BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Mountain Pine’s unfinished business from last season’s 8-man high school state football playoffs is just two games away from being taken care of this year.
The unbeaten Red Devils (11–0), who won the title in 2020, will host familiar foe Rector (6-2) Friday night in a semifinal round matchup while Woodlawn (8-1) travels to face first-year program Izard County (7-2) in the other Final Four battle.
The memory of last season’s 66-60 double overtime loss to Strong in the state title game has pushed Mountain Pine’s program this season.
“The kids felt like last year that they had unfinished business, having a lead with around four minutes to go in the game, up by around 18 points and then ending up losing the game,” notes first-year head Daryl Scott, who made the move from Drew Central.
“They just made up their mind that this year we are going to win it. They didn’t talk about winning conference championship, they talked only about winning the state championship.”
Mountain Pine, the alma mater of radio and television personality Bobby Bones,
The 8-man playoffs will take off next week before playing the championship game on Thursday, Dec. 1 at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, which will host five state title games in three days that weekend.
“Getting there was the goal from day one,” Scott said. “So far it has worked out.”
This game is a rematch of Mountain Pine’s 38-16 win over Rector on Sept. 9 in a game played at Joe T. Robinson.
The Red Devils downed Rector 50-18 to advance to the 2021 state title game after beating the Cougars by the same score to open the season.
“I’ve always done 11-man football and been several places,” Scott said. “This 8-man stuff is new to me, but the main difference is that you have got to cover everybody. You have got to make sure that everybody on defense knows their assignment because one little mistake and its touchdown because people do throw to the linemen.
“It’s tough to run any kind of zone. You can do it, but it is a little more difficult and so everybody runs man and puts people in motion.”
Mountain Pine, who downed Spring Hill 62-34 in the 2020 title game, has rushed for 2,426 yards and 33 touchdowns this season and passed for 1,229 yards and 20 more scores.
“You don’t have as many people and the sidelines are moved in, the field is a little narrower in length, but it is still full-contact football,” Scott said. “I am a fan of the Delaware Wing-T, but I am not able to do that because I don’t have enough players to call misdirection. But we will throw the ball and run the ball about even.”
Mountain Pine has plans to move back to 11-man football during the next classification cycle in two years.
“We are going to go back to 11,” Scott said. “…Right now we have 25 senior high players and what’s crazy is they told me there was going to be a maximum of 20 junior high players this year and we have 36.
“The numbers are good, even with the pee wee so I expect to have somewhere around 28 for senior high and then the next cycle we get to move up, we will go to 11-man.”