Central Arkansas conference previews
September 22, 2011
LITTLE ROCK Conference play kicks into full force Friday night, and with it, the talk of who will contend for the conference titles in each respective region.
In central Arkansas, several teams are vying for those conference crowns, with a majority of them beginning their trek toward regional supremacy starting with their Week 4 games.
Here is a run-down of the 18 Pulaski County teams, and a short synapse of their road to success within their conference, along with their current record and the game that could possibly decide their conference fate:
Arkansas Baptist, 2-3A, 3-0: The Eagles possess their best chance to win the conference in their three seasons under coach Brad Helm. With a solid quarterback (Jack Easby-Smith), wide receiver (Ryan Perkins) and running back (Jack Hansen), and perennial conference favorite Harding Academy getting used to a lot of new skill position players, Arkansas Baptist will probably be in the best position it's been for a conference title in quite some time. They open conference play at Barton.
Biggest conference game: Harding Academy, at home, Sept. 30.
Little Rock Catholic, 7A/6A Central, 2-1: As one of the surprise teams of the area, the Rockets have boosted their resume with convincing home wins over Springdale and Fort Smith Northside along with a close loss at North Little Rock — in a non-conference game. They'll have to get past Bryant on the road to open their conference slate.
Biggest conference game: Little Rock Central, on the road, Oct. 28.
Central Arkansas Christian, 5A Southwest, 1-1-1: After a loss to state power Pulaski Academy, the Mustangs tied McClellan and beat 7-4A contender Nashville. It's a good recovery for a team that could've easily folded after a humiliating loss in Week 1. They'll have to deal with Little Rock Christian within the city limits (the two play at Christian in the season finale Nov. 4), as well as road games at Camden Fairview and Arkadelphia within the conference.
Biggest conference game: Hot Springs Lakeside, on the road, Oct. 7.
Little Rock Central, 7A/6A Central, 2-1: By far the most surprising team in Little Rock, with a win at Pine Bluff last week and a season-opening win at Texarkana, with a respectable loss to Fort Smith Southside sandwiched in-between. They take on Van Buren in their first game at Quigley-Cox Stadium this season tomorrow night.
Biggest conference game: Conway, at home, Oct. 7.
Little Rock Christian, 5A Southwest. 2-1 : A soft-ish non-conference schedule — wins over Maumelle and North Pulaski, a loss at Sylvan Hills — has given the Warriors what they need headed into 5A Southwest play, a winning record. Now they'll go for a playoff berth, starting with a game at Hope.
Biggest conference game: Camden Fairview, at home, Oct. 14.
Episcopal Collegiate, 2-3A, 0-3: It's not easy being the Wildcats recently, with three straight losses in non-conference to open the season. Now? They head into conference play arguably at the bottom of the 2-3A with Arkansas Baptist just down the road looking like a sure bet to finish in the top 2 with Harding Academy. A few wins over mid-pack squads and clinging to a fourth-place finish might be their best bet. They start with a visit from Harding Academy on Friday night.
Biggest conference game: Brinkley, at home, Oct. 21.
Little Rock Fair, 6A South, 0-3: Donald Harris and the War Eagles picked right up where they left off last season, and that's not a good thing. Fair hasn't been competitive in their first three games of 2011, losing a combined 132-12 with two shutouts. Best bet will be a respectable 1-2 wins in conference, just for confidence. They open 6A South play in the toughest spot in the conference, at El Dorado.
Biggest conference game: Texarkana, at home, Oct. 21.
Little Rock Hall, 7A/6A East, 2-1: Considering their penchant for losing, the Warriors back-to-back wins in non-conference were huge, mainly because they've never won back-to-back games in program history. Another achievement they haven't reached? A playoff appearance, and that could happen with a good showing in the 7A/6A East. They get the tough part out of the way, opening at West Memphis on Friday night.
Biggest conference game: Marion, at home, Oct. 21.
Jacksonville, 7A/6A East, 1-2: After a lot of preseason promise, the Red Devils have to find a way to right the ship. Losses at Cabot (34-13) and to Benton (41-14) at home are nothing to be ashamed of, but they weren't very competitive in them, either. They have bounced back with a 41-19 win over Hot Springs, one good sign heading into their first conference game, at Mountain Home.
Biggest conference game: Searcy, on the road, Oct. 14.
Maumelle, 7-4A, 2-1: Fortunately, the Hornets loaded up on non-conference softies as Pulaski Oak Grove two seasons ago, allowing them wins over North Pulaski and Fair in the last two weeks following an opening loss to Christian. Now they enter a conference season that looks like it'll be dominated by Pulaski Academy, who they open with this week, on the road. A top-heavy slate could give way to some late-season wins and a run at a playoff berth.
Biggest conference game: Nashville, at home, Oct. 7.
Little Rock McClellan, 6A South, 1-1-1: The Lions hit all three spectrums of the columns, a win, a loss, a tie, in non-conference. Now they will cling to the confidence of a .500 record in the 6A South. A playoff berth is in sight if they can run off wins in their first three games: Texarkana, at Sheridan, and home against Fair, and maybe a surprise late in the season. After that? At El Dorado, Benton, Pine Bluff, at Lake Hamilton. I shudder.
Biggest conference game: Benton, at home, Oct. 21.
Little Rock Mills, 5A Southeast, 0-3: Graduation killed the Comets, losing most of their starters on both sides of the ball, and it showed, with losses to McClellan, Parkview and Hall. Their final two loss (Hall and McClellan) were both 28-26, which means they were competitive at the least. Still, Mills opens 5A Southeast play at home against conference favorite Monticello. Might need to pull off some major upsets to make the playoffs
Biggest conference game: White Hall, on the road, Nov. 3.
North Pulaski, 5A Southeast, 0-3: Same old Falcons, haven't made the playoffs in program history, and a new coach hasn't helped. They were competitive in a 20-15 loss to Christian, but loss a combined 69-19 to Searcy and Maumelle. Could be another long and playoff-less season. The Falcons get West Helena to open conference play.
Biggest conference game: Crossett, on the road, Oct. 21.
North Little Rock, 7A/6A Central, 2-1: It's a subject that's been run into the ground, but without Altee Tenpenny, this team lacks a certain dynamic. Fortunately for the Charging Wildcats, Kendall Williams has picked up the slack, as has quarterback Kaylon Cooper. They might get Tenpenny back in two weeks, but they shouldn't push it. North Little Rock has the firepower to contend for the 7A/6A Central regardless, and a top-2 seed isn't out of the question. They welcome Russellville in for their first conference game of the season.
Biggest conference game: Conway, on the road, Sept. 30.
Little Rock Parkview, 7A/6A East, 3-0: The non-conference schedule was good to the Patriots, playing struggling clubs like Sylvan Hills, Dollarway and Mills for three victories. Now the real fun starts in conference play, and it doesn't start slow. A game at home with Jonesboro in the opener, followed by a trip to Searcy, then a visit from Marion and monster running back Tre Franklin. The end of the slate brings winnable games with Hall, at Jacksonville and Mountain Home.
Biggest conference game: Searcy, on the road, Sept. 30.
Pulaski Robinson, 7-4A, 3-0: The Senators lost pretty much everything off their 2010 squad and coach Todd Eskola might've seen that coming, judging by his non-conference slate — albeit made two years ago. Wins over Fair, Lake Village and Hot Springs ensured a perfect non-conference record and now they'll head to 7-4A play with some measure of confidence. They'll open play with Ashdown at home.
Biggest conference game: Nashville, on the road, Oct. 21.
Pulaski Academy, 7-4A, 3-0: We all expected what we got from the Bruins, three solid wins over three solid teams — and a Sports Illustrated article. Fredi Knighten proved he was one of the best players in the state and the Bruins are the odds-on favorite to win the 7-4A. They'll open the conference schedule with Maumelle at home.
Biggest conference game: Ashdown, at home, Nov. 4.
Sylvan Hills, 5A Southeast, 1-2: The Bears aren't necessarily struggling, but youth hinders them, because it's accompanied by inexperience. Jim Withrow's team got a win over Mills, but were shutout by Parkview last week. They open the conference with White Hall and should hope for some great play by Trey Bone to get them a respectable mark in the 5A Southeast.
Biggest conference game: Monticello, at home, Oct. 21.