Poplar Bluff football looks to pick up the pace
By BRIAN ROSENER
The Poplar Bluff football team will be in a hurry this fall.
The Mules want to get to the line, snap the ball and play. They’re in a hurry to reach the end zone, stop the opposing team and get the ball back. They’re in a hurry to improve because the district playoffs are only 10 short weeks away and there’s a SEMO North Conference title on the line.
“You know when you’re playing fast, as long as you hang on to the football, it’s a wonderful thing,” Mules coach David Sievers said.
With a no-huddle offense, the Mules are hoping to catch opposing defenses off guard and wear them down. Poplar Bluff’s defense will use its speed to get to the ball carrier quickly.
How that will play out on the scoreboard depends on the opponent, Sievers said.
“I guess we’re still trying to figure out, are we just going to try and outscore people? Are we going to try and shut people down?” said Sievers who enters his second season as head coach.
“I don’t want to get in a track meet every week,” he added.
“I wish I was a little bit more set on what our identity is going to be,” Sievers said. “But you have to figure out what the teams are going to give you.”
Last season the offense could be one-dimensional at times, Sievers said, but that should not be the case now.
After posting 50 and 47 points the first two weeks last year, the Mules were shutout twice and were held to 13 or less points in three more games.
“If we’re not being as productive as we need to be, then we can still go from the line, and we can still play fast, but we’re going to milk the clock a little bit,” Sievers said. “We’re just going to have to kind of see how the game goes I think.”
Another big question mark will be depth in the trenches.
“Obviously, I would like to have 10 kids that are all 6-4, 260 and can move but they’re not very common around here,” Sievers said.
What the Mules lack in size on the line, they can offset with strength, speed and stamina.
The offensive line will feature seniors Cole Laws and Harrison Brown on the right side with senior Dylan Wells at left tackle and junior Preston Taylor at left guard. Jonathan Martin, a junior, will start at center. Riley Sater, a sophomore, will be the first off the bench with the ability to play multiple spots.
Three freshmen, Kayson King, Nathan Bunton and Jeridan Young, are on the roster and could see time on Friday nights to help boost the depth on the line for both sides of the ball, Sievers said.
Five players earned varsity letters as freshmen last season, including quarterback Kannon Carr who returns taking snaps this fall.
Carr threw for 419 yards while completing 49.4% of his passes in five games last year, starting the final four.
Having a freshman start at quarterback meant cutting down the playbook a bit, Sievers said, but that’s not the case after a full summer camp to prepare.
Trenton Davis and Jacob Baller will back up Carr.
“We’re about three deep on at quarterback that we feel comfortable putting on the field,” Sievers said.
“I think if we can get Carr to make his reads and make good decisions, I think we’re going to be able to score some points,” Sievers said. “I think we’re going to be able to move the ball.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons everywhere.”
The Mules return five receivers that had at least one varsity catch.
Josiah Kilgore led the team last year with 257 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The senior returns to the slot position while senior Chaz Casey is back on the outside after catching a team-high 17 passes for 213 yards.
Quinten Bell, an all-conference selection at defensive back, returns for his senior year after catching 16 passes for 109 yards.
Nic Brumitt, who earned a varsity letter as a freshman last season, junior Justin Mitchell and sophomores Dalton and Devin Gatewood will also line up as receivers, Sievers said.
The competition for the starting job has been the most competitive in camp, Sievers said.
“We’ve got four or five kids that are all competing,” he added.
Last year the Mules featured a pair of runners in Shemyron Townsend and Isaiah Johnson who combined to run for 1,556 yards, but they graduated.
Sievers said the most complete runner in camp has been senior Ryan Colvin.
Austin Tinsley, a senior, and juniors Gavyn Hays and Damarieus Robinson, have been taking handoffs this summer, Sievers said, while freshmen Atari Moss and Amatli White are getting consideration.
Among them, only Hays had any varsity carries (five for 19 yards) last year and also ran a lot on the junior varsity team, earning a team award for his work on the scout team. He will also play defensive end and nearly ended up playing offensive tackle to help boost the depth on the line.
The defensive line will feature offensive lineman Taylor and senior Kody Ketcherside with one defensive end position “up in the air,” Sievers said.
Laws will also play inside linebacker while Mitchell, senior Cole Christian and Garrett Lazalier, who lettered as a freshman last year, will see time at linebacker.
“The linebackers, I think, is really wide open,” Sievers said. “There’s a lot of guys fighting for those spots. It’s not wide open for a lack of talent.”
Bell returns to corner back after leading the team with six interceptions, four pass deflections and a fumble recover to go with 32 tackles.
DJ Dennis, a junior, will be at another corner spot while the safety position has plenty of options, Sievers said, in junior Logan Strauts, senior Austin Tinsley or the Gatewoods.
Keeping legs fresh at linebacker, corner and safety will be important to avoid making players go both ways, Sievers said.
“There’s a difference between putting your hand on the ground and hitting somebody a foot away every play and being a defensive back or receiver who’s running the 40 (yard dash),” he added.
Sievers said the team was holding auditions for a kicker from the soccer team but Mitchell can kick if needed. Lazalier will punt out of one of two formations with Bell doing the long snapping.
The Mules open the season with three at home against MICDS, the state runner-up in Class 4, Riverview Gardens and conference rival Sikeston. After three road games to Ritenour, Farmington and Cape Central, the Mules host Jackson for homecoming on Oct. 11. The Mules travel to St. Louis to face Chaminade then host Hillsboro to wrap up the regular season.
Poplar Bluff was placed in Class 5 District 1 with Jackson, Seckman and Fox. With only four teams that means everyone will likely get a week off Nov. 1 and advance to the district semifinal with the top seeds hosting Nov. 8.
Since the current playoff format was put in place in 2012, the Mules have yet to reach the championship game and were knocked out in the semifinal in each of the last four seasons.