Now it begins — 30 teams make it to the 4A playoffs
The first three games of the football season are nonconference affairs which can serve as a good time to discover your team’s weaknesses and consider how best to use your available personnel when the games begin to matter.
The fourth game of the season starts conference play with each game counting towards each team’s drive to qualify for the state playoffs with as high a ranking as possible. These games are now over and 30 of the state’s 48 teams have made it into the 2018 4A state playoffs.
For the fifth straight year, the Blackhawks have taken a top two seed into the playoffs. The ’Hawks were No. 1 in 2014 and again last year, having taken the second seed in 2015, 2016, and again this year. Shiloh took this year’s top seed, which they have not done since 2010. As a matter of fact, they have not finished higher than third since 2010 until this season.
Lincoln was the surprise third place finisher, beating Prairie Grove 51-42 in a score fest last week. The Tigers finished fourth, their lowest seeding since the year 2000. Meanwhile, Gentry took the final playoff spot with a 26-0 domination of Gravette last week. Though it had no playoff considerations at stake, Berryville beat county rival Green Forest 43-6 in the other league game. Most noteworthy was the fact that Green Forest actually scored. They had not scored a single point in their conference schedule until the last half of their last game. Though this year was a low point in Green Forest football history, at least their players stuck it out and finished the season.
Pea Ridge will be hosting a much improved Central High School of West Helena. The Cougars finished fourth in the 4A-8 District but are coming off a 60-24 thrashing of Warren last week. Warren, the No. 1 ranked team going into last week’s game, lost their MVP when Arkansas signee Treylon Burks was injured and forced to undergo season ending knee surgery.
The 11th ranked Cougars have never played No. 16 Pea Ridge and are pretty distant to northwest Arkansas. They are 335 miles from Pea Ridge and West Helena is actually farther away than Memphis. It is probably a six or seven hour bus ride at best.
The Cougars’ offense is pretty much wrapped up in 5’10”, 179 pound Armonie Calhoun. The running back/quarterback/receiver has 1,296 yards rushing, 515 yards passing, 117 yards receiving, 31 yards punt returning, and 181 yards in kickoff returns. He also has two interceptions playing defense. He has even kicked five PATs as well as running five in.
The statistics tell us that the Cougars are a run first team, and the quarterback will do 75 percent of that. Interestingly, they have more than 20 players who have recorded rushing yards in a game this season, but none to any great amount outside Calhoun.
What makes the fast elusive Cougar quarterback effective is the massive offensive line he runs behind. They have 10 players who tip the scales north of 260 pounds, and “only” six who weigh around 240. Both nose guards on their roster weigh in at 340.
Though the game is in Pea Ridge in light of the seedings (the higher seed always hosts), the odds makers make West Helena the slight favorite. Though they put the hurt on Warren last week, Warren had already wrapped up the No. 1 seed and were dealing with some injury problems so the Coogs may not have gotten the ’Jacks best game. Still, Warren is a good team no matter who they put out there. They are known for their depth.
If the ’Hawks can get through that massive offensive Cougar line and disrupt the quarterback, the odds of a Blackhawk victory will increase greatly. The two games Central lost this year was a direct result of that very thing. Dumas and Hamburg limited Calhoun and won those games.
Should Pea Ridge get past this first round hurdle, they will take on the survivor of the Dumas/ Batesville Southside game. Dumas lost only to Warren this year and is ranked No. 6 in the state. Southside is No. 21 with a 6-4 record. If Dumas and Pea Ridge win, the ’Hawks will take the long trip south to Dumas in southeast Arkansas, not all that far from Louisiana or Mississippi.
The winner of these first two rounds will take on the survivor of No. 3 Rivercrest (last year’s 3A state champion), No. 14 Heber Springs, No. 17 Fountain Lake and No. 31 Pocahontas. If either Rivercrest or Heber Springs wins out, that team will host the quarterfinal game from the Pea Ridge section of the brackets. Rivercrest is located in Wilson, alongside the Mississippi River.
Meanwhile, Shiloh is on the opposite side of the bracket, as they host the 4-6 Star City Bulldogs. Star City is ranked No. 25 while Shiloh is still in at No. 2. Shiloh will likely win and probably host in the next round No. 22 Mena which hosts No. 35 Gentry in the first round.
While Shiloh is in line to host the quarterfinals should they win the first two games, they will be entertaining either No. 7 Nashville or No. 4 Bauxite.
Nashville played Bauxite last week and Scrappers won in overtime. Both teams finished 5-2 in the tough 4A-7 District with Bauxite actually sitting atop the state rankings for a time. Whoever survives that rematch will be a test for the Springdale boys.
No. 24 Lincoln got a third seed but wound up on the road, going to No. 15 Hamburg. Hamburg traveled to Pea Ridge the last two playoffs with the ’Hawks ending their season each time. The bad thing for the winner of this game is having to travel to Little Rock
Senior High cheerleaders include seniors Shelby Dunlap, Mac France, Callie Ketcher, Makenzie Shirley, Nicole Turner and Lizzy Williams; juniors Peyton Anderson, Chloe Henson, Tessa Kelley, Lindsay Law, Kennadi Marler, Emma Scholtes, Jamison Toms and Zach Woods; and sophomores Alison Heitt, Nate Graham and Addie Rhine. Coach is Courtney Hurst. Captains are Miss Shirley and Miss Turner. Managers are Rebekah Kuriatnyk and McKenzie Klingman. Mascot is senior Devin Mathis.