Four questions for four writers, talking 7A-West football heading into week five.
1. Finish this sentence: Springdale Har-Ber’s 42-7 blowout win at Rogers High was ?
Jimmy Carter (Springdale beat writer) — Not too shocking. Let me break it down. Har-Ber beat Owasso, Okla., 21-14 at a preseason scrimmage over in Tulsa. Granted, it was a scrimmage, but Owasso is one of the big four Class 6A-Division I programs in Oklahoma. Keon Hatcher’s Rams are 4-0 this year with wins over fellow powers Jenks and Broken Arrow, the team that beat Bentonville 34-0. Rogers lost 17-14 to 6A-D2 Claremore, Okla., in the Zebras only win this year. So this one wasn’t too shocking despite Har-Ber’s struggles in a tough nonconference slate.
Paul Nielsen (Rogers beat writer) — Impressive. Har-Ber held the Rogers skill players — quarterback, fullback, slot backs — to 18 rushing yards in the first half and 149 for the game. And most of that came on two runs of 63 and 27 yards. Har-Ber also answered with a quick score after Rogers cut the lead to 14-7 with a scoring drive to start the second half that all but ended the game.
Rick Fires (Har-Ber beat writer) — Unexpected, considering the Wildcats started 0-3 and lost 59-42 to the Mounties last year. Har-Ber now has renewed hope and the Wildcats will be 3-0 in conference if they beat winless Springdale and Bentonville in next two weeks. It’s amazing what one big win can do for a team’s confidence and momentum.
Andrew Hutchinson (multimedia reporter) — To be expected. Har-Ber has Rogers’ number. Excluding their first season of varsity football (2006), the Wildcats have lost to Rogers only once – a 59-42 shootout loss last season. On top of that, Har-Ber’s 0-3 start was somewhat deceiving, as the Wildcats lost to three quality opponents – Webb City (Mo.), Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst and Conway. Rogers, on the other hand, was just 1-2, with losses to a good Jefferson City (Mo.) team and not-so-good Claremore (Okla.) team. If it wasn’t for a Herculean effort by Bryan Grigsby in Week 1 against Siloam Springs, the Mounties would have been 0-3, too. That is why I picked the Wildcats to win before the game.
2. True or false: Bentonville will fall to 0-5 with a home loss to Fort Smith Northside this week.
Carter — True. Bentonville is officially down after the loss at Southside. The Tigers’ offense has been anemic and committed turnovers leading to defensive touchdowns for opponents. Northside has likely the best defense in the state and is riding high after beating Fayetteville. But, a word of caution: I’m 0-4 picking Bentonville games this year. So the Tigers will probably pull the upset.
Nielsen — False, but a very tough question. I just have to believe that Bentonville is much better than its record and they will right the ship at some point. But this is a tough week to do it.
Fires — Bentonville’s playing a joke on us, right? They’ve already split their school district and half the good players moved to Gravette, where the Lions are rolling behind Cedric Duarte.
Hutchinson — True. Northside is very, very good, as I have been saying the last few weeks. Also, Bentonville is not nearly as good as most people expected before the season. The only thing the Tigers could benefit from is the fact that the Grizzlies are coming off a very emotional win over Fayetteville. However, I don’t think that will be a problem because Bentonville has been so good in recent years. Northside should have no problem getting fired up to play Bentonville.
3. What are the odds Fort Smith Southside takes down another preseason favorite in Fayetteville this week?
Carter — Not likely. I’d be surprised if Fayetteville wins by less than 10 points. The Bulldogs beat North Little Rock and lost to Northside in a thriller. They’ve shown they’re one of the best teams in the state. Southside doesn’t appear to be, despite the Bentonville win.
Nielsen — I give Fayetteville the nod as the Bulldogs have too many offensive weapons. But then again, nothing surprises me anymore in this conference.
Fires — Not likely. Fayetteville did well in past years against Southside. I don’t see Fayetteville losing to Northside and Southside in the same year.
Hutchinson — I’ll give Southside a 40 percent chance of knocking off Fayetteville. That may seem high, but the Rebels have flown under the radar with an impressive 3-1 record through four weeks. They traveled to Pine Bluff and beat 4A power Warren on a Tuesday to start the season, then held Greenwood to its lowest point total since 2009 in a 15-10 loss, crushed Lake Hamilton 42-14 on the road and hung on for a 10-7 win over Bentonville. Plus, traveling down Interstate 49 to play Southside is always tough, especially with a sophomore quarterback. That said, Fayetteville has a potent offense that will probably score enough points to win.
4. Are Northside and Fayetteville the only legit 7A-West state title contenders at this time?
Carter — It’s early, but it sure appears so at this point. You’d think Bentonville would figure it out at some point, but the Tigers are struggling big-time now. Fayetteville should be much improved by the end of the year after finally turning the quarterback job over to sophomore Taylor Powell full-time. Northside already has marquee wins over Pine Bluff, Greenwood and Fayetteville. The Grizzlies have put the rest of the state on notice.
Nielsen — No. You can never count out Southside when it comes playoff time as the Rebels have a knack of peaking at the right time. And if Bentonville gets things going, the Tigers could be a force. How would you like to be a third or fourth seed and see Bentonville as your playoff opponent?
Fires — Way too early in conference play to make a statement like that. It’s all about getting into the playoffs. There’ve been a few examples where the fourth-place team from the 7A-West got hot and won a state championship. Even winless Bentonville still has time to make a turnaround and defend its title.
Hutchinson — At this point, I would have to say yes. Bentonville hasn’t done anything to prove it could repeat as the 7A state champion. The only other team that looks primed to make a deep playoff run is Northside’s cross-town rival, Southside. As I mentioned above, the Rebels have had a solid season through four weeks.