Prairie Grove and Shiloh Christian will hook up in a battle of unbeaten teams at Champions Stadium on Friday night.
In the past 10 years, the series is even at 5-5.
“It’s a big game, everyone knows that,” said Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway. “It’s obviously the game of the week with two 5-0 teams an it’s been a very good rivalry.
“Our guys are going to be excited and up for the game, but we want our guys up for every game and I’m sure (Tigers) coach (Danny) Abshier does, too.”
Conaway said Prairie Grove may have the best defense his team has faced thus far. The Tigers are allowing just eight points per game and have shut out two opponents, including a 35-0 win against Gravette last week.
“(PG defensive coordinator Craig) Laird does an excellent job with the defense,” Conaway said. “They are very talented, with good size and very good speed. You put those two things together — being well-coached and having talent — and that’s why they are not giving up very many points.”
It’s not just the Tigers’ defense that has Conaway concerned. The offense is loaded with playmakers and keeps teams off balanced with misdirection runs and play-action passes out of a Wing-T offense.
Prairie Grove senior quarterback Zeke Laird has completed 29 of 62 passes for 721 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Disney has 11 catches for 393 yards (35.7 yards per catch) and six touchdowns while Clay Fidler has six receptions for 155 yards (25.8 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
Junior running back Anthony Johnson has 48 carries for 510 yards (10.6 per carry) and six touchdowns while senior running back Reed Orr has 26 carries for 214 yards (7.4) and five touchdowns. (Editor’s note: Prairie Grove’s statistics were submitted after the deadline to make the weekly stat leaders lists above.)
“Prairie Grove is a very good football team — in all three phases of the game,” Conaway said. “They’ve got some excellent skill guys. Their quarterback does an excellent job of being extremely efficient, whether they are running the ball or throwing the ball.
“They have very dynamic running backs and a wide receiver in (Isaac) Disney who’s explosive and a lot of those kids also play defense, so that’s why they’re so good on both sides of the ball.”
“They’re have an extremely great mixture of what makes a good football team.”
— MIKE CAPSHAW • @NWACappy
Tiger Tales from The Grove
Like Conaway, Abshier had plenty of positives to say about the Saints also having all the necessary tools needed to make a good football team.
In fact, the Saints appear to have the best offense the Tigers have faced thus far with Shiloh Christian senior quarterback Connor Reece leading the way. Reece has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,395 yards while also rushing for 338 yards. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes, but only two interceptions, including one on a pass deflection.
“He’s a dual-threat guy, and that’s always scary,” Abshier said. “He throw and passes it really, really well and not many quarterbacks are true dual-threat guys like that, so that’s tough to defend. We’ve seen him for two years and he’s more of a man now than he was then, so he just keeps getting better and better.
“He is heavier and stronger, who wouldn’t want him on your team?”
Prairie Grove’s top two rushers also lead the defense as Orr has a team-high 41 tackles while Johnson has 40. Laird has 20 tackles and a team-best five tackles for loss. Defensive end Solomon Walker has 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and leads the team with three sacks. The secondary is strong, too, with Disney and Fidler each grabbing two interceptions. Both have returned interceptions for touchdowns.
As a unit, the Tigers have forced nine turnovers, including seven interceptions.
“(Shiloh Christian) is putting up more points than any other team we’ve faced, so it’s definitely going to be a test,” Abshier said. “They’re a lot like Gravette because they can throw and run and they move the ball around a lot and have a lot of different weapons. It makes it really tough to defend.
“They’re a good football team. They are 5-0 for a reason.”
One aspect of the game being at Shiloh Christian is it’ll be the first game the Tigers have played this season on artificial turf.
“We do feel like that’s a disadvantage for us,” Abshier said. “They get to practice on it and we haven’t and we’ve had problems with it before because it is such a different surface. It’s bugged us in the past, but when they play over here (on Prairie Grove’s natural grass), it’s a disadvantage for them, so it all evens out and we just play football.”
— MIKE CAPSHAW • @NWACappy
Blackhawks not looking past rematch with Lions
Pea Ridge (5-0, 2-0) is rolling, but there’s a major obstacle that should prevent Pea Ridge from looking ahead to next week’s showdown at Prairie Grove.
That’s Friday game at Gravette (3-2, 1-1), which handed the Blackhawks their first loss last year, 22-12, after a 5-0 start.
“That’s a scary matchup,” Pea Ridge coach Stephen Neal said. “Pea Ridge and Gravette have played some close games through the years and we expect another tough, physical game with them.”
Pea Ridge has scored 218 points while allowing only 70 points in five games. The Blackhawks are dynamic on offense with a number of playmakers, including running backs Zaine Holley and Drew Winn, who combined for over 275 yards rushing in last week’s 62-14 victory over Lincoln.
“We’re blessed to have some offensive weapons, but it starts with the offensive line,” Neal said. “The kids up front have been tremendous with their ability and their leadership qualities. They’re the unsung heroes and they’ve got another tough job in going up against a Gravette defensive line that brings a lot of pressure and creates confusion for the offense.”
— RICK FIRES • @NWARick
Berryville, Lincoln hope to stay in playoff hunt
Berryville has won more games halfway through the regular season than the Bobcats did last year when they finished 2-8.
But to make the playoffs, Berryville (3-2, 1-1) likely needs to win games like Friday’s matchup at Lincoln (1-4, 0-2), which is still dangerous despite its slow start.
Lincoln made the playoffs last year with the help of a 41-21 victory over Berryville.
“We had five turnovers in that game, so the key for us is to hang onto the ball,” Berryville coach Austin Winters said. “We stressed that in the off-season and it’s carried over into this season, where we’ve done a pretty good job with ball security.”
Berryville defeated Gentry 52-44 last week behind Jacob Graham, who scored three touchdowns and had 227 all-purpose yards. Gavin Maxwell added 92 yards and one touchdown while Robert Allen led the defensive charge with nine tackles, including two stops for negative yardage.
Lincoln fell 62-14 to Pea Ridge but the Wolves could rebound at home this week, particularly if senior quarterback Harrison Swayne has a good game.
“He’s a dual-threat quarterback with a good arm,” Winters said. “He can fit the ball into tight spaces.”
— RICK FIRES • @NWARick