Rematch in Little Rock
Dragons, Colts to meet after 2016 playoff clash
On November 18, 2016, Junction City walked off a football field in defeat.
They haven’t lost since.
Just over 12 months after leaving Rivercrest’s fabled Cotton Patch with a season-ending 14-13 loss in the second round of the 3A playoffs, the Dragons and Colts will meet Friday night in Little Rock with the 3A state championship on the line.
Should the Dragons prevail, they will have avenged all four of their losses from their first season in the 3A ranks.
Although Junction City coach Steven Jones wasn’t on the field that night, many of his players were participants, and they are eager to get another shot at the Colts.
“Definitely,” Jones said. “They have a bad taste in their mouths after Rivercrest knocked them out of the playoffs last season, and they’re chomping at the bit to get another shot at them. Luckily, we get a chance to give it a go Friday night.”
When the schools met last year, it was a defensive slugfest.
Junction City scored its points on two defensive touchdowns while being held to under 100 yards of total offense.
Junction City’s defense held Rivercrest to just 123 yards of total offense, all of which came on the ground.
For a time, it looked like the Dragons were going to advance.
Junction City held a 13-7 lead, but Bruce Parker turned a late miscue into an 8-yard touchdown
run with 28 seconds left, and Mateo Chirinos drilled the extra point to break the 13-all tie.
In some cases, graduation strips away many of the key components from the previous year’s contest, but not so in this matchup.
Demilon Brown, Rivercrest’s junior starting quarterback, got plenty of playing time as a sophomore.
Kentavious Robinson led the Colts with over 1,500 yards rushing as a sophomore and he opened the scoring in last year’s game with a 19-yard run, but he could miss Friday’s game after breaking his arm late in the regular season.
J.D. Winda, who averaged nearly 10 yards per carry as a freshman and had 55 yards against the Dragons last year, could top the 1,000-yard barrier on Friday.
Junction City returns its top playmakers from a year ago with Shuvasceiaye Frazier, who returned a fumble for a touchdown, leading the Dragons’ offense at quarterback.
Hishmma Taylor, who had 86 yards on 28 carries, is also back with a full season under his belt as the Dragons’ lead running back after taking over the role late in the 2016 season.
With so many familiar faces back, could last year’s contest offer any indication on how Friday’s contest will unfold?
“Not really,” said Rivercrest coach Kelly Chandler. “They had a change in coaches so their offensive scheme is different. They’ve moved their personnel around.
“Their quarterback now was not playing quarterback then, and that’s a big difference when you have a new quarterback and a new coaching staff, so there’s not a whole lot we can take from last year.
“I think the players are familiar with each other, so they have a good idea of how tough it’s going to be. I think that’s the only thing we can take from last year.”
Chandler added that the familiarity between the players will likely minimize any feeling-out process at the start of the game.
“I think so,” Chandler said. “I just think the kids know about each other, and they’re going to be ready to go right off the bat. I think everybody is going to be going full speed pretty quick.”
Something that was a factor in last year’s contest but shouldn’t be on Friday is the weather.
A storm delayed the start of last year’s contest and made the playing conditions far from ideal.
However, the weather forecast in Little Rock for Friday is for cool temperatures, but with little chance of precipitation.
“The conditions will be different than from last year,” Chandler said.
The meeting between the Dragons and Colts a year ago was also the final game for Junction City coach David Carpenter, who retired a few weeks after the 2016 season concluded.
Since being named as Carpenter’s successor, Jones has taken over the reins of the program with aplomb, guiding the Dragons within one victory of a state championship in his debut season.
As far as his preparation goes, Jones indicated that while the defensive staff looked at last year’s film as a point of reference, he has not.
“I think our defensive guys looked at a little bit of what they did last season,” Jones said. “They haven’t changed much up scheme-wise from what they do.
“On the offensive side of the ball, I haven’t look at one minute of it. We do a lot of different stuff than last season, so we just try to focus on what we have going, polish everything up and have a great game plan from what we’ve done this season.”
A year ago, both offenses struggled, but with nearly 11,000 yards of total offense between them this season, the defenses on both sides will certainly be challenged.
However, Chandler believes that the unit that can find a way to make plays on third down and not hurt itself with mistakes will go a long way towards who will win the game.
“Who can slow the other team down is definitely going to be a big key,” Chandler said. “Anybody that gives the other team extra downs by penalty or whatever is going to be struggling.
“If you get them in third down, you’ve got to hold them and make them punt. If you don’t and you make a mistake, don’t tackle or they get a first down because of a penalty or anything like that, you’re just hurting yourself and it will be hard to overcome.”
Making the tackle: Junction City's Dhante Gibson tries to bring down Osceola's Trayveon Moore during their showdown in the 3A semifinals last week at David Carpenter Stadium. After meeting in the seoond round of the playoffs last year, Junction City and Rivercrest collide for the 3A state title in Little Rock on Friday night.