When predictions came out of this season’s 6A-East high school football race, Little Rock Catholic was tabbed as the seventh-best team in a 10-member conference.
But flash forward to the middle of 2022 regular season and the undefeated Rockets are on the precipice of announcing themselves as a major title contender.
Little Rock Catholic (4-0, 2-0) will host fellow unbeaten West Memphis (4-0, 2-0) Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“They (the Blue Devils) have got a really good quarterback (Keeland Mills) and obviously we are going to have to focus on stopping him,” Catholic head coach John Fogelman said. “Defensively they are really, really sound at what they do. They don’t gamble. They don’t have to gamble so they don’t get out of position.
“They are 4-0 for a reason and they are a good football team. We are going to have to play well to beat them.”
Catholic was just 3-8 last season and West Memphis 4-7, but both have started off the season with success.
Catholic defensive back Cole Pace has two interceptions, one he took back for a touchdown, and linebacker Ross Maginn have been part of a defense giving up just 14 points per game.
“Its been a really good start for us so far and we are just looking to keep that going,” Fogelman said. “Our defense has played really, really well. No standouts, but Cole Pace is obviously doing well and Ross McGinn, but it’s just been the whole unit that has done a good job of rallying to the ball.
“We have seen a couple of really good running backs and kept them in check.”
Quarterback Sam Sanders has four rushing touchdowns and four through the air where he is completing 67 percent of his passing attempts.
“Offensively, Sam Sanders has done a great job at quarterback and we have been pretty balanced at what we have been able to do between the throwing game and the running game,” Fogleman said.
Catholic started the season with a 23-6 win over North Little Rock and owned Green County Tech (38-16) before taking out conference foes Benton (38-14) and Searcy (42-21).
Junior kicker Will Aaron had three field goals in the win over North Little Rock and has been a big weapon.
The season-opening win over North Little Rock, who has won at least 10 games in five of the last six years and beat Catholic 42-7 in 2021, was surprising to many, but not the Rockets.
“We were pretty confident going into that game,” Fogelman said. “I thought we had a good game plan and the kids believed in it. You could tell that. We spent a lot of time on it, all summer.
“We also have a history with them and have always played good against them and I think that did give the kids some confidence for that next game.”
Fogelman believes the fact that covid-limited team activities were in the past allowed Catholic to bond.
“We did some team camps and the 7-on-7s, one of those being in Fayetteville, where the kids went up there and spent the night, Fogelman said. “So that was a big deal – just spending a little more time together and create some chemistry. It is hard to do when your are busy splitting them up.”
Catholic plays its home games at War Memorial, which can be a double-edged sword with opponents.
“Our kids get excited to be over there, but a field is a field and all that stuff,” Fogelman said. “But I think just being in the locker going over there excites them.
“But I also think that other teams that don’t get the chance to play there as much get a little more excited. You always have to caution against that.”
A win on Friday night will be something to be excited about, but Fogleman notes that the push to get better and healthier must be a continued focus.
“It’s important that we stay healthy,” Fogelman said. “We are starting to get a little banged up and we need to get some kids recovered from that and just continue to stay focused and realized that we did to get to this point in September we have to keep doing.”