BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Izard County is two steps away from doing the unthinkable – winning a state title in its first season of organized football.
The Cougars (7-2) host Woodlawn (8-1) Friday at 7 p.m. in one of the 8-man state playoff semifinals.
“We are so excited with what have been able to get done in this first year of football,” Mountain Pine head. coach Jared Johnson said. “We started off a little slow, but we have gotten better as the year goes on and our kids are just hungry. Win, lose or draw, they are hungry and just want to play football, but also win.
“Our kids have done a really good job of being coachable, our assistant coaches have done a great job of getting them ready to play week by week. They have taught them new concepts. They are excited to play and hungry to win.”
Johnson knows his team faces a stiff challenged to win the semifinal and make the state title game Dec. 1 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Mountain Pine and Rector are playing in the other semifinal.
“Woodland is a good football team,” Johnson said. “They mirror what we do, not only on the field, but with their concepts and their discipline. They are going to be a very good football team and hard to beat.”
The game will be played at the school’s new Cougars Stadium in Brockwell.
“Our school has been growing the last few years and originally when we had this process in mind, we were going to build a track so we could have a track program for our kids and with the idea of having football available in the future when time comes,” Johnson said.
“So everybody was excited, the school was growing and the more we dove into it, we kind of got excited ourselves and thought maybe this is the time to go ahead and add football to it.
“I am glad we did go ahead and build the stadium and Mitch Walker has done a great job with the contractors and we ended up doing a really nice complex down here for our kids to play in.”
It is a nice-sized venue.
“We have kind of a unique stadium in that we have stands seating for 1,200 to 1,500 fans and we have what we call The Hill, a grass infield so to speak that is elevated for people to bring lawn chairs and sit and watch the game,” Johnson said. “We can hold a lot of people.”
Izard County started the season 1-2, but has won its last six games.
“Fortunately a lot of our kids have played Mighty Mite football – which is third and fourth grade and then fifth and sixth grade is how we do that – and wanted to play when they grew up, but we just didn’t offer it,” Johnson said. “So they had a little experience early, but had been just waiting their turn hoping the someday they would be able to participate in it.
“These seniors are really excited they got to do that this year and it is a special time for them. The community is really excited, the parents are and everything has just been great with our new football program.”
Izard County has established itself as a basketball school with a state title in 2019.
“A lot of our kids have never played football and some have never played any sport at all so it is just trying to get them experience and learning the concepts of the game, watching a lot of film and breaking down their purpose and playing the games has allowed them to get better as the season has gone along,” Johnson said.
“Toward the end of the season, we have been kind of able to complete the package that we were missing early on to halfway figure it out a little bit.”
Johnson admits his mindset has changed this season about 8-man football, where all players on the field are eligible, not just the skill ones.
“For me, going into it, I had a different perspective that it has ended up playing it,” Johnson said. “In some points, it is a little harder to make things work with 8-man schemes, but in the end, it is just football, make no mistake about it.
“There are three less people on both sides of the football field, but there is also 15 yards less on the width of the field. That makes a big difference when you are trying to complete sone of you concepts.”
“I think we are about 50-50, but might be 60-40 passing the ball here lately as we have gone along.”