5 THINGS

Arkadelphia vs. Robinson at War Me­mo­rial

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES LEIGH

LIT­TLE ROCK — Arkadelphia’s fi­nal touch­down last week came on a run that mir­rored the Badgers’ re­turn to the Class 4A state fi­nal tonight at 6:30 p.m. against Joe T. Robinson at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

The Badgers (9-5) took a 3016 vic­tory over Shiloh Chris­tian

(12-2), who was ranked No. 4 in the last Arkansas Sports Me­dia High School Foot­ball Poll re­leased on Nov. 4.

The Sen­a­tors (12-2), the topranked team in the same poll, played their clos­est game since their Week 8 loss to Baux­ite (103), hold­ing on for a 24-20 win over Du­mas (12-2) a week ago in Lit­tle Rock.

Here are five things to watch in tonight’s game:

Last week

Robinson strug­gled for the first time in seven weeks last Satur­day as the Sen­a­tors barely es­caped with the win over the Bob­cats.

“Well, we sur­vived,” said Robinson head coach Todd Eskola. “That’s the best way to put it. We didn’t have our A-game, for sure.

“The de­fense played well in the sec­ond half, but the of­fense missed sev­eral shots in the first half that we nor­mally con­nect on. We were just kind of out of sync the whole game of­fen­sively.”

Af­ter a score­less first quar­ter, Du­mas man­aged to take a 14-7 lead into the half over the Sen­a­tors. Robinson scored two quick touch­downs in the third quar­ter to take a 21-14 lead with about five min­utes left, and Du­mas re­sponded with a touch­down of its own two min­utes later. The Bob­cats opted for a con­ver­sion, but the Sen­a­tors’ de­fense held for a sin­gle-point lead go­ing into the fi­nal eight min­utes.

Robinson scored on a 37-yard field goal early in the quar­ter, but nei­ther team man­aged to score in the re­main­ing

11 min­utes. The Sen­a­tors ad­vanced to their sec­ond state ti­tle game and their first since de­feat­ing De Queen, 26-6, in 1980.

Arkadelphia took an early 14-0 lead thanks to a poor punt in Saints’ ter­ri­tory that gave the Badgers just 22 yards to go and an in­ter­cep­tion that was re­turned

44 yards to the Shiloh Chris­tian 2-yard line.

The Saints evened the score with about seven min­utes left in the half, but with less than three min­utes to go, the Badgers scored to take a 21-14 lead into the break. With both teams scor­ing on field goals in the third, Zion Hat­ley’s

22-yard run for the end zone se­cured the win for the Badgers with a 30-17 lead with 4:53 left in the game.

“I felt like through­out the third and fourth quar­ters we were able to keep their pos­ses­sions down, which was re­ally good,” Arkadelphia head coach J.R. Eldridge said.

“I felt like our de­fense did an ex­cel­lent job. Sev­en­teen points is the low­est that they’ve been held to all year. So, I felt like our de­fense was able to take away some of the ways that they’ve been get­ting all of their points.”

4A-7 re­match

Eskola summed up his thoughts on tonight’s re­match with the Badgers sim­ply, it’s “the same as it is ev­ery time.”

“They’re a great ri­val to us,” he said. “They’re well-coached. They’re well-dis­ci­plined. Their kids are great com­peti­tors. Our kids have a lot of re­spect for them. They’re a good, hard­nosed foot­ball team, and our kids love com­pet­ing against them. I can’t say a neg­a­tive thing about them.

“Their com­mu­nity sup­ports them. They’ve got great tra­di­tion. They’re de­fend­ing state champs, and it’s go­ing to be a great chal­lenge.”

Eldridge, while not­ing the Sen­a­tors are a fa­mil­iar op­po­nent, said they are not the same team that handed the Badgers their last loss He the Badgers are not the same team that faced them at Badger Sta­dium, ei­ther.

“We’ve looked back at that first film, but we’ve con­tin­ued to watch the film as the sea­son goes on,” he said. “I think that it’s a good matchup. Robinson is a chal­lenge, and I be­lieve that our foot­ball team has ma­tured. And we’re look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge.”

The first half of the game was evenly matched as Robinson took a 13-7 lead into half­time af­ter the score was knot­ted at 7-7 at the end of the first pe­riod. The Sen­a­tors outscored the Badgers, 29-7, in the sec­ond half for the 42-14 win.

“I think we played well,” Eskola ex­plained. “I think we ex­e­cuted well. I think that, like in ev­ery game, there’s two or three plays that swing the mo­men­tum. In that game, they all went our way.”

Eldridge said in­con­sis­ten­cies on de­fense led to a break­down which Robinson ex­ploited.

“We were def­i­nitely in­con­sis­tent de­fen­sively ver­sus Robinson in that first game, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half,” he said. “I thought the first half, we were bet­ter de­fen­sively. The sec­ond half we gave up a big long run. We put them in bad field po­si­tion, and then we gave up a big long run.

“I think we were just in­con­sis­tent. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of fit­ting cor­rectly and se­cur­ing tack­les and fin­ish­ing plays de­fen­sively this week.”

Eskola echoed Eldridge’s thoughts on how the two teams are dif­fer­ent, but no mat­ter the out­come, the 4A-7 con­fer­ence will end up a win­ner.

“I don’t put much stock in the first time around,” Eskola said. “It was nine weeks ago. That’s al­most an en­tire foot­ball sea­son. We don’t put much stock into that. Our kids know that it’s 48 min­utes, and it’s go­ing to be ‘What can we control?’”

Weather could also be a fac­tor, with tem­per­a­tures fore­cast to be in the low 30s by game time and win­ter pre­cip­i­ta­tion pos­si­ble through­out the day. The Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion de­layed games from Nov. 30, in­clud­ing the Class 5A state fi­nal, when in­clement weather swept through the state.

“It’s not de­sir­able for ei­ther team,” Eskola said. “I’m sure it’s go­ing to have an im­pact on both sides. Arkadelphia can’t control the weather; we can’t control the weather.

“We’re all just go­ing to go out there and have fun and play foot­ball for 48 min­utes, and there’s go­ing to be a state champ from the 4A-7 and a run­ner up from the 4A-7. For our con­fer­ence, it’s a great day.”

Arkadelphia’s de­fense helped keep the team in early games de­spite an 0-5 start to the sea­son. The Badgers shutout Fountain Lake (6-5), 44-0, in Week 6, and have held teams to just 61 points in the nine con­sec­u­tive wins. Four of the games were shutouts and two fea­tured a run­ning clock in the sec­ond half.

“Our de­fen­sive coach­ing staff has done a great job of con­tin­u­ing to come back to work and put good plans to­gether,” he said. “I feel like lead­er­ship on our de­fense has been re­ally good for our prac­tices.

“We’ve got some guys who take it re­ally se­ri­ously on the de­fen­sive side of the ball, and they’ve been able to ex­e­cute good habits in prac­tice. I think be­ing able to ap­ply that to the field Fri­day nights has been huge.”

The Sen­a­tors have also leaned on their de­fense to win five of their six games in­vok­ing the mercy rule in the sec­ond half.

“I think they’re well-coached,” Eskola said. “I think they play great tech­nique. I think they do their jobs. It’s the same kids that we played in Week 5. Ob­vi­ously, they’re play­ing with more con­fi­dence.

“I think both de­fenses are re­ally good. Ours has only got­ten scored on once in the last six weeks, and they’ve been sit­ting the sec­ond half be­cause we’ve had mercy rules up un­til last week. I think both de­fenses are re­ally, re­ally good. I ex­pect a low-scor­ing game that a turnover here or there is go­ing to de­cide it.”

Sen­a­tor of­fense

The Sen­a­tors have 532 points this sea­son, the most in 4A, scor­ing more than two points for ev­ery point scored against them. Nashville (10-3), an­other mem­ber of the 4A-7 con­fer­ence, is sec­ond with 500 points, while Arkadelphia’s of­fense sits at 22nd with 197.

Part of the team’s suc­cess comes from a mul­ti­ple of­fense, which Eskola schemes out of the spread.

“They’ll spread it out, and then they’ll have some 21 per­son­nel — two backs and a tight end,” Eldridge said. “They’re pretty mul­ti­ple. They’ve got a cou­ple dif­fer­ent heavy run sets that they’ll use.”

The Sen­a­tors spread the ball around with over 5,000 yards of of­fense on the sea­son, 12 dif­fer­ent play­ers have rushed the ball and 19 re­ceivers have picked up yards from at least one of the three quar­ter­backs

“I re­ally don’t think we have just one guy,” Eskola said. “We play two quar­ter­backs (Grayson Tack­ett and Buddy Gas­ton). We’ve got four re­ceivers that we all be­lieve in. We’ve got three or four run­ning backs, and we’ve got a big, strong of­fen­sive line. Each game is some­body a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.

“Mekel Ken­tle is prob­a­bly got the best stats for the team, but he’s def­i­nitely not the only weapon. We try to spread the ball around. We feel like we’re a 5050 team. We like to run it and throw it. That’s just kind of who we are.”

“No. 16 (Ken­tle), he gets the ball the most, whether that’s from the tail­back spot or from the slot spot,” Eldridge said. “They play him at both po­si­tions.

“No. 20 (Tyler Jones), the other run­ning back is re­ally good. No. 13 (Traveon James) at wide re­ceiver has done re­ally good, and their quar­ter­back has done a good job of dis­tribut­ing the ball to those guys. Their of­fense has been re­ally good.”

In­juries

While Eldridge noted his team is at full-strength this week, Eskola ad­mit­ted the Sen­a­tors’ in­jury sit­u­a­tion is the “same as it’s been all year.”

“We lost our best player in Week 3 to a knee in­jury — Zaytron Waits,” he said. “He was phe­nom­e­nal.

“It is very sim­i­lar to War­ren los­ing Trey­lon Burks. He was our stud on both sides of the ball. He’s not back yet, but other­wise, we’re healthy.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/Mitchell Pe Masilun

DRILL SES­SION: Arkadelphia’s Can­non Turner (21) runs through prac­tice with his team­mates Thurs­day at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock. The Badgers are seek­ing their fourth state ti­tle to­day against con­fer­ence foe Joe T. Robinson, who de­feated the Badgers, 42-14, in the fifth game of the sea­son.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/Mitchell Pe Masilun

FO­CUSED ON FI­NAL: Arkadelphia head coach J.R. Eldridge runs drills with his play­ers dur­ing prac­tice Thurs­day at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock. The Badgers face con­fer­ence foe Joe T. Robinson to­day in the Class 4A state fi­nal as the Sen­a­tors make their sec­ond foray into a state ti­tle game af­ter win­ning the 1980 ti­tle over De Queen.

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