After a hard-fought 2019 campaign and a rough start again at Dardanelle last week, the Charleston Tigers returned home to the friendly confines of Alumni Field to host the Class 4A Pottsville Apaches. Charleston, playing three of the top four teams in Class 4A-4, were facing a physical and talented Pottsville team who many think will make some noise this year in the Class 4A state playoffs. But on this night, it was the young Charleston Tigers overcoming adversity of the loss at Dardanelle and rising up to defeat Pottsville. On the last play of the game, the Charleston defense kept Pottsville out of the end zone deep inside the five yard line of the Tigers. Charleston took over on downs and ran the clock out for the win.
Charleston (1-1, 0-0) improves their record on the season and will now turn its attention to preparing for another tough 4A opponent when they host Ozark this coming Friday night.
After an emotional win, Charleston head football coach Ricky May told Resident Press that he was proud of how his young team kept battling to get the win. “Offensively, we moved the ball better. Defensively we didn’t play the best game but we got stops when we needed them. That was the big thing. But the kids found a way to overcome it. When we had to, we made a stop. I told them after the game that I was proud how they fought. Their backs were against the wall. They were inside our ten and the officials called a hold on us in the end zone. So they (Pottsvlle) got a little bit of help there. They got another couple of tries at it. And we just kept battling. So, finally, it was fourth down, and they threw a little swing pass that they had a lot of success with all night, and this time, our kids played it well.” When the dust settled on the artificial turf of Alumni Field, the Tigers defense had hung on in an impressive goal line stand to win the game 21-14.
Coach May continued, “Our kids were really excited, the crowd was really excited. It’s pretty exciting to win like that, and hopefully we can build a little bit of momentum off of that. The fact that they struggled like that and still won, was the thing I got out of it. We still found a way to win. I told them after our scrimmage (vs. Booneville) that I really thought our ceiling was high. Obviously we are young and we are going to have to work through some mistakes early, and we are. But once we get that stuff figured out, I think we have some pretty good potential to be alright.”
Pottsville kicked off to start the game, and Charleston subsequently drove the ball all the way down the field to the three yard line. The Tigers turned the ball over at the three on a fumble. Pottsville took over and drove the ball before going for a first down and not making it, turning the ball over to Charleston around midfield. The Tigers then drove the ball down and eventually scored. Pottsville eventually scored to tie the football game. Just before the end of the first half, Charleston once again had the football inside the Pottsville five yard line, and turned the ball over a second time resulting in the second trip inside the five and coming out with no points. The difference in the turnovers kept the Tigers from potentially having a 21-7 lead in the first half.
Pottsville took the ball and drove down to about the Charleston ten yard line. Coach May said, “we pressured their quarterback and he threw it up and we intercepted the ball and ran it back almost 100 yards just before the half, and that was a big turning point in the game, I thought.”
I asked Coach May about the Apaches’ talent, whether they were as big and talented as they seemed on paper and on video. Coach May responded, “Even better…going into the game we thought their number 2 guy was really, really good, and he is. He is really, really good. But we didn’t pay as much attention to the running back and he shreaded us pretty good. I think he ended up with 180 yards rushing. We didn’t have an answer for him.”
In week one, the Charleston coaching staff was concerned about their special teams play against Dardanelle. After the win against Pottsville, Coach May said, “A lot better Friday night. We only punted one time and it was a 33 yard punt, with, I think, a four yard return. On our kickoff return, they gave us great field position all night. I think the deepest we started might have been around our 40, and they were just a block or two from breaking it all the way. So, we felt good about that. Kickoff was great, I think most of the time we kept them inside their 40. They may have ran one back a little past the 40. Made all of our extra points. So, I felt like that all of that area was improved this week.”
I asked Coach May what he thought the difference was in the young Tigers performance from week one to week two. Coach May thought his team having played a game going into the Pottsville game made the difference in how the players have settled into their roles of playing varsity football. “We were a little more settled. It was our second game, and I felt like they were not as amped up, not as nervous. They seemed to be a lot more fired up when we came out, a lot more ready to get after it when we came out.” Now, there is no time to celebrate; the top-rated team in Pottsville’s conference, the tough 4A-4 conference, is coming to town Friday night. The Ozark Hillbillies will be the toughest challenge for Charleston so far, and perhaps all season.
Last week, Coach May compared the Tigers non-conference schedule to playing in the western division of the Southeastern Conference. Charleston plays three of the top four rated teams in the Class 4A-4 conference, and Friday night, the top rated team in that conference, the Ozark Hillbillies comes to Charleston for the annual showdown of Franklin County.
Last year’s game in Ozark was much more competitive than the final score indicated. “We ended up getting beat 27-7. We turned the ball over on our three yard line on a punt return and set up one of their scores. And then we fumbled going into the end zone, kind of the same deal we did last Friday night. So there’s two touchdowns that would have been in our favor; it would have been a much closer game. But we know what is in front of us this year. They are very talented and have a lot of size advantage on us. We have got to get better this week at stopping the run, and we are going to work on that.”
The Hillbillies are led by star senior quarterback Harper Faulkenberry. “He is a good one, and he is a senior. He was their starter last year until he broke his leg.” According to Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication, Faulkenberry, “broke his leg and tore tendons in his knee in week 11 against Malvern; had surgery, in late November and wasn’t cleared until March.” I asked Coach May if he could tell if Faulkenberry had lost any of his quickness or agility after seeing him on video this year. Coach May responded, “He is a stud and is hard to tackle. He is not your typical quarterback. He is more of a running back / quarterback. He has not lost anything. Unfortunately for us, but good for him.”
Ozark is a very talented team that Hooten’s describes as it strengths being “QB / linemen” and their weakness being “unproved receivers and kicker.” Nevertheless, Ozark is 1-1 on t he season, having lost their opener to Booneville 20-19, and having defeated Clarksville 32-12. According to Maxpreps, quarterback Faulkenberry has completed 14 of 21 passes for 193 yards, averaging 13.8 yards per completion. He has rushed 29 times for 202 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per rush. Charleston will have its hands full with the Ozark rushing attack, and as Coach May has indicated, rushing defense will be a focal point of their preparation this week.
Game time is set for 7 p.m. this Friday in Charleston. Please remember that AAA and Arkansas Department of Health regulations remain in effect for all who will attend Friday’s game. So, don’t forget your face masks, and get ready for what should be one whale of a game Friday night. The young Charleston Tigers will once again have to take a big step forward in their development against a very good Ozark team. But as Coach May has said, this team has a high ceiling, and Charleston fans are in for a treat this season as they watch a young and talented group of Tigers get better and better each week.
So Tigers fans, enjoy the game that will be for the battle of Franklin County, and look to Resident Press next Sunday for a recap of this annual rivalry plus a look ahead at the Tigers first conference match up the following week at Greenland!