Jackson senior Seth Waters rushed for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries last Friday night against Cape Central at The Pit. Photo by Jay Forness
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High School Football: Jackson hoping for explosive plays against young Sikeston team

by Nick McNeal ~ Sports Editor

Both the Jackson Indians and Sikeston Bulldogs have had multiple key players suffer injuries this season, but one team remains undefeated while the other has lost two-straight games.

The Indians (3-0, 1-0 SEMO) lost their top two running backs in juniors Daniel Dickerson and Dimechi Herring, who also started at cornerback, to ACL tears in Week 2.

The Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1) will also be without key pieces to their backfield in senior quarterback Gage Rowling and junior running back Lontas McClinton, who have both suffered severe ankle injuries.

Jackson senior Seth Waters stepped up in a major way for the Indians last week against Cape Central by rushing for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He rotated from his starting role at slot receiver to running back after Dickerson and Herring went down.

It was easy for Waters to eclipse 200 rushing yards because of Jackson’s offensive line led by junior left tackle Connor Tollison, who has offer to play college football from Arkansas State, Iowa State and Southeast Missouri State.

Filling in at quarterback for Sikeston has been freshman Joseph Heckemeyer, who finished 4-for-12 passing with 70 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Poplar Bluff last week. He also recorded a 3-yard touchdown run in the 61-18 loss.

“Rowling is feeling a little better this week, but not enough to go full speed,” Sikeston’s first-year head coach Terry Flannigan said. “I told [Heckemeyer], ‘I hate doing this to you — throwing you to the dogs — when you really should be playing a freshman or J.V. schedule. He’s a perfectionist and every time he makes a mistake he gets down on himself. We tell him, ‘Hey, you just don’t do it all at once and it all just happens. You keep plugging along and keep a positive attitude.’”

Sikeston runs a spread option offense and has been predominantly run heavy since Rowling has been out.

McClinton is the Bulldogs leading rusher with 192 yards on 29 attempts through three weeks, but after a sled rolled over his ankle at practice he is expected to miss some time.

Coach Flannigan and his staff thought McClinton broke his ankle at first, but they later found out this wasn’t the case.

“McClinton is a back who can run inside and outside, and I told him one day when he was running inside kind of being soft, ‘With your size, young man, if there’s not a hole you make a hole,’” Coach Flannigan said. “[Tuesday] he rolled his ankle up under the sled when we were doing some practice drills. It was just a bad sprain, so with our experience when one goes down it’s like we’re playing a game of chess.”

Replacing McClinton in the backfield will be a committee of players like senior Keon Graham, junior Daniel Lawrence and sophomore Jonathan Green. Lawrence has primarily been a receiver for Sikeston this year.

Jackson’s defense has only allowed 43.6 rushing yards per game through the first three weeks. Junior outside linebacker Randol McDowell and junior inside linebacker Bryce Norman have already combined for 78 tackles and 19 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Two other Indian defenders making plenty of plays in the backfield has been senior defensive end Cole Amelunke and senior inside linebacker Riley Pike. Amelunke has recorded seven tackles for a loss and a sack while Pike has made five TFLs of his own.

Jackson’s defense has also recorded four interceptions this season, which is already one more than all of last year. Norman and junior outside linebacker Garner Horman returned their interceptions for scores.

If McClinton does not suit up in tonight’s game, this also leaves a void to fill at inside linebacker in the team’s 4-4 defensive front. Coach Flannigan said the unit has been decent at times but when adversity hits, he said his players are still trying to figure out what they need to do.

“Especially against teams like Jackson, you can’t sit back and wait for it to happen,” Flannigan said. “You better go make it happen.”

Some Bulldogs who have stood out on defense so far this season have been senior linebacker Seth Copeland, McClinton and senior defensive end Brian Jasper, who has also been dealing with an ankle injury but has played through the pain.

Sikeston sophomore JD Baughman will fill in for McClinton at linebacker if he does not play tonight with a few freshmen playing behind Baughman.

“I was coaching over at Aurora one year and we had serious injuries and had to start two freshman at inside linebacker,” Flannigan said. “Usually your opponent finds them real quick. We’re just gonna hope everything goes well and we stay healthy outside of McClinton getting hurt.”

One reason why the Bulldogs are forced to play so many underclassmen this season is because they only have a total of 22 juniors and seniors with a total of 35 freshmen and sophomores.

Jackson’s run-pass option offense led by none other than junior quarterback Cael Welker has averaged 46.6 points per game this season. Welker has thrown seven touchdowns along with a team-high four scores on the ground.

Welker was unable to have a touchdown pass last week and only threw for 99 yards, but Waters was able to do so on trick play to junior wide receiver Rhet Liley for a 57-yard score.

Liley finished as the leading receiver against Cape with 99 yards and five catches as senior Michael Schneider was the next leading receiver with 23 yards on three catches.

The Indians leading receiver so far this season is senior wide receiver Dalton Skrob, who hauled in six passes for 162 yards and four touchdowns against Parkway North in Week 2. However, that was the only game he has caught a pass in all year.

The Indians third leading receiver behind Skrob and Liley is senior wide receiver Luke Starzinger, who has recorded three touchdowns and 58 yards with five catches. He only recorded one catch last week.

“The heat has been a little bit of a factor [in practice this week], but we’ve done pretty well,” Jackson head coach Brent Eckley said. “[We’ve had the receivers] work on blocking in space to start with, and we’ve worked a little bit on scramble drill stuff. We went and looked at some of the basic stuff in our playbook and just reviewed a little bit.”

Another way Coach Eckley hopes to get the passing game going is by throwing to Waters in the backfield, which Eckley and the staff contemplated doing last week.


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