Fearless Friday Preseason 3A Top Ten
July 15, 2007
With football being a timed game, it makes sense that timing is everything in football.
For Shiloh Christian, the timing could not have been more perfect in 2006.
Despite injuries, a tough schedule and a bit of a championship drought hanging over their halos, the Shiloh Christian Saints were the runaway winners of the Class 3A state title last season.
There was no doubt about Shiloh Christian’s destiny after the clock started on the 2006 campaign.
Josh Floyd notched the first of what could become many state championships in his only-just-begun coaching career.
And say what you will about Shiloh Christian. The bottom line in the heart of Springdale is that the Saints win football games. They win lots of them.
Last year, the Arkansas Activities Association pitched in and helped the Saints with a classification restructure that allowed Shiloh Christian to dominate. Some feel the Saints could have won the 4A state title and others are convinced that the Saints were the uncrowned 5A champs by virtue of their September conquest of eventual 5A champion Greenwood.
One Fearless expert even went so far as to make a case for voting Shiloh Christian No. 1 in the state – Overall. And that’s how he voted.
This year won’t be so easy. Even with a measly five starters returning, Rich’s Power System (RPS should not be confused with the ESPN craze for “Rock, Paper, Scissors”) has pegged the Saints to start the season at No. 4. That’s pretty highly regarded for a team with so little on-the-field experience.
When Prescott last won a state title in 1995, the Curley Wolves had not even made the playoffs in their previous eight seasons. They seemingly came from out of nowhere, posting a 3-7 record in 1994 before taking flight to a 14-0-1 mark in 1995. The only blemish on Prescott’s state-championship season came against a bigger-classification school, a 12-12 tie with Hope, in the second week of the season.
This time, the Curley Wolves went 4-16 over a two-year period before winning 11 times last year. They were no match for Shiloh Christian in the final game, but did find their way to War Memorial Stadium following a tank-emptying 19-18 win over West Fork.
Prescott’s obstacles are not too numerous in the 3A-7 Conference. There are three other contenders, including Class 3A’s eighth-ranked team, Gurdon, and four “breathers” on the schedule. Those four breathers combined to win a total of eight games last year, six of them at each other’s expense.
Despite a 4-7 mark in 2006, Atkins was leading the way in the early polling and could be the surprise of this class. The Red Devils were fortunate to even make the playoffs last year, but a good number of returning starters – 17 in all – will make the climb to the top of the 3A-4 Conference a little easier. Keep an eye on Charleston, one year removed from its first state title, and Lavaca. Those two teams will keep the heat on the Red Devils as Coach Charlie Sorrel’s team shoots for its first state title since 1971 – the year Carl Sorrels coached his quarterback son’s team to the championship with a 35-20 triumph over Walnut Ridge.
The 3A-8 Conference is the most rugged in this class and there’s a good possibility the league will produce as many as four Top 10 teams by season’s end. Rison has won five state titles since 1990 – a number matched only by Fort Smith Southside. Rison makes its 10th consecutive appearance in the Rock, Paper, er, RPS Top 10 with 15 starters back from a 6-5 playoff team.
Bauxite, Glen Rose, Harmony Grove and Lake Village are all capable of joining Rison for a playoff run. Only four will make it to the dance and one of those four will have a tough first-round encounter against an East Arkansas foe.
Keep an eye on Hoxie, given a slight edge to outduel Harrisburg, Barton and Corning in the 3A-3 Conference and West Fork, the public-school champion of the Shiloh-dominated 3A-1 Conference.
Harding Academy and Marshall figure to be at the top of the 3A-2 Conference ahead of Mayflower, Yellville-Summit and Perryville. The 3A-2 Conference is one of the lucky leagues picked arbitrarily – along with the 3A-3 Conference this year – that will send five teams to the playoffs. So from the 3A-2 Conference we’ll have five teams from a group of eight that include second-year varsity programs at Rose Bud and Cave City competing for a “legitimate” postseason berth. In the 3A-3 Conference, we’ll have an unsightly race where five of the seven competing teams will make the postseason. Hughes, which made the playoffs five consecutive years before missing out with an oh-9 record last year, has already announced that it does not have the numbers to play football in 2007.
1. Prescott (11-3) When the big bad Curley Wolves are bad, they can be very bad. Beware of their bite this time around.
2. Atkins (4-7) Red Devils started in Top 10 past three years but have fallen into Second 10 each of those years.
3. Rison (6-5) How the Wildcats can be overlooked in anyone’s Top 20 can kill that source’s credibility.
4. Shiloh Christian (14-0) Top 10 finishers in 9 of the last 11 seasons, most of those years against better competition.
5. Bauxite (11-1) Truly the second-best team in this class last year, the Miners don’t intend to lose a lot of ground.
6. Charleston (9-3) Tigers will be good for 20th consecutive playoff appearance and 13th straight first-round victory.
7. Gurdon (6-5) Go-Devils have made postseason 10 straight years, but have lost seven of those first-round games.
8. Hoxie (6-5-1) Mustangs joined Harrisburg as 3A-2 Conference’s only playoff winners and Hoxie has more returning starters.
9. West Fork (11-3) Better add Tigers’ Bryan Dougan to the short list of the state’s best up-and-coming coaches.
10. Harding Academy (12-1) This is a small dropoff for Wildcats, who have been ranked fifth or better in last nine preseason “polls.”
3A-1 – Shiloh Christian coach Josh Floyd knows his team is still the one to beat, even if it may take a little time to restock following the 2006 championship game. "Our defensive line has a lot of experience with good size and strength. Running backs will be a strength,” Floyd told FearlessFriday.com. “We need to get some experience with our quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. West Fork was strong in junior high last season; Green Forest has a good size and Elkins returns its quarterback and running back."
Meanwhile, at Elkins, Coach Aaron Clark has taken the program to the playoffs in six of his seven years at the helm.
"This is the smallest team we have had. We have only one player over 200 pounds,” Clark said. “Shiloh (Christian) will still be the team to beat. We could compete for a playoff spot. We must stay healthy, and our young players must come through."
3A-2 – Chuckle if you must, but Marshall is the team to watch in the 3A-2 Conference. Teams simply don’t return 19 starters from a 5-5 team and not make a splash. Kenny Phillips, coaching at his alma mater with veteran offensive coordinator Carl Owens, sees the race about the way we do:
“We are in a tough conference,” Phillips said. “The top two spots could be up for grabs between us, Harding Academy and Mayflower, but Yellville and Perryville are right there also."
In fact, that’s almost exactly how we see it with the exception of moving Mayflower into the second tier of teams with Perryville and Yellville-Summit.
Jed Davis takes over at Mayflower and has a big task ahead of him in only his second year in the business.
“Our conference is getting better every year,” Davis said. “Yellville-Summit, Perryville, Marshall and Harding Academy are the teams we expect to compete for a conference title. Rose Bud and Cave City will be in their second year of varsity football. We feel like we can compete with everyone in our conference if we come together as a team and answer a few questions at some key positions."
3A-3 – Hoxie is the only team ranked in the Top 10 from this league at the start of the year, but Harrisburg really can’t be overlooked and Barton started its climb back to small-school football supremacy without Frank McClellan.
We may be a year ahead of ourselves in tabbing the Mustangs as the conference champs with the aforementioned squads, Brinkley and Corning to contend with, but Coach Tom Sears has made Hoxie football more than just a few Friday night gatherings before basketball begins. The Mustangs have made it to three consecutive postseasons and have won their only two playoff games in school history since 2004.
“We have more depth than I've had in my eight years at Hoxie,” Sears said. “The exciting thing about that is 38 of them are sophomores and juniors.”
Hughes, by the way, was ranked 48th out of the 48 teams in Class 3A before its announcement to drop the program this summer.
3A-4 – Lavaca is the swing team in this league as we see it as a two-team race between Atkins and Charleston. The Golden Arrows should finish third, almost by default, and whether or not they can compete for a conference crown will be on the shoulders of a three-year starter at quarterback, Timmy Overbey.
There’s little doubt that Atkins will be there near the top at the end. Want to know what a coach of a team with a lot of promise has to say? Charlie Sorrels has been around a lot of football teams and this is what he had to say to FearlessFriday.com:
"We should be much improved offensively in 2007. Our receiving corps is as good as we've had. (Defensively) experience at all positions will help. We will be faster and stronger, and should be solid at all positions,” Sorrels said. “ … The attitude in the off-season has been very good. We had a hard time playing full games in 2006. We had a chance to win a lot of games, but couldn't finish well in the fourth quarter. Hopefully that was youth, but (it) must improve in 2007. (If it does) We should be in the mix (for the conference title.)"
3A-7 – Preseason No. 1 Prescott is in an unusual position for a team from a conference with the number “7” or “8” in it. Usually, these conferences are the powerhouses, but the 3A-7 is quite ordinary this season with only a pair of Top-10 caliber teams coming out of the gate. That doesn’t mean others won’t develop, but the bottom half of the conference is very weak relative to several other leagues in this classification.
One team to watch could be the Lafayette County Cougars. Coach Phillip Binkley’s first year at the school – which consolidated the Stamps and Lewisville districts – did not end until the third round of the playoffs. Seventeen starters return and the Cougars are ready to overtake Gurdon and pounce on Prescott.
“Our strength would have to be our size,” Binkley said. “We have one of the biggest offensive lines in 3A. We also have a lot of height and talent at wide receiver with three receivers over six feet.
Binkley went on to say “I feel that our conference will be tough because of all the great coaching staffs we will face. I do feel that we will have a great chance of winning our conference. I think our biggest competition will be Prescott and Gurdon for the number one seed into the playoffs."
And don’t overlook Magnet Cove. The Panthers should have little trouble winning four conference games and can improve their playoff position by take a couple of wins from the league’s elite.
3A-8 – The league that seems to dominate most of the interest in this classification is the 3A-8 Conference. Rison and Bauxite double the number – joining Atkins and Prescott – of public-school programs with a chance to unseat Shiloh Christian from the throne. The game of the year in this class should be Oct. 26 when Bauxite visits Rison.
But don’t tell that to the good people of Harmony Grove, Glen Rose and Lake Village. All three teams have reason to believe they can repeat last year’s playoff appearances. Unfortunately, only four teams will make it to the postseason and two of them – the second- and fourth-place finisher – could meet in the quarterfinals. What’s up with that?
Coach Jon Watson had the second best team in this class last year and will try to put together another run at Bauxite. Nothing comes easy, though, if you’re a Miner.
"Our kicking game will need to get ready in a hurry,” Watson said, perhaps an indicator that Bauxite has the skills to put enough points on the board to keep the kickers busy. “We have a solid group back both in the backfield and should have the best O-line we've had in a long time. This has always been a very coachable group. Unselfish, and willing to work ‘til things are right. That offensive line and the overall team chemistry, I guess, would be our strength. I'm sure Lake Village, Glen Rose, Rison and maybe us will make a run at it."
Don’t forget Joe Beasley’s Harmony Grove Hornets.
“It should come down to Glen Rose and Bauxite once again,” Beasley assessed. “They have the most experience coming back. It should be a dogfight for the third and fourth playoff spots."