After surviving an injury-plagued 2019 season, the Charleston Tigers play in a new Class 3A-1 conference and should be contenders along with Cedarville for this year’s conference championship.
Second year Charleston head football coach Ricky May and his staff did a masterful job in keeping the 2019 team together during a rash of injuries that this reporter has never seen the likes of before. It was remarkable that the Tigers survived the wave of injuries and were able to make the state playoffs. This year, the Tigers have a wealth of sophomore talent that will join the team along with several key returning players who saw significant playing time last year. Charleston is young, talented, and has increased numbers in their senior high program, and the future for Tiger football is bright in Charleston.
Last season saw the Tigers begin the year with preseason injuries and a key player transfer to another school. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Tigers endured a rash of injuries like no other school in recent memory. In last year’s trip to Dardanelle, the Tigers had 11 players on the sideline, including their entire starting defensive secondary who were out of the game due to injuries. Charleston, playing a tough non-conference schedule that included prior year Class 3A state playoff team Melbourne, and traditional Class 4A powers Dardanelle and Ozark, all on the road, limped through the non-conference portion of their schedule and focused on getting their players back for the conference season. The team was able to amass enough wins in conference play to secure a #5 seed in the state playoffs. An electrifying last minute loss to Mansfield prevented the team from finishing as high as #2 or #3 in the playoff seedings. As a #5 seed, the Tigers played at Prescott in the first round of the state playoffs. There, the Tigers season ended on a very cold night in Prescott.
But 2020 is a new season, and with it, brings new hope for a return to dominance that is what fans at Alumni Field are used to enjoying. The 2020 Tigers are young and talented with a sprinkling of talented and experienced veteran players. This year’s Charleston team will not be dominant, but the Tigers will contend for a conference title with the Cedarville Pirates. Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication has predicted Cedarville to win the conference and for Charleston to finish as the runner-up. The new Class 3A-1 conference includes Charleston, Cedarville, Greenland, Lincoln, Hackett, Mansfield, Lavaca, and West Fork. Gone are the Booneville Bearcats and the Lamar Warriors. Booneville will now play in a new conference that is focused on schools east of Charleston, and Lamar will play in Class 4A this year. The Lincoln Wolves drop down from Class 4A to 3A and will also be new to the conference. The Hackett Hornets and the Lavaca Golden Arrows are moving up from Class 2A and will join Mansfield, who is dropping down to Class 2A in all sports except football.
Hooten’s Arkansas Football has predicted the following order of finish in the Class 3A-1 football conference:
- West Fork
Charleston will have a key home game this year with Cedarville that could determine the conference championship and the #1 seed going into the state playoffs. The Tigers 2020 football schedule is:
Sept 4 at Dardanelle
Sept 11 Pottsville
Sept 18 Ozark
Sept 25 at Greenland
Oct 2 Cedarville
Oct 9 at Mansfield
Oct 16 Hackett
Oct 23 at Lincoln
Oct 30 West Fork
Nov 6 at Lavaca
In a scheduling quirk, the Tigers, who played at Dardanelle in 2019, will travel to Dardanelle again this year to play the Sand Lizards. Melbourne has been replaced by Class 4A Pottsville, and the traditional game for bragging rights in Franklin County against Ozark will be played in Charleston this year. So Tigers fans will be treated to outstanding football in 2020, and the Tigers hope to be a conference title contender for their fans.
Coach May is excited about his young team this year. “I like where we are at right now. I feel better about this year than I did last year. We have spent a lot more time on special teams this year and I think that part of our game is better. We are deeper in the skill areas and that has helped. We are inexperienced on the offensive line. We have one senior there and the rest are sophomores and juniors. But, I like where we are at right now.”
The Dardanelle Sand Lizards are a team that is reloading from the loss of key personnel that lead the team to multiple victories over the past few years. But Dardanelle is not a team without talent; in fact, they are deeply talented at wide receiver and on the defensive line. They will be relying on new players in key positions such as quarterback. Coach May commented, “They’ve got some really good skill guys. They have, in my opinion, two guys who can play quarterback. They have two of probably the better receivers that we will see all year. They don’t have that massive defensive line that they usually have; but they’ve got some big ones. On the offensive line they are all big guys, but not as massive as in years past. They are well-coached and you can never count that out. They are sound at everything they do. They do stuff right.”
Last week in a loss to Booneville, Dardanelle played Trace Gentry at quarterback for most of game. Coach May said, “Sophomore Drew Vega (son of the Dardanelle coach Phil Vega) played most of the game at receiver.” Hooten’s Arkansas Football reports that Drew Vega has 4.7 speed and was the second leading rusher on last year’s junior high team. “They put Vega into the game at quarterback and he did a really good job.”
Dardanelle turned the ball over four times against Booneville in a 35-14 loss to the Bearcats. No doubt, Dardanelle will be out to right the ship against Charleston. The Sand Lizards defeated Charleston 44-0 last year, and both teams should be ready for the return match on Friday.
I asked Coach May if the lopsided loss last year to Dardanelle was something he was reminding his team of going into Friday’s contest. Coach May said, “I haven’t mentioned it. The kids themselves really haven’t mentioned it. But, they do remember the score. But at the same time, we are just going to play whoever shows up and this is a new year. We are going to make it better this year.”
So, Tigers fans, football is back and it is game week for the Charleston Tigers! The Tigers need their fans to make the trip down Highway 22 to Dardanelle to cheer for their team! Remember, AAA and Arkansas Department of Health regulations will be in effect during the game. Face masks will be required for entry and will be required to be worn by everyone in attendance throughout the game.
After a painful start to the 2019 season, this Friday could be the beginning of a great start for this year’s Tigers team. As always, Charleston does not shy away from competition. The tough non-conference schedule will payoff for the Tigers as they compete later in the season in conference play and in the playoffs.
Good luck to coach Ricky May and the Charleston Tigers, and Resident Press will be there to bring you all of the action on Sundays of each week in Resident Press. Watch for game recaps and previews of the next week’s game each Sunday in Resident Press.
Enjoy the game!