After much debate and controversy as to if high school sports should be played, the high school football season kicked off this week with “zero week” games on the Arkansas Activities Association’s (AAA) schedule of games that began on Thursday night. As part of that schedule, the Paris Eagles hosted the Lavaca Golden Arrows at Eagles Stadium on Friday night. Lavaca, playing their first game as a Class 3A school having moved up from Class 2A, traveled to Paris for the non-conference match-up. Paris defeated Lavaca 32-12 on a humid night in Paris.
Paris, having several key players returning, including both skilled position and offensive and defensive linemen returning this year, had received much attention over the summer and entered the season with high expectations. The Eagles took care of business against a hard-playing Lavaca team, but the Eagles made several mistakes, committing turnovers and playing uninspired for a good portion of the game.
Lavaca entered the game as a decided underdog, but give the Golden Arrows a lot of credit as they came out early and took the game to Paris and continued to do so with great effort all night. Lavaca fell to a big 32-point deficit mid-way through the second quarter, and it looked like the route was on. Both teams were committing multiple turnovers and Paris was able to capitalize. The Eagles went to their ground game and found running room behind their big offensive line. In the first half, Paris was able to rush for big chunks of yardage behind the right side of their line.
When halftime arrived, the Eagles had a big lead, despite issues with their offensive line getting the needed push at times, and giving up big chunks of yards to the Lavaca offense. The Paris coaching staff, who entered the game hoping to see the Eagles execute their game as they thought they could, was upset for most of the night with the Eagles effort and lack of consistency.
Lavaca is a young team that is playing their first year in Class 3A, and the Golden Arrows played extremely hard all night. In fact, if it had not been for key mistakes at critical times, especially in the second half, the game could have been much closer. Overall talent, experience, and numbers won this game for Paris, but Lavaca is on an upward trend and will be a force to contend with in the next two years.
The Eagles Chase Watts returned to the lineup after having been held out of the Eagles preseason scrimmage last week against Magazine. Watts, both an excellent passer and runner, provided the dual threat at quarterback that the Eagles needed last night against the Lavaca pass rush.
But perhaps the most disappointing aspect for the Paris coaching staff was a poorly played second half. Lavaca had over ten first downs on offense, and the Eagles offense was completely shut down. The Eagles gave up multiple big plays on defense to a Golden Arrows team that refused to give up. Paris won the game, and that is the most important thing for the Eagles, but they will unquestionably have to play much better down the road in their schedule if they want to compete in conference play.
Going into this season, many wondered how the absence of practice time and the long layoff would affect the quality of high school football in the fall. Many coaches stated throughout the summer that the quality of play would not be there for a few weeks as teams simply have not had the opportunity to practice as much this year. I think everyone understands this. But last night the errors began early with the stadium public address system playing the national anthem as the band also played and continued through with critical penalties for Lavaca that took them out of a second half scoring opportunity, to multiple fumbles and turnovers for the Paris offense that kept Lavaca in the game. All of these things can be expected, and many of them should be cleaned up next week. But for the Paris coaches, the apparent “lack of interest in playing” as stated by coach Tyler Clark, is the most concerning.
When I spoke to Coach Clark immediately after the game, the disappointment in how the Eagles played was apparent. From his comments, I expect Coach Clark to address several issues with his players, and much attention will be given to cleaning up the mistakes from their first game. The Eagles play at home again next week against Johnson County Westside, and will go on the road for the first time the following week at West Fork. Paris needs to address the week one concerns in practice this week and in their final two preseason games before they open the conference season against Mayflower.
Paris showed glimpses Friday night of how good they can be. From long runs to great defensive pursuit, the Eagles talent and experience was apparent. From my observation, I hope the Paris players respected Lavaca and did not enter the game expecting an easy victory. There is no way for me to know, but the lesson here may be that all opponents have to be respected. Last evening, everyone should respect the Lavaca Golden Arrows for playing hard, especially after having been down by a 32-point deficit. But with all of this said, I expect Paris to play inspired football next week and look like a different team with respect to their readiness to play.
Fans from both schools seemed to comply with the AAA and the Arkansas Department of Health regulations that were in place for last night’s game. From a football perspective, I could not call “a face mask penalty” on the fans from either school for not wearing face masks. Both schools complied with the directives. As you can imagine, the atmosphere was not quite the same due to the restrictions. There was no visiting school band or cheerleaders, fans were not allowed on the field for the teams to run on to the field, the Paris band played in chairs at the end of the field, and players stood five to ten yards apart from each other during the pregame coin toss.
The Paris band played great and I have to congratulate them for putting on a good halftime show. The band’s halftime show was presented on the track facing the home crowd. The band members wore masks throughout their performance, and that had to be no easy task, especially on the humid night at Eagles Stadium.
The Eagles cheerleaders practiced social distancing and wore masks as they cheered on the track behind the Eagles bench. The cheerleaders provided a run-through sign for their team to enter the field at the start of the contest, and cheered often and proudly for their team on a warm and humid night. We have all complained at some point about wearing masks during the summer, but let’s hear it for our band and cheerleaders as they wore masks all night, battling the inconvenience, discomfort, and the humidity Friday night.
Coaches often say the most improvement you see all season from a team is from week one to week two. I expect the Eagles to be a much-improved football team next week after Friday night’s performance and an intense and highly-focused week in practice. The most important part of Friday was that the Eagles won the game and are now 1-0 on the young season. Injury-wise, it appears Paris escaped without any significant injuries, although key player Jude Simmons was seen leaving the field late in the game with some type of lower body injury. When I asked Coach Clark about Simmons, he indicated that it was too soon to know, but he didn’t think it was serious.
Although it is just week two, it is time for the Paris seniors and upperclassmen to take over the leadership for this team. Everything Paris wanted to accomplish this season is still in front of them, and everyone can feel much better about this team if they come out next Friday and play the way they are capable of playing. And that is exactly how I think the Paris Eagles will respond next week against JC Westside.
Watch for Resident Press on Sunday afternoon for a preview of the Eagles game with Johnson County Westside. And as always, Resident Press will be here all season to bring each week’s action of high school football to our readers!