As it has been said many times, the championship culture at Charleston High School is pervasive in every sport and academic activity within the Tigers’ school district. And perhaps unlike any other, the Charleston football program is all about winning championships. This year’s edition of Charleston Tigers football is no exception, and head coach Ricky May and his staff will lead a young group of Tigers into the state playoffs Friday night at Alumni Field. As young as the Tigers are, this team could be set to make a serious run through perhaps three rounds, and who knows, maybe all the way to Little Rock. No doubt, the future of Tiger football is bright with all of their young and talented players, but the present is also bright, and Charleston could be a bit of a surprise this year to some other programs around the state.
Charleston enters the 2020 state playoffs as champions of the 3A-1 conference and hold a 8-2 overall record and were a perfect 7-0 in conference play. Inclusive in the Tigers eight wins this year was a win over the Class 4A Pottsville Apaches. Charleston’s only two losses on the year were to 4A powerhouses Ozark and Dardanelle. But true to the Tigers’ philosophy, the tough non-conference schedule paid off with an undefeated conference season and the forging of a tough group of young players who are now ready to make a state playoff run in Class 3A.
Charleston will host the Mayflower Eagles from the 3A-4 conference on Friday at 7 p.m. Mayflower is the number five seed from their conference and finished their season 2-7 and 2-4 in conference play. Their record is a bit deceiving; the Eagles had three losses in non-conference play against Central Arkansas Christian, Southside Batesville, and Hot Springs Fountain Lake. In conference play, the Eagles defeated Little Rock Baptist Prep and Danville.
The results of the Mayflower season were:
CAC 35, Mayflower 20 (L)
Southside Batesville 28, Mayflower 13 (L)
Hot Springs Fountain Lake 35, Mayflower 7
Paris 35, Mayflower 7 (L)
Mayflower 31, LR Baptist Prep 22 (W)
Booneville 40, Mayflower 7 (L)
Perryville 21, Mayflower 0 (L)
Mayflower 27, Danville 7 (W)
Atkins 28, Mayflower 14 (L)
On offense, Mayflower is led by quarterback Eli Sanders. According to Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication, Sanders “proved to be an accurate passer in June.” Sanders is a good athlete at the position and will attempt to get the ball to sophomore receiver DeAndre Stewart who had a good spring going into the 2020 season. The Eagles got off to a rough start in 2020, but as the season progressed, many coaches around their conference commented that Mayflower steadily improved throughout the season.
Recently, I visited with Charleston head coach Ricky May. In our conversation, he indicated his respect for Mayflower, and talked about being ready to host the Eagles. “They’ve (Mayflower) got a couple of guys that can run really well. They have some explosive plays, but more than that, they are a lot like Cedarville; they just want to grind you. They want to run at you as much as they can and they will take three or four yards at a pop. And that kind of worries me a little bit; we did struggle against Cedarville with their backs. Hopefully we won’t struggle as much. But who knows, they are explosive. They rotate four or five running backs into the game, and all of them have different skill sets. They do what we call a “sugar huddle” where they huddle a few yards behind the line of scrimmage and then quickly break the huddle and jump right into a formation and go. It creates a problem on defense if you are not ready.”
Mayflower has shown this season that they will try to control tempo on offense by going quickly in one sequence and then abruptly change the snap count to keep the defense guessing and to prevent them from keying on the snap count. The Eagles are a team that is challenged by a lack of size and thus uses a lot of deception and misdirection to gain an advantage over their opponents.
Citing the Eagles’ improvement throughout the season, Coach May said, “I think early on in the season they turned the ball over a little bit, and I think they have cleaned that up. We are going to have to wrap-up and tackle on defense. We’re excited to be where we are at.”
A Charleston victory in the first round on Friday night will propel the Tigers into the second round. The Tigers would host a second round game in Charleston on November 27 and would likely play Glen Rose. In fact, due to their top seed in the playoffs, the Tigers could host games in the first three rounds of the state tournament and not have to leave home until the semifinals. So, the playoffs are very much a one and done proposition, and the team and coaches will be completely focused on Mayflower and nothing else beyond this Friday’s game.
But, fans and people like me can afford to look ahead, and with this young group of talented Tigers, it would not surprise me to see Charleston in the semifinals and playing for the right to go to Little Rock for the Class 3A state championship game. That is a long way off, and there are some very good teams on Charleston’s side of the playoff bracket, but, playing at home is huge for the Tigers, and I believe that Coach May and his staff will have their team ready to go starting this Friday night.
Resident Press will have a recap on Friday’s game on Sunday night. RP will follow the Tigers all the way through the playoffs, including coverage of the Class 3A state championship game on December 19, So stay with Resident Press for playoff coverage of the Charleston Tigers!