Arkadelphia vs. Robinson at War Memorial
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:
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.