BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
One of the best high school football games in the state this week will be for the Class 4A-7 conference title.
Arkadelphia (7-0, 5-0) will host Malvern (7-1, 5-0) Friday night in a showdown of two teams considered state title contenders.
The winner gets the undisputed conference crown and the advantage of more home games in the playoffs.
“Either way we will be playing next week since our conference does not have a first-round bye this season,” Schucker said. “In 4A, it is on a rotation.
“But it is still a big ballgame for the conference championship, which Arkadelphia has not won since 2013 and I want to say the 90s before that.
“It is something that really hasn’t been done a lot at Arkadelphia even if we have had a lot of recent success and the program has won two state championships in the last six years.
“But having a conference championship isn’t something that hasn’t been done a lot. In that aspect, it’s a big deal and having that momentum going into the playoffs and having that first seed and having the home playoff games is big as well.”
Schucker thinks his team’s defense has been the spark to this season’s success.
“I think probably the biggest thing to talk about for us is that our defense has done really, really well all season,” Schucker said. “Our defense has gone up against some really good offenses and done a really good job of getting them off the field and holding teams to low numbers. That has kind of elevated our offense to score and put up points like we have done.”
Malvern has not lost to an in-state team this season with its lone defeat coming at Hernando, Miss.
“Malvern is very explosive, they’re physical, they are big on the offensive line and have a big running back and great quarterback,” Shucker said. “It is a big task for us and being able to execute on offense and minimize penalties from last week.
“We can’t hurt ourself. But we can execute and follow our game plan, match their physicality, tackle well and cause a turnover or two, that would be to our best advantage.”
Arkadelphia has had the benefit of three weeks of rest during this season.
“We’ve had two open dates on top of the normal off week,” Schucker said. “So we have had three off weeks. So we are healthy as we have been able to maintain that throughout the season. We are probably healthy now than we have ever been all season.
“You can’t really get those game reps during those off weeks and you just can’t manufacture that during practice. It would have been great to have some games, but I think our kids and coaches have done a great job of taking those weeks seriously still and progressing.”
Schucker sees that rest as a risk-reward situation.
“Would we be further along if we had those games?,” Schucker said. “I would like to think so, but who knows what we would be like health-wise.
“I do know that I am proud of how our coaches and players have handled those off weeks, taking it serious and still coming to work every day.”
The 4A-7 conference is a loaded one with Nashville and Ashdown also annually in the mix at the top.
“There is not a Friday off,” Schucker said. “It is exciting really when you think about high school football. Having communities come support the home team, there are a lot of big environments and excitement every Friday night. That is really our conference, really that is what you think about. Every Friday night is a big game against a well-coached, physical team with a lot of talent. It is a lot that you have to prepare for.”
There are no off weeks per Schucker.
“You have to be prepared every Friday night,” Schucker said. “If you are not are prepared every Friday, that is where drop the ball in a game that are not supposed to. It can wear on your team and that is where coming in and being healthy is big. It is usually the team that wins the conference is the healthiest team based on who is in the team and who is not.
“That is a big thing going into this game. I think both teams are healthy and it should be an evenly matched game.”