One thing Bentonville wants to stress more these days is the need to score more points in the early stages of its games.
The Tigers (5-2, 4-0) had scored only three points during the first quarter of their first six games. That changed last week when Bentonville scored two touchdowns en route to its 49-21 win over Springdale High.
Nathan Lyons completed touchdown passes of 17 yards to Harrison Campbell and 64 yards to Kam’Ron Mays-Hunt in the first quarter. Lyons wound up career-high marks of 22 completions, 313 yards and four touchdowns — most of that coming in the first half as Bentonville built a 35-7 halftime cushion.
The Tigers, normally a run-oriented offense, threw the ball 31 times compared to 22 rushing attempts against Springdale. It marked the first time Bentonville had done that since its game against Bergen Catholic in 2014.
“We had talked to our kids all week about starting fast,” Bentonville coach Jody Grant said. “We had not scored a touchdown in the first quarter, so we challenged them to score touchdowns — and lots of them.
“They bought into that. We did some different stuff in the sense that we tried to create some excitement about scoring fast and often, then the defense creating some stops and getting the ball back to the offense.”
Bentonville now heads to Rogers High for a significant 7A-West game this week. A victory can guarantee the Tigers a first-round bye in the state playoffs, something they didn’t enjoy last year for the first time since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams.
— Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
Red’Dogs look to regain confidence
Fighting the mental side of things following the toughest three-week stretch of the schedule can be difficult.
Springdale (4-3, 1-3) has faced the three teams at the top of the 7A-West – Bentonville West, Bentonville, Springdale Har-Ber – in consecutive weeks, dropping each game. Now, the challenge for the Red’Dogs is letting go of that rough patch, and playing for what lies ahead.
Friday, for Homecoming, Springdale hosts a reeling Van Buren team that has lost each of its seven games this season, and 11 consecutive games dating back to Oct. 14, 2016. On the flip side, Springdale has lost three straight, and coach Zak Clark wants to see the swagger his group played with early on return for what should be an exciting final three weeks.
“We just need to get that confidence back,” he said. “If we come out and just play well, we’ll be fine. … We can host a playoff game. That’s still on the table. And if we do that it’ll be the first time it happened here, and that’s huge.”
In the past, Van Buren’s scheme has revolved around the triple option, and stopping the run was Springdale’s strength and what aided its 4-0 start. This year the offense has opened up a bit, but running back Walter Green is near the top of the 7A-West in rushing yards with better than 600. Through six weeks, no one in the league carried the ball more.
The Pointers have been able to find some semblance of success through the air as well. Receiver Brycen St. Mary has just 14 catches on the year, but five have gone for touchdowns. He averages just more than 24 yards per reception, and is a viable deep threat when coach Greg Werner shakes things up. Van Buren’s top targets – St. Mary, Logan Humphreys – each have at least 330 yards receiving.
Defensively, Springdale, for a second straight week, did not force a turnover in its 49-21 loss at Bentonville. Creating turnovers, especially now, will be big for the Red’Dogs, who, despite a -7 turnover margin, are 3-1 this season when collecting at least one takeaway.
“We’re getting to that point in the year where the good teams get better, and I feel like we’re close,” Clark said. “We’ve got to go out, play well and get our confidence back, and play hard and make our own breaks. This week in practice we’ve kind of gone back to being simple and do what we do, and that’s play really hard.”
In the loss to Bentonville, running back Garrett Vaughan, who suffered a spiral fracture in his hand in Week 3, returned to the field in a defensive role. Friday, he could see time on offense, Clark said. Defensive lineman Harrison Vasquez, too, returned to practice full time for the first time since Week 5.
“We’re starting to get healthier for the stretch run,” Clark said. “It’s a shot in the arm getting some guys back where in the past the number of guys out are growing.
“These seniors, they’ve done so much for the program, we want to make sure we send them out the right way. Here it is, the last three weeks of the regular season. It’s a good time to play our best football.”
– Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
Purple’Dogs-Cats critical matchup once again
Things obviously did not go according to plan Friday vs. Bentonville West.
The league-leading Wolverines handed Har-Ber its second consecutive loss last week, dropping the Wildcats to 2-2 in 7A-West play with three weeks to go. West took advantage of nearly every Har-Ber miscue and dominated the line of scrimmage, recording nine sacks of quarterback Grant Allen. Coach Chris Wood pointed the finger at himself.
“I think from an offensive standpoint, I’ve got to do a better job in how we get our group prepared scheme-wise,” he said. “There’s things we can do on my end, from the coaching side, to put our guys in a situation to be very successful.
“I don’t think I did a very good job of that for them last week. The kids played hard for us and did everything we could ask, but that’s on me. I’ve got to do some things on how we gameplan and execute that plan.”
Friday marked the first time Har-Ber had lost two in row since the end of 2014 and the 2015 season opener. The Wildcats, somewhat, are in unchartered territory in that respect. Now, Fayetteville is up next. The Purple’Dogs snapped a four-game losing streak – their longest since 2008 — two weeks ago with a blowout win vs. Rogers High and added another win at Rogers Heritage last week.
Fayetteville/Har-Ber has been must-see for the better part of a decade. The teams met in the 2015 state championship game and, going back a little further, played a game of basketball on grass in 2010 — 106 combined points. Fayetteville scored late in the fourth quarter, as Wood recalls, before Har-Ber returned the ensuing kickoff for a score with only a few seconds remaining. It marks the last time Har-Ber has won at Fayetteville.
“I think it’s a critical game for both groups,” Wood said. “You just want to keep yourself positioned for a home game in the playoffs. Now you’re starting to filter out the 3-4, and you want to have one of those two seeds so you’re playing Week 11 at home.”
Up front, Wood is high on a Purple’Dogs’ defensive line highlighted by Dotson Schaefer and a defense that’s getting better each week. The linebackers run well, he said, and the secondary has improved. Fayetteville is 3-0 when holding opponents under 25 points this season. Whichever offense can gain traction first could hold the upper hand.
For Har-Ber offensively, running back Payton Copher was limited in last week’s loss vs. West with a shoulder injury sustained in the first quarter of its Week 7 loss at Bentonville. Copher got four offensive snaps last week and moonlighted on special teams, finishing with one yard rushing on one carry. Wood said the senior is full-go this week.
“We didn’t know his availability going into (last week), and it was about on Thursday when he was released,” Wood said. “… It’s not about the one game; it’s about the season. That’s our No. 1 priority. You want this season to carry on for quite a while, and to do that we need guys healthy.”
Wood also commented on junior receiver Brock Pounders’ season-ending ACL injury. Pounders suffered a partial tear in Week 2, but fought back into the lineup last week before taking another hit to the knee.
“You love his heart, love his character, and commitment to this team,” Wood said. “Not a lot of guys will go out there and say, ‘Hey, I’ll hold off on this surgery and play with it if I can help this team win.’ You don’t want to see kids get banged up and lose their season.”
— Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
‘Dogs face stiff test in keeping win streak alive
Following back-to-back wins over Rogers High and Rogers Heritage, the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-2) have regained confidence heading into Friday’s showdown against Springdale Har-Ber at Harmon Field.
The two-game winning streak comes on the heels of a four-game losing streak, though.
“I think the beauty of this 2017 team is we’ve continued to get better every week,” said first-year coach Billy Dawson. “Even through some tough games, and some tough losses, we’ve found a way to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and get better.
“The team you see win a state championship is the one you see get better every week.”
On the flip side, Har-Ber has lost back-to-back games against Bentonville High and Bentonville West after opening the first half of the season with five consecutive wins. Film study of the Wildcats reveals Fayetteville will have its hands full against a team league coaches picked to win the 7A-West in the preseason.
“They start eight seniors (on defense) and they’re multi-year starters,” Dawson said. “Their nose guard (Alejandro Ramirez) is a really good player and another player I think is really good is No. 95, Blake Wade, the defensive end. The secondary is as good as we’re going to see. They’re really athletic, they can run and they’re really solid at what they do.”
Offensively, the Wildcats are led by junior quarterback Grant Allen, who has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 1,558 yards and also leads the team in rushing with 396 yards and 5 touchdowns on 72 carries. His top targets are Hunter Wood and Bryton Cook, who have combined for more than 113 yards receiving per game.
Dawson said Har-Ber offensive coordinator Keith Fimple always does a “great job” of getting the Wildcats prepared.
“It’s definitely a high-octane offense, and they’ve got eight seniors over there as well,” Dawson said. “They have sort of changed what they have been doing in the last few games. They’re throwing it a whole lot more with a lot of open and empty formations and they’ve got some guys who can really run.
“Allen has had a great year and, boy, he does a great job of getting it to those guys.”
As far as his team, Dawson said he “loves the way they come to work every day” and that he’s “been proud of our effort and attitude. He also said he likes the level of “confidence and the tempo we’ve been playing with,” especially during the past two wins. In last Friday’s 35-14 win at Rogers Heritage, most of the starters were able to rest after building a comfortable lead by halftime.
“I was really glad at how we quick fired and started,” Dawson said. “We’ve got some normal bumps and bruises and that helps us get back a little bit. To not play the second half, it’s not the usual mental grind of a game, so it helps the health on the mental side, too.”
— Mike Capshaw • @NWACappy
Coach Tony Travis liked the way his team started the week in practice better than a week ago, which seems odd since the War Eagles notched their first win two weeks ago.<br><br>
“It sounds crazy, I know,” Travis said. “But coming off the win, I told you I didn’t see the same hunger that we showed before. This week coming off a loss that I didn’t think we competed, I thought we were better.”<br><br>
Heritage (1-6, 1-3 7A-West) gave up 21 points in the first quarter and trailed 35-0 at halftime en route to a 35-14 loss to Fayetteville. It doesn’t get any easier this week hosting undefeated Bentonville West. Heritage won the initial meeting between the two schools last year 28-18 at Gates Stadium. <br><br>
The War Eagles could get starting linebacker Reese Williams back for Friday, Travis said. He’s missed the last two games with a shoulder injury.<br><br>
Seniors Trey Kitterman and Dylan Qualls continue to deliver good results, despite playing on both sides of the ball at times. Kitterman starts at quarterback on offense, while playing some linebacker on defense. Qualls is one of the top running backs in the 7A-West, rushing for 808 yards and five touchdowns, while also playing some linebacker.<br><br>
Senior Ty Graser leads the War Eagles defense with 40 tackles (26 solos) and two interceptions, but he also sees some limited snaps at running back.<br><br>
— Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB
There are still plenty of incentives for West this week as the Wolverines prepare for this week’s home game against Rogers Heritage.
West (7-0, 4-0) has been reminded of last year’s game, which Heritage won 28-18 at Gates Stadium. The Wolverines can also secure a first-round playoff bye with a win this week, regardless of what happens in the final two weeks of the regular season.
“That first-round bye is a big deal,” West coach Bryan Pratt said. “Everybody talks on how important a bye is, and last year we weren’t able to get one and had to play a first-round game. Any time you can take a week off to recover and prepare for somebody you will see in a couple of weeks, that’s going to be big.
“And even though Heritage has struggled, it’s a team that beat us last year. We didn’t practice very well the week before that game and thought we would just walk over and win the game. So don’t think we haven’t shown that film several times to our players this week.”
The Wolverines will also have to recover from a loss on their defensive line. Defensive lineman Ryan Keeley suffered an injury and has been lost for the remainder of the season.
“Somebody will have to step up,” Pratt said. “You know it’s going to happen throughout the course of a long season. Ryan has been phenomenal and exceeded all our expectations, but now he’ll be a leader on the sideline.
“It’s a tough blow for us. Ben Gann, a sophomore, is the next in line, but the good thing about our defensive line is we have played a multitude of people and subbing in a lot of people in order to keep them fresh. That means something to them.”
— Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
Mounties coach Mike Loyd said his team had a chance to apply a quick knockout punch at Van Buren last week, but settled for grinding out a 24-17 win at Blakemore Field.<br><br>
“We had some drops early, but found a way to win,” Loyd said. “We’re five and two and won every game we’ve had a chance to win. Defensively, we played our best game since Claremore.”<br><br>
Van Buren, which remains winless, still has one of the top running backs in the conference in Walter Green. The senior was limited to just 82 yards by the Mounties defense. The Pointers finished with 277 yards of offense, but 190 came from quarterback Caleb Salisbury. He ran for 97 and threw for 93 more and a touchdown.<br><br>
“I thought we shut down the running back,” Loyd said. “I thought we were physical with him. I thought their quarterback was a good player. Timmy Howard, I thought, was our player of the game on defense. Justin Keihn played well. At one time, we had 11 sophomores players and seven on offense. They played over half the game.”<br><br>
Rogers (5-2, 2-2 7A-West) used a flea-flicker pass from sophomore Hunter Loyd for a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead late in the first half, then scored twice early in the third quarter to take control.<br><br>
Loyd has thrown for just under 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Colin McWhorter has accounted for almost 850 yards of offense and five touchdowns. He’s ran for 283 yards and caught 51 passes for 563 yards .<br><br>
The Mounties will now be trying to clinch a second consecutive winning season this week. But they have a big test at home against red-hot Bentonville (5-2, 4-0).<br><br>
“I told them they have a chance to accompish something,” Loyd said. “As freshmen and sophomores, they were one and nine and two and eight. You’ve got a chance to go out of here back-to-back.”
—Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB