Quick rebound needed following first loss
Har-Ber coach Chris Wood will be the first to say it: turnovers can be a killer in the 7A-West.
Through the first five weeks of the season, the Wildcats had protected the ball perhaps better than any team around. Har-Ber had just four turnovers in those five games – three games with zero miscues – but Friday in Bentonville, the Tigers forced four turnovers, leading to its 24-21 upset of the state’s top-ranked team.
Though Har-Ber has just eight turnovers in six games, seven have come in conference play.
“What makes you and breaks you in this league is that turnover battle,” Wood said. “In the 7A-West, you don’t want to turn the ball over. Everybody is too good, and it gives the offense short fields. … It’s a combination of both (us and who we’re playing). You get into these games and good matchups, you’ve got these challenges. Defenses have played well and they’re mixing things up on us. It’s just one of those deals.”
Junior quarterback Grant Allen, who had thrown just one interception in the first five weeks of the season, threw three at Bentonville and, thanks to a questionable defensive pass interference on Bentonville, had a fourth negated. And his fumble with under two minutes to play sealed a home win for the Tigers, which moved them to 3-0 in conference play. Despite that, Allen still leads the 7A-West in passing scores with 19.
Last week was also the first time this fall Har-Ber did not have a scoring play of 20+ yards. Instead, Har-Ber leaned on running back/receiver Payton Copher, who rushed for a season-high 87 yards and his second touchdown on the ground on a season-high 15 carries. He also caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown, his third of the year.
Over the last two weeks, Copher’s play has picked up after a semi-slow start. But that can largely be attributed to Har-Ber’s success through the air and missing pieces up front. Against Springdale and Bentonville, he’s combined to rush for 157 yards – more than half of his season total – on 23 carries. His longest two runs of the season (20 yards, 32 yards) have also come in that span.
“He’s just a guy that we really like. We like his energy and his effort,” Wood said of Copher. “He’s a matchup for people. We want to utilize that to our advantage when we can. He’s real tuned in right now, and real focused on the success of our program and our offense and he wants us to do well.
“He wants to do everything he can to help us, and he brings that every day to work. When he’s on the practice field or in film study you can’t ask for more of a class act kid on how he prepares to get ready each week.”
Har-Ber’s explosive offense has been well-documented in these notebooks this season. But this week, the Wildcats will face an offense with just as many 20+ yard scoring plays in Bentonville West. After three such touchdowns last week at Springdale, West matched Har-Ber’s total, which should make Friday’s showdown all the more entertaining and intriguing.
Here are some other notes on this week’s game:
• Allen leads the 7A-West with 19 TD passes. West’s Will Jarrett is second with 18.
• Har-Ber has the 7A-West’s top pass defense. West has the league’s top passing offense.
• Both defenses are stout against the run. Har-Ber leads the conference in fewest rushing yards allowed (634), and West is second (635).
• Despite the flurry of turnovers of late, Har-Ber remains +6 in the turnover margin. The Wildcats have forced three or more turnovers three times this season.
• West receiver Jadon Jackson leads the 7A-West in receiving yards (812), is tied for the league lead in TD catches (7) with Fayetteville’s Cody Gray, and averages better than 25 yards per reception.
— Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
Bentonville coach Jody Grant wasted no time to stress to his team the need to avoid a letdown during this week’s game against Springdale High.
All he had to do was mention that Springdale won its season opener against a Conway team that knocked off the Tigers in their final nonconference game.
“We started our Monday meeting with how we were going to handle this week,” Grant said. “We asked them if they were going to keep patting themselves on the back after a big win or were we going to move forward and attack the next opponent.
“We’ve had good practices this week. Our kids have a lot of respect for Springdale is doing. We have used the fact that Springdale beat a Conway team that whipped us, so our players know we have to play hard.”
Bentonville (4-2, 3-0) arguably played its best game of the season in its win over Springdale Har-Ber. The Tigers compiled 389 yards total offense, and their defense forced four turnovers.
Bentonville, which had a minus-8 turnover margin through its three nonconference games, is now a plus-7 in turnover margin through 7A-West games.
“We ran the ball really well against a really good defense,” Grant said. “I think it gave our offensive line, our running backs and our offensive coaches some confidence.
“Our quarterback has been operating really well and been playing consistently since Week 4. He’s been distributing the ball to a lot of people. Har-Ber did a good job of shutting Kam’Ron Mays-Hunt down, but we had guys like Dylan Smith and Harrison Campbell step up.”
— Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
In the young history of West football, the Wolverines have already played what they considered “big” games.
They don’t get much bigger than Friday’s showdown as West takes its 6-0 record against Springdale Har-Ber. A victory over the team many considered the favorite in Class 7A could send the Wolverines (6-0, 3-0) on their way toward a conference title.
“This is obviously the biggest game because simply it’s the next one,” West coach Bryan Pratt said. “We told our team before the season started that the more you win, the bigger the games are going to get and they would have to understand that to be successful.”
Pratt said he didn’t think his team prepared as well as it should have last week, and West had to score twice in the fourth quarter to secure a 45-29 victory over Springdale High. The Wolverines led by a slim 24-22 margin at halftime and 31-29 after three quarters.
Meanwhile, West will go up against a Har-Ber team that suffered its first loss of the season in a 24-21 decision against Bentonville, and the game will be played on the Wildcats’ home turf.
“I think the kids have done a better job preparing this week,” Pratt said. “After their setback last week, I’m sure coach Wood will have those guys foaming at the chance to get back to where they’re supposed to be.
“You can’t get caught up in the hype of who’s picked to win and who’s going to do what. You just have to go out and play the game. I’m excited about where we’re at, and this is what we’ve been working for.”
— Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
Coach Billy Dawson didn’t have to watch film of this week’s opponent to know what Rogers Heritage’s backfield tandem of quarterback Trey Kitterman and tailback Dylan Qualls could do.
“Those two kids have been playing forever,” Dawson said. “We played them two years ago at Russellville and they’re really physical kids. They’re playing them some on defense, too, which I think really changes the tune of what they do on defense.
“Those guys are competitors. They’re physical and they’re really good football players.”
During film study of his own team from this past Friday’s 42-14 win over Rogers High, several things jumped out at Dawson, especially the role of triggerman played by junior quarterback Darius Bowers. He completed 29 of 40 passes for 472 yards with five touchdowns while also rushing for a score.
Receivers Cody Gray and Kris Mulinga combined for 22 receptions for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“We played well effort wise, I like our effort,” Dawson said. “We kept it pretty simple and tried to get it to our guys as much as we can, and I thought Darius did a fine job of doing that.
“We still have too many penalties; 60 yards of penalties on defense is too many, so we have some things to clean up there. Our kickoff held them to seven yards a return, so I thought our special teams were much better.
“As long as we continue to play hard, we’ll be fine.”
— Mike Capshaw • @NWACappy
Red’Dogs battling through tough stretch
Admittedly, Springdale coach Zak Clark was a bit worried about his team after an emotional loss to Springdale Har-Ber in Week 5.
Last week against Bentonville West, he wanted to see his team respond. The Red’Dogs fell 45-29 at home to the Wolverines, but his players came back with the type of fight he’d hoped for. Springdale was penalized less than it had been in previous weeks and the offense totaled 415 yards.
The problem, though, lied in West racking up nearly 600 yards of offense and not turning the ball over for a second straight meeting. Springdale turned the ball over twice on interceptions — one that turned into points on a Jadon Jackson touchdown catch — but Clark saw improvement in quarterback Layne Hutchins Friday. He threw for a season-best 232 yards and three touchdowns.
“Both of those turnovers last week we were driving the ball, and you think if we don’t have them we score on one or both possessions,” he said. “Sure, it’s frustrating, and something we have to improve on and get better at. … I do see improvement, especially with (Hutchins) … the first interception was a phenomenal play (by West’s Kendall Young) and that kind of stuff happens. That guy made a great play, but let’s make sure if we do turn the ball over that it’s because of a great play and not necessarily a bad play or a bad ball.
“Layne has been really working hard on throwing guys open and putting it out in front of them or before they’re open out of the break,” he added. “For the most part he did that, and threw a couple of really nice balls where he anticipated the window and put it there on time and on target. You can see him trying to make improvement and he did.”
The turnover battle is always big in 7A-West play. Springdale is -6 this season (17 turnovers/11 takeaways) in that area, according to box scores compiled by NWADG reporters, but sits at 4-2. And what has helped negate those turnovers is explosive plays for scores.
Springdale Har-Ber and Bentonville West lead the conference with 14 explosive plays for touchdowns, and Springdale is second with 10. The Red’Dogs have at least one such play in each of its conference games, and totaled seven in non-conference. They are the only team in the league with at least one in each of the first six weeks of the season.
Hutchins hit receiver Jaden Cornelius for a 29-yard score last week, and Darrell Parchman also had a 26-yard reception result in a first down. Clark was unsure of who his big-play threat would be entering the season, but it’s clear Springdale has been able to create more big plays than many thought early on.
“Anytime you can cancel out a drive with a big play it’s almost like stealing one,” Clark said. “It’s hard to go 8-10-12 plays without a mistake. Big plays, you look at the best offenses, they’ve got explosive playmakers that have some big chunk plays.”
This week, Springdale caps its toughest three-week stretch of the season with a trip to Bentonville, who knocked off top-ranked Har-Ber 24-21 last week. Turnovers loomed large in the Tigers’ upset win as they forced four Har-Ber turnovers.
Bentonville was -8 turnover-wise its first three games this season, but fortunes have reversed, improving to +7 in three conference games, according to the NWADG’s Henry Apple.
“There’s been a couple of years where you hope to catch them early because they seem to get better and they’re one of those teams and programs that gets better as the season progresses. And that’s a testament to Jody and their staff, but also the kids, too,” Clark said.
Despite the pair of tough losses in back-to-back weeks, Clark said his team has had three straight weeks of positive, focused practice. Having an older, veteran bunch also helps keep things even keel, too.
“That’s encouraging, and makes me think the results are going to come. All we can do is worry about getting better and worry about ourselves,” he added. “This is kind of the part of the season where it really starts to become a grind, and it either gets to be miserable, or this is the part where teams turn it on.”
— Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
The Mounties (4-2, 1-2 7A-West) stayed with Fayetteville early last Friday night and even looked to have a tying touchdown midway through the second quarter. But the catch was waved off and the Purple Bulldogs responded with 31 unanswered points.
The end result was a 52-14 Fayetteville win. Rogers High had a couple of scoring chances to keep its momentum. But Mounties coach Mike Loyd didn’t like the effort he saw, especially on defense as Fayettevile gained momentum.
“You can go watch it on the video, we had a touchdown,” Loyd said. “The back judge was out of position. That’s a touchdown and it’s 21-21. Then we miss a field goal. All of a sudden they score two or three plays later, big play us, which they can do. I don’t think we played as hard from then on out.
“Middle of the second quarter, 21-21, it’s a ballgame.Your kids get a little more confident. As far as the second half, I was probably as frustrated and disappointed because I felt like we accepted the role once again.”
The Mounties defense will have a challenge this week trying to corral Van Buren running back Walter Green. The senior rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-28 overtime loss at Rogers Heritage last week.
“He’s the best running back in this district,” Loyd said. “He can play for somebody in college.”
Senior defensive tackle Jayden Mendez (6-1, 285) is another standout for the Pointers (0-6, 0-3).
Senior Hunter Hawkins caught seven passes for 103 yards against Fayetteville for the Mounties, while teammate Colin McWhorter added nine catches for 74 yards. Sophomore quarterback Hunter Loyd completed 17 of 38 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
War Eagles coach Tony Travis acknowledged getting the overtime win last week was the best validation for his players.
Heritage (1-5, 1-2 7A-West) got a two-point conversion from Dylan Qualls in overtime to claim a hard-fought 29-28 win over Van Buren at Gates Stadium. Travis said it was a bigger deal for the players than the coaches, but huge nonetheless.
“As coaches I can spend time watching film and show you positives and where we’re playing better,” said Travis, whose team snapped a seven-game losing streak. “But as kids and I was a player, the only thing that validates their hard work is the scoreboard. And that’s not right, but that’s the reality.
“It was big from a players’ standpoint that we got to walk off the field with our heads high and we got a win. It’s important for the younger one’s to see it and say ‘I can’t wait to be a part of that.'”
Travis praised the work of his offensive line, which paved the way for back-to-back big weeks running the ball.
Heritage lost three starters on the offensive line, including two to season-ending injuries. But Travis likes the progress that’s been made, especially lately.
“Two weeks in a row all five of them graded out in the 80s or better,” Travis said. “That’s the highest we’ve had all year long.”
Heritage rolled up 285 rushing yards in a loss to Rogers High, but followed that up with 257 in the overtime win against Van Buren.
Guards Carter Hiller and Christian Combs began the year as backups, but have shown improvement throughout the season, Travis said.
“We started the season with Kevin Beltran and Luis Morales at guard and both of them had surgery and are out,” Travis said. “But the guys we have in there now are getting better each week.”
“Zion Adair and Matt Allred have had our highest grades on the offensive line throughout and Jacob Lanham continues to do a good job at center, too. Carter and Christian have been thrust into starting roles and they’ve handled it well.”
Linebacker Reese Williams could return this week, after missing last week’s game, Travis said. But his status is still uncertain for Friday.
— Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB
Here is a look at area stat leaders through Week 6: