The Paris Eagles earned their tenth win of the season with a hard-fought victory over a very good and determined Salem Greyhounds team in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. With the victory, Paris advances to the second round and will host the Greenland Pirates on Friday, November 27 at Eagles Stadium. Greenland defeated Perryville in their first round game by a score of 49-7 in Greenland.
Salem’s all-purpose player, Darius Brown, was all and more as advertised before the game with Paris. One of the most talented players on the field, the Greyhounds played Brown on both offense and defense, at wide receiver, and even as a quarterback in the “wildcat” formation. Brown made one spectacular play after another and was a big factor in keeping the Greyhounds in the game.
But the story of the night was the aggressive game plan by Salem and their coaching staff. Salem opened the game with an onside kick and continued to use the onside kick at every opportunity. In fact, both teams refused to kick to the speed returners that both teams possessed. Salem went for first downs on fourth down attempts multiple times and used a variety of formations and personnel packages to get their most talented players (especially Brown) into open space or getting the ball to them in critical points of the game.
Although the Paris defense that has been so stingy all season ended up allowing 32 points against Salem, it was the Eagles defense who came up with timely stops, most notably, a Duke Walker interception late in the game that gave Paris an opportunity to run out the clock and secure the victory.
Both teams ran the ball well. Salem showed that it too had a physical, downhill rushing attack, and early in the game, the Greyhounds ran the ball effectively and used sweeps that Paris had difficulty containing on the end of their defense. The running game proved to be effective for Salem as it set up the Paris defense for play-action passes that gouged the defense for large chunks of yardage.
The Paris offense who had been inconsistent in its last two regular season games, came to life in the playoff game and answered every score and momentum shift in the game. The combination of hard running by senior tailback Ely Fore and junior tailback Duke Walker was too much for the Greyhound defense. Eagles quarterback Chase Watts proved once again that he is a dual threat at the position and had several scrambles and runs in addition to his passes that kept the Greyhounds defense off balanced.
After the game, an emotional Paris head coach, Tyler Clark, talked about his team’s performance and how good it was to win a first round playoff game. “All I know is I am happy to win one tonight (a playoff game.) We got a win and we are excited, and know we just know that we have a lot of work to do before we play Greenland or Perryville, whoever we play, and, our kids are just going to show up and keep working hard. That I know. That keeps me calm and I am just really proud of our kids.”
Judging by the way the Greyhounds came out aggressively and playing hard to upset the Eagles, one could say that no one told the Greyhounds that they were a four seed and were not expected to win the game. To the contrary, Salem is a good team from a very good conference, and they played like it against Paris. Coach Clark paid his respects to Salem by saying, “I expected them to play hard and to be very good. I think a lot of people were thinking that Salem is far away from Paris and nobody has really heard of them, but they came from a really good conference and they are a really good football team. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times tonight, and that is stuff that has got to get fixed. You can’t do that in playoff football. But overall, that was a really good team (Salem) that played their hearts out.”
I asked Coach Clark if he thought the unexpected bye week just before the start of the playoffs may have had something to do with the inconsistency and the mistakes that were made by the Eagles. It had seemed like a long time before Friday night’s game since the Eagles last took the field at Danville. Coach Clark responded, “I think it’s possible. We tried to guard against that as much as we could. We as coaches need to do a little better job with that. They (the Eagles) are a good group of kids and I love them to death. And I hope they feel the same about me. It’s truly a blessing; I get to come to work everyday and coach these kids, and there is nothing better.”
The Eagles clung to a six point lead at the half when the Greyhounds, threatening to take the lead deep inside the Paris red zone with less than a minute to play in the half, fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone on the last play of the half. Paris led Salem 26-20 at the half, and I asked Coach Clark if and what adjustments he and his staff made at halftime. Coach Clark said, “A lot of it was just taking care of our business. But we made a few adjustments defensively. I was proud of our offense; I think we punted the ball once. So, I was proud to see that because our defense got us through a lot of games this year. Good to see the offense play well. But, yes, there were some adjustments, but a lot of it was self-inflicted stuff that we have to cut out.”
So the stage is set for the Eagles to play a second round state playoff game at Eagles Stadium on Friday, November 27. It will be a “Thanksgiving Special” that will take place the day after Thanksgiving Day. Regardless of the outcome, this will be the last time this team plays before the home fans at Eagles Stadium this season. A win by Paris on Friday will advance the Eagles to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs and would likely mean a long trip to either Newport or Hoxie in northeast Arkansas to play for the right to advance to the state semifinals. So Paris fans, get your tickets as soon as they are available online from the Arkansas Activities Association and come out and support the Eagles in this historic second round game. Paris will play a very good Greenland Pirates team for the right to move their record to 11-1 and move on to the quarterfinals…just two games away from that point to playing in the state championship game in Little Rock.
With the victory in the first round, the Eagles may have survived the hurdle of getting that most-difficult first win under their belts against the best teams in the state. Now, it is time to settle in and prepare for a tough second round game with Greenland. The Salem win should show everyone that there are no easy opponents in the state playoffs, and each week, teams have to give it their all, or, go home. I expect to see Paris be, in the words of Coach Clark, the most excited players on the field when they take the field next Friday night.