Are you rested, healed up, and ready to go?
I’m directing the question to teams who took off last Friday on a break before conference play. That strategy is understandable, especially for those teams still trying to put the right pieces in place after three nonconference games.
I’ll always remember my senior year when our coaches discovered in practice the receiver who zipped a perfect pass 25 yards downfield on an end-around threw far better than our quarterback at the time. The switch was made and we began to win more than we lost.
But any changes in personnel or shifts in defensive or offensive philosophy should now be complete because the stakes are about to get much higher this week with a slate full of great games to kick off the conference season.
How about Bentonville West at Fayetteville in the 7A-West, Farmington at Harrison in the 5A-West, or Van Buren at Greenwood in the 6A-West? Headliners, for sure, but there are many more games scheduled this week to hold the intent of any fan of high school football.
Oh, and for the teams who went 0-3 or 1-2 in nonconference play, don’t sweat it. Arkadelphia started 0-5 in 2018, then won 10 consecutive to capture the state championship in Class 4A. The man who directed that turnaround is J.R. Eldridge, who expects his team to bounce back at Harrison after the Cardinals stumbled badly in a defeat at Class 7A Rogers.
Anyone want to bet against him?
It appears I’ve greatly underestimated Fayetteville, which had to replace a ton of talent after winning the 7A-West Conference championship and finishing 10-3 following a hard-fought 42-38 loss to Bryant in the championship game at Little Rock. The Bulldogs graduated nearly 40 seniors from that team, including Isaiah Sategna (Arkansas), Bladen Fike (Southeast Missouri State), Kaiden Turner (Indiana), and a handful of others who are now playing college football.
But the Bulldogs have regrouped behind junior quarterback Drake Lindsey, who completed 21 of 25 passes for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 42-21 win at Fort Smith Northside.
The pecking order in the 7A-West could be determined early with Fayetteville playing important road games at Rogers (Sept. 30) and Bentonville (Oct. 14) following Friday’s conference opener with Bentonville West at Harmon Field.
Bentonville is accustomed to winning conference championships and the Tigers want it back after Fayetteville swiped it from them last season. Bentonville begins conference play with a lot of momentum after traveling to Kansas City and returning with a 30-7 victory over Rockhurst, long a Midwestern powerhouse in high school football.
That’s a big win for Bentonville and the state of Arkansas.
Bentonville dominated the second half by scoring 23 unanswered points, mostly behind the play of Josh Ficklin 118 of his 142 yards rushing after halftime. Springdale Har-Ber will get a closeup view of Ficklin and Bentonville on Friday at Tiger Stadium.
The 6A-West, which has already started its conference play, will be fun to watch with Pulaski Academy joining a nine-team league that includes Greenwood, Little Rock Christian, Lake Hamilton, and Greenbrier, all of whom all posted at least nine wins last year. Pulaski Academy was picked first in a preseason poll of the league coaches, a choice which will not sit well with the Greenwood Bulldogs, who’ve won 10 state championships since 2000.
The 5A-West welcomes Shiloh Christian, Prairie Grove, and Dardanelle to the fold while Gentry appears to be on the move while putting up huge offensive statistics, especially at quarterback where Chris Bell accounted for eight touchdowns in a 59-28 win over Pea Ridge. Ozark and Elkins are newcomers who’ll test the Pioneers in 4A-West Conference play.
It all starts Friday when the road to the state finals in Little Rock that appeared so distant earlier begins to come into focus in conference play. We’ll be along to enjoy the ride.