Junc­tion City to face River­crest in AAA state cham­pi­onship.

Pow­er­houses Junc­tion City, River­crest meet for 3A state crown

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Ja­son Avery News-Times Staff

Two schools that are well-versed in play­ing on Arkansas’ big­gest stage for high school foot­ball col­lide tonight with the 3A state cham­pi­onship at stake.

Junc­tion City (13-0), the 6-3A cham­pi­ons who are aim­ing to cap a per­fect sea­son, take on River­crest (12-2), the 3-3A co-cham­pi­ons who are look­ing to win their first state ti­tle since 2010.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. from War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock.

The Dragons reached the state fi­nals with three straight fourth-quar­ter come­backs to knock off Hard­ing Academy (3130), Clin­ton (50-43) and Osce­ola (44-38) fol­low­ing a first-round bye.

Since los­ing at New­port in Week 8, the Colts have won six straight to reach the state fi­nals for the first time since 2015.

In the play­offs, River­crest has beaten Bald Knob (34-21), Mel­bourne (37-8), Mayflower (41-14) and McGe­hee (18-13).

Tonight’s con­test is also a re­match from the sec­ond round of the 2016 play­offs where the Colts elim­i­nated the Dragons 14-13, mark­ing the last time Junc­tion City lost.

Ken­tavi­ous Robin­son, who had over 1,500 yards rushing as a sopho­more and 901 yards on the ground as a ju­nior this fall, has been on the side­lines with a bro­ken arm suf­fered dur­ing the first quar­ter of the Colts’ win over Osce­ola in Week 10.

How­ever, River­crest coach Kelly Chan­dler said the ju­nior could make his re­turn and is listed as a game-time de­ci­sion.

“He’s pro­gressed,” Chan­dler said. “He has a bro­ken arm, so if he does play, it would prob­a­bly be defense. I don’t know about him car­ry­ing the ball. We’ll have to pad up that arm if he can play, but we would be glad to have him back ei­ther way.”

Tonight’s game is also the fi­nal one for both schools as mem­bers of the 3A ranks. Start­ing next year, River­crest will move up to 4A, while Junc­tion City re­turns to 2A.

On the sur­face, this ap­pears to be a con­test with the ir­re­sistible force meet­ing the im­mov­able ob­ject.

All sea­son long, Junc­tion City’s fast­paced of­fense has lit up score­boards and racked up yards at an enor­mous rate.

In 13 games, the Dragons have scored 623 points while rack­ing up over 6,000 yards of to­tal of­fense.

How­ever, River­crest’s defense has al­lowed just

14 points per game in the play­offs, and has lived in op­pos­ing back­fields by reg­is­ter­ing 143 tack­les for a loss dur­ing the sea­son.

For Junc­tion City coach Steven Jones, the Colts’ defense is the tough­est the Dragons have seen this year.

“Def­i­nitely,” Jones said. “Over­all, this is prob­a­bly the most gifted defense that we’ve seen this year as far as ath­leti­cism goes. Ev­ery film that I’ve seen, they’re fly­ing to the foot­ball and tack­ling peo­ple in the back­field for losses.

“They’re very sim­i­lar on the de­fen­sive side to what we saw last week. They fly to the ball so well, so I would say that River­crest is the best defense that we’ve faced.”

Chan­dler cred­ited de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Johnny Flem­ing for the Colts’ suc­cess.

“I think coach Flem­ing does a great job of plan­ning,” Chan­dler said. “We’ve got some pretty good quick­ness and strength up front. We try to use that with slants and zone, and the kids have re­sponded.

“That’s one of the rea­sons we’ve been pretty suc­cess­ful in this play­off run. We’ve been in the back­field a lot, and we pride our­selves on be­ing tough up front and try to get pen­e­tra­tion.”

A big rea­son River­crest’s defense has been out­stand­ing has been due to their de­fen­sive line.

“Their D-Line is very solid,” Jones said. “Their nose guard (Dy­lan Trapp) is a big, ath­letic kid that is very tal­ented that we’ll prob­a­bly have to have two guys on for ev­ery play to keep him out of the back­field.

“Their de­fen­sive ends aren’t very big, but they get off blocks very well and make plays. Be­ing smaller de­fen­sive ends, we’ll have to do a good job with our pad level when we go to try to kick those guys out and things of that na­ture.

“They have a very, very solid core up front. They run a 3-4 scheme, and those four line­backer spots are speed-type guys. They re­ally run to the foot­ball well. They pur­sue and fly to the ball. Ev­ery time you see them make a tackle, there’s five or six guys around the ball.

“Their front seven is very ath­letic. Their sec­ondary has just as many in­ter­cep­tions as we do. They’ve made plays back there on the back end.”

The Colts have five play­ers with over 10 tack­les for a loss this sea­son with ju­nior Ken­dar­ius Brooks and se­nior Jamyka Franks each reg­is­ter­ing 20 tack­les for a loss. Brooks also leads the team in sacks with four.

Franks, who has also had a solid post­sea­son at run­ning back with Robin­son side­lined, has played a piv­otal role in lead­ing River­crest’s defense.

“He’s been our de­fen­sive leader,” Chan­dler said. “If he doesn’t bring the en­ergy, then our defense doesn’t have en­ergy, so he’s a key for us. He’s an ex­citable kid and he gets af­ter it.

“We played him at de­fen­sive end and at line­backer some, but he re­ally likes to play in the line and use his quick­ness to get by peo­ple, so that’s prob­a­bly mostly where he’ll play this week. He’s not that big, but he’s got tremen­dous quick­ness and a good mo­tor.”

Trapp, a se­nior who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, will be a tough chore for Junc­tion City’s of­fen­sive line.

“Dy­lan played as a sopho­more, then he kind of took some time off from his grades, and he didn’t play last year be­cause of his grades,” Chan­dler said. “He came back this year re­ally ready and want­ing to play, and he’s been a great leader for our line all year. He’s been steady all year.

“He’s re­ally hun­gry be­cause he didn’t play last year. He’s had a good year both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively. We try to sub him and keep ev­ery­body fresh on defense, so he comes out some on defense, but on of­fense, we can’t take him out. He’s too valu­able. He’s had a great year for us.”

In the sec­ondary, se­nior Zorey Chip­man has been a big play­maker with nine in­ter­cep­tions, in­clud­ing three against Bald Knob in the open­ing round of the play­offs.

“He’s grown,” Chan­dler said. “Early in the year, he was hav­ing trou­ble, and he was get­ting beat some­times. He’s grown from the first game un­til now. He was the guy that they picked on and threw at, but now he takes ad­van­tage of that. That’s where all of the in­ter­cep­tions have come. He’s got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter.”

With the suc­cess River­crest has had, how will the Dragons go about try­ing to solve the Colts’ defense? Jones said it will come down to ex­e­cu­tion. “We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to go out and ex­e­cute. We’re big up front as well, and I feel we’re just as ath­letic top to bot­tom as they are, so it’s go­ing to be a good matchup.”

While Jones is tasked with try­ing to keep the Colts from dis­rupt­ing his of­fense, Chan­dler must try to find a way to slow down the Junc­tion City se­nior trio of quar­ter­back Shu­vas­ceiaye Fra­zier, run­ning back Hish­mma Tay­lor and wide re­ceiver Jalen Davis.

“They’re very ex­plo­sive,” Chan­dler said. “They’ve got three play­ers that can take the ball any­where on the field and take it the dis­tance any time they touch it. They’re very dan­ger­ous, and be­ing three of them, it’s hard to key on one of them, so it’s real tough.

“No­body has stopped them yet, so I think we’ve just got to slow them down and have a lit­tle bit of con­trol of the game.

“If it gets out of hand, I don’t know if we can score as many points as they can. Their defense is pretty good, too. We’re go­ing to try and hang in there as best we can, but we know it’s go­ing to be an up­hill bat­tle with their of­fense.”

Fra­zier, who has com­pleted nearly 54 per­cent of his passes for 1,198 yards and 17 touch­downs with five in­ter­cep­tions while adding 1,397 yards and 18 touch­downs on the ground, drew plenty of praise from Chan­dler.

“He’s prob­a­bly the best run­ning quar­ter­back we’ve seen,” Chan­dler said. “I don’t think he’s the best thrower, but he is the best run­ner, and prob­a­bly the best com­bi­na­tion as far as throw­ing and run­ning we’ve seen all year.”

Tay­lor, who has 28 touch­downs and stands just 50 yards shy of the 2,500-yard bar­rier, has shown plenty of growth since last year’s en­counter.

“You can tell he’s more com­fort­able back there,” Chan­dler said.

“He didn’t get the start­ing job last year un­til late. You can just see he’s com­fort­able in what he’s sup­posed to be do­ing and what his as­sign­ments are. He fol­lows his block­ers bet­ter than he did last year.”

Al­though River­crest is pre­dom­i­nantly a team that runs the foot­ball, Jones said the Dragons’ defense has a dif­fi­cult test in front of them thanks to the myr­iad of for­ma­tions they uti­lize out of the Wing-T.

“They run the ball re­ally about 90 per­cent of the time and they’re very good at it,” Jones said. “They base out of the Wing-T, but they’ll show a ton of for­ma­tions and a lot of dif­fer­ent per­son­nel groups.

“They may be in five wide in one se­ries and a wild­cat look the next, so we have to fig­ure out what they like the most.”

Ju­nior quar­ter­back Demilon Brown leads a bal­anced rushing at­tack with 1,211 yards and 17 touch­downs while also com­plet­ing nearly 47 per­cent of his passes for 612 yards with seven touch­downs against four in­ter­cep­tions.

“He’s been the rock that ev­ery­body de­pends on,” Chan­dler said. “We’ve had in­juries, es­pe­cially late in the year, and he’s been the same great player and leader.”

Jones said the Dragons will have to keep a close eye on the ju­nior, who has topped the cen­tury mark in each of the last five weeks, in­clud­ing 150 yards and two touch­downs on just 12 car­ries last week against McGe­hee.

“He’s prob­a­bly the best play­maker that we will have faced all year,” Jones said. “He is very smooth and runs it very well. If he gets out in space and you give him a step, he’s gone. We have to come up with a good plan to con­tain him.”

Sopho­more J.D. Winda ranks as one of the top un­der­class­men and two-way play­ers in the state re­gard­less of class.

Af­ter a solid fresh­man sea­son, Winda has rushed for 967 yards and six touch­downs while also lead­ing the Colts with 14 catches for 287 yards and five touch­downs. On defense, he leads the team in tack­les and has 19 tack­les for a loss.

“He’s a guy that they will put out in space a lit­tle bit, and they’ll also line him up in the back­field. They like to run the counter play with him,” Jones said.

“He’s been very solid for them. I don’t think he’s had a fum­ble this sea­son. He’s done a very good job of hold­ing on to the foot­ball, so we’ll have to have an idea of where he is.”

Chan­dler added that the sopho­more has been nurs­ing an an­kle in­jury suf­fered three weeks ago against Mel­bourne, but he ex­pects him to be close to 100 per­cent for tonight’s game.

“He’s got­ten bet­ter each week, and I think he’ll be close to full speed,” Chan­dler said. “Hope­fully, he can give us some runs that we haven’t had in the last few weeks.”

With Robin­son out, Franks has filled in nicely, rushing for 152 yards and four touch­downs on 18 car­ries in their win over Mayflower in the quar­ter­fi­nals, and Chan­dler cred­ited his kids for mov­ing for­ward de­spite Robin­son’s in­jury.

“The kids just don’t want to lose,” Chan­dler said. “We pride our­selves on not hav­ing ex­cuses for any­thing and be­ing men­tally tough. We just moved some peo­ple around and tried to fill the gaps. We moved Franks from full­back to half­back, took a tight end and put him at full­back and tried to make it work.

“The kids have re­sponded. Franks has had a great play­off run. It’s just one of those things that we’re not go­ing to use as an ex­cuse. The other team isn’t go­ing to feel sorry for you. You just have to keep play­ing, so that’s what we did.”

Junc­tion City has seen a va­ri­ety of of­fenses in their three play­off games, and Jones be­lieves that will help pre­pare them for the Colts.

“We’ve played three very good of­fenses the last three weeks that do a lot of dif­fer­ent things,” Jones said. “We’ve re­ally seen it all through­out the play­offs.

“A cou­ple of dif­fer­ent hard-nosed schemes, a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent spread-type schemes. I think it’s got­ten us ready to play some­body that’s more mul­ti­ple, and that’s what I see with River­crest with so many dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions, so hav­ing seen dif­fer­ent of­fenses the past three weeks gives us an ad­van­tage.”

If the Colts are to end Junc­tion City’s per­fect sea­son and win the state ti­tle, Chan­dler said their defense must play well.

“We’ve got to tackle,” Chan­dler said. “If we don’t tackle those guys and keep them con­trolled some­what, it’s go­ing to be a long night.”

For the Dragons, Jones said his team can­not turn the ball over against the Colts, who re­minded him of Osce­ola.

“We’ve got to take care of the foot­ball. That is the key,” Jones said. “Ball se­cu­rity is the key. We’ve got to take care of the foot­ball and get some take­aways on defense. Ath­let­i­cally, they match with what we saw last week. They’re a very tough-nosed foot­ball team.”

Ter­rance Arm­stard/News-Times

Cel­e­brat­ing: Junc­tion City's Jack Smith (51) con­grat­u­lates Hish­mma Tay­lor (5) along with Trey Miner (66) af­ter Tay­lor's suc­cess­ful run on a two-point con­ver­sion dur­ing the Dragons' win over Osce­ola in the 3A semi­fi­nals last Fri­day at David Car­pen­ter Sta­dium. Tonight, Junc­tion City looks to cap a per­fect sea­son by tak­ing on River­crest for the 3A state cham­pi­onship. Game time is set for 7 p.m. from War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock.

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