On the heels of perhaps one of the biggest wins in program history, the Paris Eagles will be on the road for the third consecutive week when they visit Perryville on Friday for an important conference game with the Mustangs. The clash between two of the top teams in the conference will have immense playoff implications for both teams. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Perryville.
Last Friday’s game at Atkins may have been the most complete game the Eagles have played so far. In all three phases of the game, the Eagles seemed to be prepared and ready for anything that Atkins tried to do in the game. From my observation, it was evident from pregame warm-up and all the way through the game. The Eagles entered the stadium in Atkins with a look of determination on their faces and were keenly focused on the job ahead in playing the Red Devils. If coaches could have their players focused this sharply each week, they would surely want to bottle it and bring it out every Friday night.
On the field after last Friday’s win at Atkins, I talked with Paris head football coach Tyler Clark about the importance of the win over the Red Devils. As Coach Clark began to talk, I could hear the emotion and the love for his players in his voice. “It (the win) was certainly a big one for us. All the credit goes to our kids. They prepared well all week. They stayed focused and I am just super proud of them. To see our kids do what we are asking them to do, that is just huge for us.”
Paris quieted the naysayers about doubting how good they really are. From this point, opponents will be anticipating a very good Paris team when they prepare to play the Eagles. That will make it even more important for the Eagles to keep working hard, remain focused on what they do, and not to look past anyone. If the Atkins win was not the biggest win in program history, it may be this week at Perryville. So for the Eagles, the most important game of the year is this week at Perryville, and the Eagles cannot afford to look past a very good Mustangs team.
Going into week eight of the high school football season, the games that will be played this week in the conference are:
Paris at Perryville
Atkins at Booneville
Mayflower at Two Rivers
Danville at Baptist Prep
Two big conference games with the division leaders will provide more clarity as to how the season may finish with respect to the seeds in the state tournament at the end of the regular season. Both Atkins and Booneville have much at stake, as the Red Devils do not want to lose their second conference game, and Booneville, who has suffered from two opponents canceling games with them, badly needs a conference win as the Bearcats are just 1-0 in the conference going into week eight.
State-wide media outlets were in Atkins last Friday for what was anticipated to be a big match-up in Class 3A. Undoubtedly, there is the likelihood that more media will be in attendance in Perryville for another huge match-up in the conference. Perryville is approximately one hour from Little Rock, so there is a good chance that most of the Little Rock media could be in Perryville to see the Eagles’ game with the Mustangs.
So the challenge now for Coach Clark and his staff is to keep his players focused from week to week as the Eagles continue to have success on the field. Coaches at all levels have this challenge as their teams achieve more and more success. In fact, it was just about a year ago (October 12, 2019 to be exact) that Alabama’s coach Nick Saban referred to the media as “rat poison” and admonishing his players not to take the “rat poison” that took the form of increased praise from fans and the media. And the Eagles now have the same challenge. Everywhere they go, people will be patting them on the back, and telling them how good they are. Media, such as this article, will be talking about the success the team is having. So, it will be very important that Paris keeps doing what they have done all year, and that is focusing on, as Coach Clark says, a “nameless and faceless opponent.” To me and everyone else, the opponent this week is Perryville. For Coach Clark’s team, the opponent is the players themselves. Will they maintain their discipline and focus to prepare each week to do their jobs to the best extent possible, or will they drink the “rat poison?” From my observation, just as the team was focused last week in Atkins, I expect to see the team focused this Friday, as well. Coach Clark commented, “I think our kids understand that, first off, if we don’t take care of business at Perryville, if they (the Paris players) enjoy all of the attention and all of that stuff, we had better keep working our Mondays through Thursdays, because the second we lose a football game, we will be back to just the old mediocre Paris to everybody. We will be thrown off the scene (by the media) as we arrived. We talk a lot about what we were ranked at the start of the year, which was 37th in Class 3A. And our kids are kind of like the mindset of no one thought we were going to do what we are doing, and we don’t need all of that stuff. All we need is the 32 guys and the coaches in the locker room, and whether or not anyone else (media) wants to cover our games, we are still going to do what we need to do.”
Perryville is coached by Chris Norton. Coach Norton’s team was forecasted by Hooten’s Arkansas Football publication to finish third in the conference behind Booneville and Atkins. Friday’s game with the Eagles is an opportunity to give conference leader Paris a loss, and then wait on the outcome of the Atkins / Booneville game. Perryville lost to Atkins on October 2 by the score of 52-44. The Atkins game was Perryville’s only conference loss to date. The Paris / Perryville game, and the Atkins / Booneville game are critical games for all four schools with respect to moving up, or in Paris’s case, getting some separation from the rest of the teams in the conference standings. Paris, barring unforeseen circumstances of opponents who may cancel due to COVID reasons, controls its own destiny. A win this week, and the Eagles will host Booneville on October 30 for homecoming and possibly for the lead in the conference. Paris’s final game of the regular season will be the following week on November 6 at Danville.
So, Eagles fans, there you are. Everything this team has set with respect to goals the team wants to achieve this season are still in front of them going into week eight of the season. Handling success is a challenge for the Paris program in light of the team not having much success over the previous four years. The upperclassmen on this team, who have bought into Coach Clark’s culture within the program, will keep this team focused this week, and every remaining week of the season. Players are meeting voluntarily at 6:30 a.m. each day before school to look at more and more film of their opponents. The culture, or, “the way we do things” has been built in the Paris program. Coach Clark’s focus on the “process” and not entirely on “the outcome” has produced a program that focuses on everything the players and coaches do to help the team be successful. Looking ahead to next year for a minute, the team will graduate a lot of good players, but the culture in the program has set the standard for what is expected, and in my judgement, will keep the Paris football program competitive each year, despite ebb and flow with talent and numbers from year to year. One of the biggest challenges any coach has is getting high school players to buy into the idea of focusing on the team and not on themselves. Getting players, for example, to focus on what is at stake for the team, when perhaps they are not getting as much playing time they want, is a challenge and requires special players and coaches who are focused on winning. In my opinion, Paris has achieved this. Coach Clark commented, “I am proud of everything about this program. I am proud of our kids. I’m proud of our coaches. I’m just really happy about how things are going.”
Fans around the community have commented how proud they are of Coach Clark. They like that Coach Clark takes no credit for the team’s succces, passing it on to the players. “I appreciate fans saying that. I am used to, at Russellville, Warren, Marion, off season is a season for weight lifting and agility drills. We’re going to stay everyday until 4:30 p.m. and work our tails off. That was an adjustment for our kids. But its just something that I am a big believer in. Games are won in the weight room. Everything we do in November and leading up to football season is a big part of what type of team we are going to be. And our kids have really bought into the weight room and what we ask them to do. They have seen the results from it.”
But for now, the opponent is Perryville. The Atkins win is over, and that is in the Eagles past. The only thing that matters now is Perryville, and I am sure Coach Clark and his staff will keep their team focused on the Mustangs. Paris has to forget about Atkins and focus on Perryville. Fans in the community may continue to celebrate the win over Atkins, but the team cannot afford to do that; they must focus on Perryville, or the Atkins win, and the Booneville game around the corner will mean much less. When I asked Coach Clark about this, he said, “It goes into the message we relay as a staff and knowing that our kids trust us. No doubt it was really nice to beat a really good Atkins football team, but does it really matter if you lose this week? At this point, every game we play is the most important game we play. And our kids know that. They really do understand that, even back when we were playing West Fork and Mayflower, that was the most important game we were going to play. I think our kids understand. Of course, our kids know that last week was an important game, and this week is a big game, and the week after that will be a big game. But, it is still all about us, and we know that. We have to work on us. If we do those things, we are going to be fine.”
I made the statement last week that Paris should feel like they can fly over the goal posts when they take the field against Atkins. And that is how they looked last Friday. I don’t have a witty expression to use this week, but suffice it to say that there should be no shortage of emotion or readiness to play when the Eagles take the field at Perryville. This is a very special group of Eagles, and their work is far from done. It is time to play the game of their lives this Friday, and I have no doubt that they will.
So here is my weekly game night weather forecast for Perryville. The Weather Bug forecast for Perryville this Friday is a high of 76 degrees and a low of 52 degrees. There is a 30% chance of thunderstorms, so watch the forecast as the week goes along. You may need to be prepared for a little rain on game night.
Paris fans will want to get to the stadium early to get a seat and to be ready for the Eagles to take the field in one of the most important games in their history. It should be a great match between to great teams who will likely play in this year’s state playoffs.
Drive carefully, and Resident Press will see you at the game Friday!