It is often said that October is for pretenders and November is for contenders. As the 3A-1 conference season moves to its third week, the teams begin to separate themselves after head-to-head games. This season, with the large number of talented teams in the conference, each week has become a battle of heavyweights. Week three will certainly be no different. The week will be highlighted by the clash of Tigers at Alumni Field with the Charleston Tigers hosting the Mansfield Tigers on Friday. Mansfield defeated Charleston a year ago, 22-10, in Mansfield.
Prior to last week’s games, the Mansfield Tigers were ranked 17th in Class 3A by Max Preps, and 87th in Arkansas over all classifications. Charleston was ranked 20th in Class 3A and 109th overall. Those rankings should change on Tuesday when Max Preps releases its new rankings for this week based on the Charleston win and the Mansfield loss last week.
Friday night’s battle will be critical for both teams’ aspirations of making the playoffs. Mansfield was upset at Greenland last week for its first loss and first conference loss of the season. At the midpoint of the season, this becomes a must win game for the Red Tigers. Charleston has won its first two conference games and is in a tie with Booneville for the conference lead. A Charleston win would seperate themselves from some very good teams in the conference and would go a long way to placing the Tigers in the playoffs.
And, of course, set all of this aside, and consider that this is an intense rivalry for both schools, regardless of the records or the playoff implications, and you have a recipe for a very good high school football game.
This may be the most highly-anticipated football season in the Mansfield football program’s history. The Red Tigers are a senior-heavy team composed of perhaps the most talented class of players in their history. They have played together for many years, and have played varsity football for Mansfield starting with the last few games of their freshman year. They are a very talented and experienced team. Mansfield finished third in the conference last season and very well could have been the second seed. Mansfield hosted and defeated Melbourne in the first round of the 2018 state playoffs. The Tigers lost to eventual state runner-up Osceola at Osceola.
Mansfield is coached by Tim Cothran. Cothran served as offensive coordinator for the Tigers under then head coach Craig Bentley who moved on to become the head coach at Mena. Cothran was promoted to head coach in July of this year. The move to promote Cothran has paid dividends for the Tigers as the experienced team was able to smoothly transition to the new head coach in the summer just prior to the start of the season.
On offense, Mansfield, through five games, has completed 76 passes on 102 attempts for 1,274 yards. The Red Tigers average 254.8 yards passing per game. Mansfield is led by senior quarterback Ethan Stovall who has a quarterback rating of 143.5 (158.3 is considered a perfect passer rating), has passed for 17 touchdowns, and has thrown just 3 interceptions. His longest completed pass this season was 99 yards. Stovall is a quarterback who possesses a big arm, is a threat to run, and, like a lot of the Mansfield players, knows how to win. After evaluating the film of last week’s win at Cedarville, coach Ricky May commented on his team’s performance and the challenge its defense will face against the Mansfield passing game. “They are pretty good offensively. Our secondary was an area that we were decimated by injury early in the year. We lost all four of them (secondary defenders) at Dardanelle. We’ve done better, but yet, the good thing is we should have maybe another member of the secondary back; if we have him back that will make us a little better, and our secondary a little deeper. We have some other guys ready to go too if that doesn’t work. But no doubt, we’ve got to keep them (Mansfield’s receivers) in front of us. Howard, man, he’s fast. I don’t know how fast he is, but he is quick when he gets the ball.”
Stovall is the beneficiary of perhaps the most talented group of receivers in the conference. Senior Layton Howard is a talented receiver that has good speed and can get separation deep on any secondary. He is also an excellent kickoff and punt return specialist. He has blazing speed as evidenced by a kick return for a touchdown in the second round of the 2018 state playoffs at Osceola. Howard has caught 30 passes for 526 yards. He averages 17.5 yards per catch. He is a force on offense, special teams, and in the secondary on defense.
Complimenting Howard at wide receiver is Jaicy Griffin. Griffin, another speed burner who plays both offense and defense, has caught 18 passes for 212 yards. Griffin is very athletic and is a game breaker, both on offense, and in the secondary on defense.
Senior Tyler Holmes completes the talented Mansfield receiver unit. Holmes has caught 13 passes for 289 yards. Holmes has excellent hands and has proven his ability to make very difficult catches.
The Mansfield rushing attack is led by senior Will Meadows. Meadows has rushed for 178 yards on 24 carries. He averages 7.4 yards per carry. Isaac Cothran, son of head coach Tim Cothran, provides good shortage yards in the backfield, as well as being a stalwart on the defensive line. Cothran has ran for 52 yards on 15 attempts. He averages 3.5 yards per carry, usually in short yardage and goal line situations.
Altogether, the Mansfield offense has accounted for 1,274 yards passing, 17 touchdowns passing, and just 3 interceptions. Rushing, they have ran for 571 yards and have rushed for 12 touchdowns.
Mansfield has fumbled 8 times and lost 6 of them. The Red Tigers average 480 all purpose yards per game.
Defensively, Mansfield has 8 fumble recoveries and forced 4 fumbles. They also have 3 blocked punts. Junior Randall Claude has two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt on the year.
As it is well known at this point, Charleston began the season with a large number of injuries as well as facing a murderous non-conference schedule that was played entirely away from Alumni Stadium. Since that time, Charleston has become stronger as their injured players have returned and will continue to return with this week’s game. In assessing last week’s win at Cedarville, coach Ricky May said, “We had a player here or there out of position on most of their bigger runs, but other than that, they (Charleston) played pretty well.”
The Tigers offensive and defensive line play, along with running back Breckon Ketter and quarterback Brayden Ross have been the strengths of the Tigers resurgence over the past two weeks. The Tigers run defense has been a physical force all season. The secondary struggled during the first month due to injuries, but has become much improved with the return of such players as Garrett Rudd. The Charleston defensive secondary will be tested by the Mansfield passing game. The Tigers secondary will have to play the best game of their season so far on Friday night.
Going into week three of the conference season, the standings are:
West Fork 0-2
This weeks games are:
Mansfield at Charleston
Greenland at Booneville
Paris at Cedarville
West Fork at Lamar
Charleston has remaining games left with Mansfield, Paris, Booneville, West Fork, and Lamar. Mansfield has games left with Charleston, Booneville, Lamar, Cedarville, and Paris. At this point in the season, it appears that the road to a conference championship goes through Booneville. If Charleston can take care of business over the next two weeks, it would set up a huge game at home when Charleston hosts Booneville on October 25. But for now, the Tigers have to place all of their attention on the team that many predicted to win the conference, the Mansfield Tigers.
Charleston, by virtual of their head-to-head wins over Greenland and Cedarville, are not only a game ahead of the two Pirates teams, but have a tie breaker advantage by virtual of their wins over each school. A Charleston win over Mansfield would give them a two game lead over a very dangerous Mansfield team, as well as any increased lead they would have over the rest of the field, depending on the outcome of the other conference games. A Mansfield win over Charleston would vault the Red Tigers into a tie for at least second place in the conference, and perhaps into a tie for the lead in the loss column, depending on the outcome of the Booneville game. Mansfield would also have a tie breaker advantage over Charleston by virtual of a head-to-head win. It is easy to see that the stakes increase each week as the conference teams play each other.
It is impossible to say at this point in the season how many conference wins a team would need to get into the playoffs. Five teams will qualify. With two conference wins, Charleston possibly needs two to three more victories. Of course, the more games the Tigers win, the better the seed in the state playoffs. It could be possible for the Tigers to host a first round playoff game as a third or higher seed, as Mansfield did in 2018 as a three seed.
The games in October will tell which teams will play games they will remember in November. With only five teams eligible for the playoffs from a conference who, at this point has six contenders, a good team is going to miss the playoffs.Mansfield is a big game for us Friday night. That’s another one that if you are head-to-head with would be a really good situation for you (winning head-to-head against Mansfield and owning the tie breaker).” For the players and coaches, the pressure will increase with each week. For the fans, enjoy the great football! Coach May wants everyone, players, fans, patrons, to keep believing in this team. “Keep believing and keep playing and good things will happen!”
The Mansfield vs. Charleston game should be a classic. Don’t forget to bring a light jacket; fall will be in the air Friday night!