After a fast 3-0 start in the non-conference portion of the Paris Eagles’ football schedule, it is now time to focus on conference play and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. After defeating West Fork two weeks ago, the Eagles have had their bye week and should be healthy, rested, and prepared to begin conference play. Mayflower (0-3, 0-0) will be looking for their first win of the 2020 season. Paris (3-0, 0-0) had their first test of the season at West Fork on September 11, winning a hard-fought game on the road against a much improved West Fork team.
I asked Paris head football coach Tyler Clark how the past week has been during the bye week in the schedule. Coach Clark commented, “We had a very good week in practice last week even though it was an off week, and our kids are ready. I always like having that bye week right there (just before the conference games begin). After three weeks, you can tell your groups that need work and your groups that are excelling, kind of fix your issues. But at the same time, I feel like everyone is playing good enough right now that I wouldn’t have minded to have played Friday.”
Mayflower, winless in the past three games, now faces a horrendous portion of their schedule in which they begin conference play with three consecutive road games at Paris, Little Rock Baptist Prep, and Booneville. Mayflower could find themselves on the brink of not making the playoffs before they ever return to Mayflower to play a home conference game. Friday’s game in Paris is extremely important to both schools and their chances to make the playoffs. In any given year, the first conference game often makes the difference on whether a team makes the playoffs, or, how high their seeding will be. Teams do not want to start the conference schedule with a loss on the opening weekend of conference play. If they do, they face an uphill battle for the rest of the season, having to “leap frog” other teams in front of them.
With Booneville and Atkins favored to play for the conference championship and the top seeds going into the state playoffs, that leaves the rest of the conference battling for the remaining three playoff spots. In all likelihood, Paris, Perryville, Danville, and Mayflower will be battling for the three, four, and five spots. So a head-to-head win on Friday against Mayflower would give Paris the early advantage in the playoff race for one of the remaining seeds. The same is true for Mayflower, so both teams should be sky high for Friday’s game.
According to Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication, Mayflower has a good nucleus of players with experience and who have returned to play this year. Hooten’s goes on to say that their weakness may be “lack of size”. Mayflower will undoubtedly be concerned about the size of the Paris offensive and defensive lines, as well as their fast and physical running backs.
The Mayflower Eagles are coached by Austin Emerson and were 2-8 a year ago. Their last state playoff appearance was in 2018. On the 2020 season to this point, Mayflower has scored 40 points and have given up 98 points. The Mayflower defense will be challenged by the balanced Paris offensive attack.
Coach Clark is impressed with the athletes on the Mayflower team and their coach. “I have heard really good things about their coach; I have never met him, but I have heard very good things. They’ve got some athletes. They’ve got some pretty good looking football players. The fact that they are 0-3 is not too big of a deal. They’ve played some pretty good teams.”
Across Class 3A in Arkansas, Paris ranks second after the first three games behind McGehee. That is certainly an accomplishment for Paris head coach Tyler Clark and his Eagles football program, but Paris will face much stiffer competition as the season progresses. The most important thing for Paris is that they are 3-0, are healthy, and have key conference games ahead of them that will be played at home. The real test for Paris will be road games October 16 at Atkins, October 23 at Perryville and their final home game of the year October 30 against Booneville. If Paris stays healthy, the Eagles could make a serious run in conference play. Paris has all of the tools in each phase of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. In their last outing against West Fork, the team played tough, physical football. That will be the brand of football they will have to play against the top contenders in the conference. The Eagles showed in West Fork that they can play physical football; not just relying on making big plays in each phase of the game as they have done so far this season.
Going into Friday’s conference opening weekend, the non-conference standings for the 3A-4 conference are:
Paris 3-0, 0-0
Booneville 3-0, 0-0
Baptist Prep 3-1, 0-0
Atkins 2-1, 0-0
Perryville 2-1, 0-0
Danville 0-2, 0-0
Mayflower 0-3, 0-0
Two Rivers 0-3, 0-0
Fans should not take too much from the standings at this early point in the season. There are many variances in strengths of non-conference schedules for all of the teams. However, you can see some trends starting to appear, particularly in the bottom half of the conference. We will all know a lot more after Friday night with respect to who the contenders in the conference may be.
Around the conference, these are the games that will be played Friday:
Paris vs Mayflower
Booneville at Two Rivers
Atkins vs. LR Baptist Prep
Danville at Perryville
After this Friday’s opening night in conference play, it is very well possible that the four top contenders could emerge as Paris, Booneville, Perryville and Atkins. Coach Clark commented, “When you look at the scores around our conference, even this past weekend, Baptist Prep losing to Marvell surprised me. Atkins losing to Waldron surprised me, as well. There is no telling what will happen this week. I do think our conference is going to be more competitive than people may think. So the mindset for me and our staff is that we need to keep getting better at what we need to do.” This underscores how important it is to win in week one of the conference season. Paris must be focused on Mayflower, and nothing else. Coach Clark added, “We remind them (players) that while it is nice to be 3-0, as far as playoffs and all of those goals that we want to attain, whether you are 3-0 or 0-3, all of those goals are still in sight for every single team in the state going into this week. Non-conference games don’t count; they count on our record, but they don’t count in playoffs or seedings. No doubt everything we want is still out there for us, but it is for everybody else, as well. It’s important for us to start out 1-0 (in conference play), but it is important for Mayflower, as well.” Both teams should come out excited and ready to play at 7 p.m. Friday night.
It should be a beautiful night for high school football. The Weather Bug forecast calls for highs in the upper 70s to low 80s and the low temperature approximately 65 degrees. There is a slight chance (20 percent) chance of showers during the day, but the temperature should be around 74 degrees at kickoff. Great weather for what should be a great football game!
So, get your tickets this week and Resident Press will see you at Eagles Stadium for the conference opener! Watch for Resident Press on Saturday for a recap of Friday’s game with Mayflower!
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