Junc­tion City to take on Hazen for 2A State Cham­pi­onship.

Junc­tion City, Hazen clash for state crown

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

On the sur­face, it seems that tonight’s 2A state cham­pi­onship game be­tween Junc­tion City and Hazen is a case of an ir­re­sistible force meet­ing an im­mov­able ob­ject.

The Dragons (11-2), the 8-2A cham­pi­ons and win­ners of 10 straight games, meet the Hor­nets (13-0), the 6-2A cham­pi­ons, who are try­ing to cap an un­de­feated sea­son this week along with 3A fi­nal­ist Booneville.

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

These schools last met four years ago at the same venue for the 2A state ti­tle with Junc­tion City win­ning 38-6 to cap­ture their last cham­pi­onship.

A year ago, the Dragons made it to the 3A state fi­nals, but fell to River­crest.

Since then, Junc­tion City’s se­nior class vowed that they would get back to Lit­tle Rock.

Now they aim to fin­ish on a high note.

“From the time we un­loaded the bus after com­ing home last sea­son, the se­niors in this class knew that we had to fin­ish, and they’ve come in and worked hard through­out the off­sea­son,” said Junc­tion City coach Steven Jones. “They con­tinue to be a group that has a lot of good lead­er­ship in it. They re­ally go out there and fight and give it their all and leave it all on the field. That makes them easy to coach. They do ev­ery­thing that you ask them to do. They make my job fun, so I’ve en­joyed this se­nior class.”

For the Hor­nets, tonight’s game marks their fourth trip to the state fi­nals, but they are look­ing for their first state ti­tle.

“I tell the kids all the time, ‘You guys want to be that team that does it. You have an op­por­tu­nity here to change the past,’” said Hazen coach Joe Be­san­con. “In­stead of it be­ing 0-for-4, it could be 1-for-4, so they’re look­ing for­ward to that chal­lenge and they know that they have an op­por­tu­nity to do

some­thing spe­cial.”

Both schools have been dom­i­nant in their runs to

Lit­tle Rock.

The clos­est game Hazen has played this sea­son was their opener back in Au­gust when they downed Cross County 26-20.

Since then, all of their wins have been in dou­ble fig­ures with their 22-6 win over Des Arc dur­ing con­fer­ence play serv­ing as their tough­est test.

Hazen has oblit­er­ated its op­po­nents this sea­son by a whop­ping mar­gin of 604-97, and that trend has con­tin­ued into the post­sea­son.

In their four play­off wins, the Hor­nets have de­stroyed the op­po­si­tion, outscor­ing foes 165-15.

Last week in the semi­fi­nals, the Hor­nets crushed Mount Ida 42-0.

“It was a sur­prise to me, be­cause I felt like we got a re­ally tough draw go­ing into the play­offs,” Be­san­con said. “We were go­ing to have to get past Quit­man, who is go­ing to sling it and pass the ball a lot. Then we had Gur­don, who beat Mount Ida and played Fore­man tough. Then we had Hamp­ton, so it’s been a tough road. Last week we got Mount Ida, but our kids played re­ally well on the de­fen­sive side. That says a lot. They pre­pared them­selves well. What­ever we’re try­ing to do that week, they’re pay­ing at­ten­tion and un­der­stand­ing what their re­spon­si­bil­ity is.”

Hints of the Hor­nets’ dom­i­nance showed a year ago when a team laden with sopho­mores and ju­niors went 9-3 and reached the state quar­ter­fi­nals.

“It one of those where the kids are a year older, so that means that they’re not only a year older and they’re a lit­tle bit more ma­ture, they’ve had an­other year in the weight room,” Be­san­con said. “That stuff shows up. Last year, we had a lot of sopho­mores that had to make a lot of plays. Now they’re ju­niors. They’re big­ger, they’re stronger, they’re faster. It makes you able to com­pete a lot bet­ter. We’ve had a lot of guys just get bet­ter through­out the year.”

The Dragons got off to a 1-2 start against a tough non-con­fer­ence slate that in­cluded 3A quar­ter­fi­nal­ists Har­mony Grove and Smack­over, as well as Hay­nesville (La.), who reached the 1A semi­fi­nals.

Junc­tion City has won 10 straight games since then with their 7-6 win over Fordyce be­ing their clos­est game.

Like Hazen, the Dragons have cruised in the play­offs, win­ning their four games by a mar­gin of 182-55.

Junc­tion City ven­tured out of Union County for the first time since beat­ing Hec­tor in Week 9 for their semi­fi­nal show­down last week at Fore­man, but as has been the case dur­ing their play­off run, the Dragons were able to get out of the gates quickly, tak­ing a 12-0 lead be­fore pulling away in the sec­ond half to top the de­fend­ing state cham­pi­ons.

“We got off to a fast start. We were able to fin­ish a cou­ple of drives early,” Jones said. “We had a turnover that could’ve put us up three scores. That re­ally would’ve taken the air out of those guys, but turnovers let peo­ple hang around, and we’ve got to take care of the foot­ball.”

When asked if he thought the Hor­nets and Dragons were mir­ror im­ages of one an­other, Jones agreed.

“That’s prob­a­bly an ac­cu­rate state­ment,” Jones said. “Size-wise, they’ll be able to match us pretty well. Strength-wise, it’s pretty close. It’s the state cham­pi­onship game, so you ex­pect to see a team that is just as good as you are in that matchup.”

Jones said that the Hor­nets com­pare with fel­low

6-2A ri­val Des Arc.

“Up front, they’re as phys­i­cal as Des Arc,” Jones said. “Des Arc wasn’t as skilled on the back end and didn’t re­ally have the points to show for it, but they had a re­ally good of­fen­sive line. I think Hazen matches that. On the back end, speed-wise, I think we’ve seen faster, but we haven’t seen this down­hill stuff much this year.”

With ju­nior quar­ter­back Blayne Toll along with fel­low ju­nior run­ning backs Ay’Jon Green and Tar­rall Penn lead­ing the way, the Hor­nets have pul­ver­ized op­pos­ing de­fenses with their pow­er­ful run­ning at­tack.

“Their of­fen­sive line is big and strong,” Jones said. “They’ve been able to run the ball suc­cess­fully through­out the sea­son. They like to keep it on the ground. They’ll throw it a lit­tle bit, but they’re mainly a power run team. They run a lot of counter trey, and they’re re­ally just a down­hill power run team.”

The Dragons also have a pow­er­ful back­field of their own in se­nior Dhante Gib­son and ju­nior Jak­iron Cook, but a big rea­son for Junc­tion City’s suc­cess has been the emer­gence of their pass­ing game with ju­nior quar­ter­back Brady Hutch­e­son com­plet­ing over 71 per­cent of his passes in the play­offs and se­nior Kevon­tae Haynes has caught 14 passes for 464 yards and five touch­downs in the post­sea­son.

For Be­san­con, it’s Junc­tion City’s size that im­me­di­ately stood out to him while pre­par­ing for tonight’s game, say­ing that the Dragons are the big­gest team the Hor­nets have faced this year “by far.”

“On of­fense, their of­fen­sive line is huge,” Be­san­con said. “They’ve got some big, big boys across the front, and their backs run re­ally hard. They’re a re­ally good foot­ball team. They’re pol­ished in ev­ery­thing that they do.”

But while the Hor­nets may not have gone up against a team as big as the Dragons are, they have seen a team that has plenty of team speed in 6-2A ri­val Earle, who they downed 34-12 in Week 8.

“They’ve got a lot of team speed, kind of like Earle. Earle had a lot of guys that if they get in open space in one-on-one sit­u­a­tions, they can hurt you. Those are some the things we’re go­ing to have to try and stay away from,” Be­san­con said. “They’ve got some guys that if they get into the open field, they can take it to the house.”

Be­san­con said that ex­pe­ri­ence will help his team. “It does help be­cause we’ve seen some speed,” Be­san­con said. “We’ve played Earle. We played Gur­don, who had some good team speed. It does help. Some­times you can be over­whelmed with speed be­cause you just don’t see it. We’ve played a few teams this year that had some speed, so hope­fully it’s pre­pared us for what we’re go­ing to see Fri­day night.”

If the Hor­nets are to win their first state ti­tle, Be­san­con said his team must win the bat­tle up front.

“We’ve got to con­trol the line of scrim­mage on both sides,” Be­san­con said. “That’s the big thing. We have to got to win the war in the trenches be­cause they are just so good up front on both sides. If the weather is an is­sue, we’re go­ing to have to make sure we take care of the foot­ball.

“No mat­ter what, we have got to make sure we take care of the ball. If it’s go­ing to be cold and wet and rainy, we’ve got to make sure that we pro­tect it even more.”

Jones agreed with his coun­ter­part when asked what his team must do to win.

“We’ve got to win up front and win the turnover bat­tle,” Jones said.

Ter­rance Arm­stard/News-Times

Tak­ing the field: Junc­tion City's foot­ball team takes the field prior to their con­test against Har­mony Grove that kicked off the 2018 sea­son. Tonight, Junc­tion City takes on Hazen for the 2A state ti­tle. Game time is set for 7 p.m. from War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.