After a tough loss to another Class 4A team, this time the Ozark Hillbillies, the Charleston Tigers (1-2, 0-0) will now focus on the start of the new conference season. The Tigers will travel to Northwest Arkansas on Friday to take on the Greenland Pirates. The game will be the conference opener for both schools. Last year, the Tigers won a thriller at home against the Pirates that turned their season around after a horrific non-conference schedule that saw them lose multiple key players to injury.
Last Friday’s game against Ozark was an example of a young team that has been up and down with respect to turnovers and gaining their confidence early in the season against very good competition from the 4A-4 conference. After the game, Charleston head football coach Ricky May commented, “Ozark is pretty good. But we didn’t help ourselves. We turned it over twice early, didn’t get lined up right on defense several times, didn’t play what we were supposed to play. Just silly stuff; hopefully we can get that fixed for next week.”
Charleston has now faced Dardanelle on the road, and has hosted Pottsville and Ozark, all out of the 4A-4 conference. The Tigers got a win out of those three games, and have escaped injury. No doubt the young Tigers have had a tough dose of hard-nosed football over the past month, and now, a healthy Charleston team will go into conference play. With the exception of a few cases, such as Greenland this Friday and Cedarville the following week, the Tigers should not face competition as tough as they have played so far until the state playoffs.
Greenland is a program that has been very successful under coach Lee Larkan. The Pirates are a playoff team almost every year, and have a combined state playoff record of 11-23. They finished in a tie for third place in the conference last year and have five starters returning on each side of the ball. Last year’s team was very talented, especially in the skilled positions, and of those players, the Pirates are returning their quarterback, Gabe Wilson, and running back Jett Dennis. Wilson is a very good passing quarterback, and Dennis possess good speed and has breakaway potential on every play. Coach May said, “That tailback they have (Dennis) is pretty fast; he’s pretty good. Both of those guys (Dennis and Wilson) are pretty good. They want to run the ball first. With that Dennis kid, I would want to run it too. They also have two or three really big offensive linemen that are pretty good. So, I really think they are going to be run first, but they can throw it too. They have some good guys outside and Dennis out of the backfield too that can catch the football. They (Greenland) are going to be pretty tough, especially playing there.”
Greenland has lost to Elkins and has defeated Berryville and Danville. Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication has predicted Greenland to finish third in the conference this season, just below Charleston. This Friday, the Priates will be out to avenge a close loss last year at Alumni Field.
Around the conference, the games that will be played include:
Charleston at Greenland
Lincoln at Hackett
Mansfield at West Fork
Cedarville vs. Lavaca
And in the topsy-turvy world of COVID-19 and high school football, one conference team, the Lavaca Golden Arrows, has been impacted by the virus and has suspended athletic activities. Cedarville, who is projected by many to win the conference, is scheduled to play a home game this week against Lavaca. As of the publication time of this story, it remains to be seen if that game will be played Friday. If it is not played, it is hard to conceive when the game could be made up. The state playoffs begin immediately after the last game of the season. Neither Cedarville or Lavaca have a bye week that could be used to make up the game. So, if the game is not played, it is conceivable that Cedarville and Lavaca could lose a conference game, and that could have a bearing on the conference race and who ultimately wins the top seed from the conference going into the playoffs. It would be awful and almost unheard of for playoff births and seedings to be determined for schools that cannot help having students who have been affected by the virus.
But this problem is not isolated to Lavaca, and the effect is not limited to Cedarville. Just recently, both the Mansfield and Hackett school districts have announced COVID cases within their districts, and the possible effects on those schools and their athletic programs remains to be seen. Hopefully, the Cedarville game will be played, and all other schools will be able to play theirs, as well. But just as it has been all season, it is a week-by-week, day-by-day situation for high school football.
And getting back to football and the conference race, no team wants to start the season 0-1 in conference play. To do so means that a team would be relegated to the position of playing “leap frog” over teams ahead of them in the standings for the remainder of the conference schedule. The winner of Friday’s game in Greenland will be one of four teams that are 1-0 in the conference and will have a one game lead over half of the teams in the conference at the end of week one. For Charleston, the Tigers will return home on October 2 to host the Cedarville Pirates in a game that could have huge playoff and seedings ramifications. If Cedarville does not play this week, their backs will be solidly against the wall, almost facing a must win situation at Charleston. We will all know a lot more after Friday night.
It should be a beautiful night in Northwest Arkansas for high school football. The Weather Bug forecast for Friday night calls for highs in the upper 70s and lows in the mid to lower 60’s. Temperature at kickoff should be around 70 degrees, so you may want to bring a light jacket!
I look for the Tigers to bounce back big against Greenland in what should be a great football game. Both teams are very good, and both, I believe, will make the state playoffs. The winner of this game will be in good position as they enter the mid-point of the season. The Tigers need their fans to make the trip to Greenland and support this young team as they play their first important road conference game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Watch for a recap of this game in Sunday’s edition of the Resident Press. Stay with RP for the most complete coverage of the Charleston Tigers and River Valley high school football!