109 yards on nine carries. It's the first time this season that Sikeston has had two players top 100 yards rushing in the same game.
"We had really good blocking up front and good blocking on the edges," Sikeston senior linebacker and offensive lineman Jeland Allen said. "Justus, he's a really good athlete. We have two others backs that are really good. It was just good teamwork."
On the other side of the ball, Sikeston's defense completely stifled the Festus offense, limiting the Tigers to 120 yards of total offense.
"We played as a team. We had four really good practices. It helped us stick together and we kept getting three-and-outs throughout the entire game," Allen said.
The game started as a back-and-forth affair with both teams scoring on their first two drives.
Sikeston took the opening kickoff and marched 55 yards on eight plays with Phayzun Fobbs scoring on an 8-yard run.
On Sikeston's very next offensive snap, Faulkner took the handoff, bounced right and burst down the right sideline for a 68-yard touchdown. Dre Johnson ran in the two-point conversion to lead 15-7.
Festus responded with another long drive, using 11 plays to reach the red zone but eventually had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Chase Cole to trim the lead to 15-10 with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
Festus held the Bulldogs on downs on the next series when Faulkner tripped on his own blocker just a yard short of the sticks. It ended up being the only drive Sikeston did not score.
The Bulldog defense held the Tigers to a punt which set up another Sikeston touchdown.
Dre Johnson broke loose for a 62-yard run, his longest run of the year, before being pushed out of bounds. Fobbs capped off the 4-play, 84-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown to lead 22-10.
After another Festus punt, Sikeston marched 51 yards on 12 plays with Johnson scoring on a 1-yard plunge to lead 28-10 with 33 seconds left in the half.
Festus ran a play to close the half but it was a costly one as quarterback Justice Johnson scrambled away from pressure before taking a hard hit, causing him to miss the rest of the night with a concussion.
The Tigers, which were forced to use a freshman quarterback the rest of the game, managed just one yard of offense in the second half.
"They out-played us midway through the second quarter on throughout the course of the football game," Festus coach Russ Schmidt said. "We had to put a freshman out there tonight and the wheels started to come off the wagon."
Following a safety by the Bulldog defense, Sikeston drove 86 yards on nine plays. Ricky Scott's 62-yard reception set up B.J. Hill's 9-yard touchdown reception. Faulkner ran in the two-point conversion to put the mercy clock into motion with a 42-10 lead with 4:34 left in the third.
"I thought our offensive line dominated up front," Gibbs said. "Dre did a nice job of making some reads and getting some nice runs for himself. They all ran hard. The big thing is the offensive line got off the ball and did a good job. If you give talented kids space to run in then you're going to get some yards."
In the fourth quarter, Sikeston's Keshawn Ellis had a 13-yard touchdown run and Elijah Faulkner had a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown to reach the final margin.
"We had kids in spots, but we have to do what we're coached to do and I don't know that we did a whole lot of that at times tonight," Schmidt said. "You have to give your opponent credit, it's a very athletic group coach Gibbs has. They have a lot of speed and there's no substitute for that. We watch film on them every year. They're a good football team. What we saw on film is what we saw in person tonight. They have a lot of team speed and a lot of athleticism and we don't. Sometimes you've got to tip your hat to a better opponent."
Fobbs finished with 71 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns.
Festus was led by Tyler Sexton's 44 yards on 14 carries, with only 10 yards in the second half.
"A couple things changed," Gibbs said. "After their first two drives we focused up a little bit and took care of our assignments and the other thing is we attacked the ball a little more. They were hurting us with the tailback swing out of the backfield and we took care of that. I know their quarterback going down hurt them. But we played good defense too."
Now Sikeston will attempt to keep its season alive when they play at Hillsboro next Friday. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2011 when Hillsboro ended Sikeston's season with a 34-32 win in a Class 4 regional game.
"I think the biggest thing is we have to continue to prepare," Gibbs said. "We've got to come back and have four good practices like we did this last week. Hopefully we'll be ready to go. They have an awfully good football team."
NOTES -- Friday marked just the second time Sikeston has ever played Festus in football. The first meeting occurred in 1949 in a Polio Bowl game at Charleston. Sikeston won the game 14-0 to complete a 10-0 season under coach Kenneth Knox.
S -- Phayzun Fobbs 8 run (Bryce Bays kick), 9:22
F -- Logan Uding 10 pass from Justice Johnson (Chase Cole kick), 4:10
S -- Justus Faulkner 68 run (Dre Johnson run), 3:51
F -- Cole 22 field goal, 10:37
S -- Fobbs 2 run (Bays kick), 4:55
S -- Johnson 1 run (pass failed), 0:33
S -- Faulkner 15 run (Bays kick), 9:23
S -- Safety, 7:34
S -- B.J. Hill 9 pass from Johnson (Faulkner run), 4:34
S -- Keshawn Ellis 13 run (Cam King kick), 9:44
S -- Elijah Faulkner 60 interception return (King kick), 3:51
Rushing -- Festus, Tyler Sexton 14-44, Justice Johnson 5-22, C.J. Glaze 1-4, Logan Uding 1-3, Nick Templeton 1-1, Matt Rosen 1-0, Braden Cox 2-0, Team 1-(-1), Jordan Fiedler 6-(-3), Austin Coale 2-(-6). Sikeston, Justus Faulkner 12-166, Dre Johnson 9-109, Phayzun Fobbs 9-71, Keshawn Ellis 8-29, Gage Rolwing 2-14, Elijah Faulkner 1-10, Team 1-(-6).
Passing -- Festus, Justice Johnson 4-9-0 56, Austin Coale 0-3-1 0. Sikeston, Dre Johnson 3-5-0 80.
Receiving -- Festus, Rashawn Hyde 2-39, Logan Uding 2-17. Sikeston, Ricky Scott 1-62, Phayzun Fobbs 1-9, B.J. Hill 1-9.