(Fred Lynch) [Order this photo]
Most of all, the Central defense couldn't stop it.
There was no halting Sikeston's winning touchdown drive Friday night at Central High School.
On paper, the nine-play, 80-yard drive burned less than three minutes off the clock. Chris Word launched it with a 6-yard run, but it would be more than an hour later when he scored on a 3-yard run midway into the fourth quarter.
His touchdown was the final piece in Sikeston's second-half comeback, which propelled the Bulldogs to a 25-19 victory and an outright claim to the SEMO Northern Division title.
Central, which lost its fourth consecutive game in falling to 2-5, looked poised to hand Sikeston (7-0) its first loss of the season after scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter. The Tigers closed the period with a 21-13 lead.
Central nursed that advantage into the third quarter but soon was hanging on for dear life when Sikeston would not allow a first down on the Tigers' five second-half possessions.
The Bulldogs cut the gap to 21-19 when Word capped a 13-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on their first possession of the second half.
Central dodged a bullet on Sikeston's ensuing possession. Word fumbled near the Central 2-yard line on first-and-goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. The ball bounded into the end zone and was recovered by the Tigers, who were stymied on their ensuing possession that started at the 20.
Central punter Calvin Lovig then demonstrated the strength of the wind that Sikeston would have to contend with if it wanted to take the lead. He launched a 75-yard punt that ultimately bounced into and through the end zone.
Sikeston started at its 20 and quickly gained a first down on 6-yard runs by Word and quarterback Kyland Gross.
After a clap of thunder sounded, and the teams were ushered off the field for a mandatory 30-minute delay.
"We were kind of excited at the time and happy the rain delayed the game," Central junior defensive lineman Darvile Hopkins said. "We came in here. We were giving up plays."
Sikeston held a 98-1 edge in yardage in the second half before the delay. The Tigers were held to minus-4 yards on six plays in the third quarter, while Sikeston ran 16 plays for 86 yards.
Sikeston ignored the delay and the strong headwind, merely picking up where it had left off. Gross ripped off a 22-yard run to move the Bulldogs into Central territory, and two plays later busted loose on a 21-yard run to the 11.
"We were OK. We kept our cool," said Gross, who had 150 yards rushing on 25 carries, about the delay. "We just had to come out and figure it all up."
Word scored three plays later.
"We felt like, man we got control, and then the rain hit," Word said. "But we didn't let it bring us down, though. We were just in the locker room just talking to each other like, ‘Hey, we've got to play as a family. We've got to come out even though we're down.' So we came out with all the intensity we had and just wanted to come out and get the win."
Central was stopped cold on its final two possessions, which began at it own 42 and 24.
The Tigers were held to minus-3 yards in the second half, while Sikeston collected 233 yards.
Norman was among those that thought the delay possibly could change the game's momentum.
"I was hoping that way," Norman said. "Looking back on it, I don't know if it would have mattered. It boils down to you have to make plays when they count, and we weren't able to do that and they were.
"It slowed their momentum, but they were able to be mentally tough and come back and play well late in the fourth quarter."
Word, who finished with 190 yards on 30 carries, said the weather was a factor early in the game.
"The whole time our coach has been telling us in practice, ‘Hey, it might not look as pretty as you all want it to on Friday. So we came out, ate that up, and like, ‘Hey we're just going to play through the rain, the storm and whatever it got to be,' and the first half it just controlled us. And the second half we just said, ‘Forget this rain. We're just going to come out with a bang and win,' and that's what happened."
Both teams thrived early amid rain and wind, which was blowing about 25 mph from the north.
Sikeston scored three of its four touchdowns heading into the wind, including a 62-yard run by Word on the game's fourth play for a 7-0 lead. It was the first of three touchdowns scored in the opening 3 minutes, 32 seconds of the game.
Central needed just four plays to cover 45 yards on its first possession, with junior quarterback Dennis Vinson connecting with junior tight end Jacob Boerboom on a 28-yard touchdown pass. Lovig's PAT tied the score at 7-7.
Central turned the ball over on a fumble on its next series, but scored touchdowns on two ensuing possessions. Campbell carried four times on a five-play, 56-yard drive and scored on an 8-yard run. Vinson later scored on a 1-yard run to cap a three-play, 32-yard drive with 1:24 to play in the first quarter.
Vinson, with a 22-yard scramble on the latter scoring drive, had 53 yards rushing in the first quarter.
Campbell had 62 yards on the ground in the first quarter as the Tigers mounted 148 yards of offense in the period even in the absence of senior Chris Martin. The team's leading rusher missed the game with a sprained ankle.
"There were holes there in the first quarter," Campbell said. "And in the second quarter there were still holes, I just needed a little more second to break it, and I couldn't get that chance. They were closing the holes on us."
Central added 54 yards of offense in the second quarter before things being stymied.
"I think their defensive ends got a feel for what we were doing and played the outside a little better and took that away from us," Norman said. "I don't know, scheme-wise, if they changed that much."
"We just tackled better," Sikeston coach Kent Gibbs said. "We ran to the ball better, and we wrapped up once we got there. And the big thing is we didn't allow the big plays that we allowed earlier in the game. Give credit to our defense for shutting them down after that first quarter. Without that we don't win."
Campbell finished with 96 yards rushing on 24 carries, while Vinson finished with 59 yards on 11 attempts. He was 1 of 8 passing for 28 yards.
"I don't know the answer," Norman said. "If I did, we sure wouldn't be 2-5. Our children have to stay positive and keep fighting. The way the playoff system is we've still got a chance, and that's what we've got to play for."
Central will play Friday at Chaminade.
S -- Chris Word 62 run (Nathan Hampton kick), 10:45
C -- Jacob Boerboom 28 pass from Dennis Vinson (Calvin Lovig kick), 8:44
S -- Marquez Newman 98 return (kick failed), 8:28
C -- Jacob Campbell 8 run (Lovig kick), 3:54
C -- Vinson 1 run (Lovig kick), 1:24
S -- Word 1 run (run failed), 3:55
S -- Word 3 run (pass failed), 6:17
RUSHING -- Sikeston, Kyland Gross 25-150, Word 30-190, JeTerrance Harris 1-(-5), Markeith Bratcher 1-1, team 1-(-4); Central, Campbell 24-96, Vinson 11-59, Jacob Margetta 1-0, Mikey Jones 3-10, team 1-5
PASSING -- Sikeston, Gross 2-9-0-57; Central, 1-8-0-28
RECEIVING -- Sikeston, Patrion Gross 1-18, Austin Brown 1-39; Central, Jacob Boerboom 1-28