After a decisive senior night victory last Friday against Johnson County Westside, the Paris Eagles go on the road for the first time this season when they travel to Northwest Arkansas on Friday to play the West Fork Tigers. Both teams are 2-0 on the young season, and Paris will face its first road test against a much-improved West Forks Tigers team.
West Fork plays football in Class 3A-1 conference. Their conference opponents include Cedarville, Charleston, Greenland, Lincoln, Hackett, Mansfield, and Lavaca. This year, the 3A-1 conference is a mixture of traditional 3A powers along with Lincoln, who has dropped down from Class 4A, Hackett and Lavaca who have moved up from Class 2A, and the Mansfield Tigers who play 3A football and Class 2A in all other sports. According to Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication, the West Fork Tigers are predicted to finish eighth in their conference. The predicted order of finish in Class 3A-1 is:
- West Fork
But don’t tell the West Fork Tigers that they are going to finish at the bottom of their conference. The Tigers are 2-0 on the season and would love nothing more than to knock off a good Paris team this week to set the stage for their conference opener on September 25 when they host the Mansfield Tigers. West Fork gets a week off before the Mansfield game, and if things bounce their way, West Fork could be off to their best first half start to a season in a few years. West Fork has not made the state playoffs since 2015, and the Tigers are a program of young talent and moving in an upward trend. To win the game, Paris will have to show up Friday night focused and ready for a hard-fought football game from the Tigers. Paris will need another strong performance from its running game to establish control of the game that will be played away from Eagles Stadium.
Coach Clark is very impressed with the progress of the West Fork football program. “They are much improved. I think they are the biggest line we have seen so far. They are pretty physical up front. They’ve got some skill kids that can go. And the big thing is, they are 2-0 right now. They’re riding high. And confidence is a big deal for a team that’s not used to it; we got to feel that a little bit last year. I expect it to be a heck of a game, and their head coach (Justin Smith) I coached with him at Marion. It (Marion) was both our previous jobs. I know him well. I respect him a lot as a coach and I know he is going to have those guys ready. West Fork is a much better team than last year, and this game will be a pretty good measuring stick for us.”
West Fork will run the flexbone offense. Razorbacks fans may recall the Ken Hatfield era in which Arkansas was very successful running and passing the ball out of the flexbone. “They will run all of the basic flexbone stuff, and have a quarterback who can throw the ball. But there is no doubt they want to run the ball.”
I asked Coach Clark if he thought his team was ready mentally to play their first game away from home. Coach Clark said, “It’s hard to say. The road environments are not going to be what they could be (due to the COVID restrictions on total fan attendance for each game), but at the same time, there’s also a lot of other things that our kids are going to have to deal with that we haven’t had to due to the fact that we have not played on the road yet this season. COVID puts so much extra on it; how we eat a pregame meal, how long we can be in a locker room together, and stuff like that. There is going to be some new obstacles for those guys, but, overall, I think we are going to be OK. I think home or away, our kids are really, really hungry right now.”
West Fork has wins this season against Green Forest and Hazen. The Tigers were originally scheduled to play Berryville in week two, but due to the COVID virus, the Berryville game was canceled, and West Fork was able to schedule Hazen in its place. The Hazen victory is impressive. Although Hazen is a 2A school, it is a delta school that historically has produced great athletes. The Tigers defeated Haven 19-12, indicating that they are capable of running the ball, controlling the clock, and giving their opponents little time to score throughout the course of a game. Friday’s game will be a challenge for the Paris defensive line and linebackers as they will have to be physical and make the right reads to defeat the West Fork flexbone offense. Defending the option demands discipline and a fast linebacker core can have its speed used against them in the option offense.
Paris coach Tyler Clark, who was less than pleased with his teams week one effort, was very pleased with the adjustments and the effort his team gave in the week two route of Westside. He believes his team is mentally in a good place at this point, and he is very pleased with the bonding of his team and the fun his players seem to be having playing football at Paris. He and his players definitely know that the schedule will get harder with each week, but the team is in the best place it can be at this point in the season, and that is what the entire coaching staff has been pointing to all off-season. “The things I wanted to see against Westside got fixed. It was really encouraging. And all of our kids were confident, and the most exciting part for me was seeing how excited they were after the game. That makes me really excited about the things to come this season.”
Paris escaped the Westside game without any injuries, mainly due to heavy substitutions that were made by mid-way into the second quarter. “No injuries, and we’re ready to go. We played mainly our backups for much of the game, and that is valuable reps for those kids. It’s just a good deal all around. You go inside (in the locker room after the game) and we had a really good time in the locker room with those kids. And everyone of them felt like they were part of it.”
I asked Coach Clark if he was concerned about his team looking past West Fork toward their first conference game against Mayflower on September 25. Coach Clark said, “I really am not. The bye week (September 18) really helps us there. But at the same time, we’ve stressed with our kids that we have a chance to be good, but if we overlook anybody we will get beat. I think they (the Paris players) are a little more locked in this week. I think our kids right now are mentally in a good place. They are taking it one week at a time, and are ready to get after it.”
Both teams will undoubtedly be ready to get after it at game time on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at West Fork. As part of my weekly reminders, please remember to wear your masks and observe the COVID restrictions that will be in place throughout the game.
It should be a good game Friday night and the weather should be perfect for a high school football game. The Weather Bug forecast for Friday is cloudy and a high of 78 degrees in West Fork. Temperatures should be around 70 degrees by the end of the game.
So Eagles fans, enjoy the trip to West Fork and make sure you are there when the Eagles come charging out for kickoff seeking a 3-0 start to the 2020 season!
See you in West Fork!