FORT SMITH — Springdale loaded up its bus and made the trek back up I-49, through the tunnel and into the rain Friday night after a 24-7 loss at Fort Smith Southside.
The Bulldogs hope to make the drive back down south two Fridays from now for a first-round playoff game. To do that, they’ll have to win what amounts to a playoff play-in game at home against Rogers in the regular season finale.
Springdale (1-8, 1-5) will enter week 10 on a five-game skid against the 7A-West’s five teams which have already clinched a playoff spot.
There are two key trends for the Bulldogs entering the Rogers game, both of which played out again Friday night at Southside. One is good. One is bad.
Good trend: Springdale’s defense has made huge, huge strides the last three weeks, a stretch of good play that has coincided with the return of sophomore defensive end Isaiah Nichols and re-inserting senior linebacker Ever Galdamez into the lineup and playing with three backers.
The Bulldogs held Bentonville to 344 yards of offense in a 28-3 loss, the least yards they’d given up this year to that point and the least amount of points they’d allowed against Bentonville since 2009. It’s even more impressive given Bentonville scored on a pick-six. Northside ran a fumble back for a touchdown in a 34-17 win last week, but Springdale’s defense was again mostly solid until wearing down late.
Friday, the Bulldogs limited Southside to 279 yards, the least they’ve allowed against a 7A conference foe since holding Rogers to 125 in a 49-0 win in 2010. All four Mavericks scores came on drives that started at midfield or in Springdale territory, including one that started at the Bulldog 4-yard line after a high snap on a punt.
“They’ve stepped up and really improved,” Springdale coach Zak Clark said. “They’re playing really well right now. They’re very consistent the last three weeks. Couldn’t be happier with the progress they’ve made. And we’re going to need them.”
For the most part, Springdale continued to stuff the run against Southside. The Mavericks finished with 153 yards on 38 attempts (4 yards per carry), which includes two key long runs: Parker Dixon’s 29-yard touchdown in the first quarter and Cooper Johnson’s 38-yard score in the fourth. Subtracting those two, Southside had 86 yards on 36 attempts, which is 2.4 yards per carry and a better picture of how Springdale largely shut down the run most of the night.
Springdale’s main defensive linemen averaged 6-1 3/4 and 242.5 pounds Friday. Compare that to the season opener when they averaged 5-11 3/4 and 230 pounds, it’s easy to see how much the addition of Nichols and others has helped the Bulldogs get bigger and ultimately better. Opponents were gashing Springdale at will through six weeks. That hasn’t been the case the last three, aside from late in the Northside game.
“I think that obviously Isaiah being back helps,” Clark said. “Manny (Martinez) had a great game (against Northside). He’s been unsung because he’s been so solid and so consistent. Francisco (Araujo) made some plays and then (Chris Arevalo) is athletic.
“We like the four guys that start and (Reed) Godinet and (Garrett) Thresher played a little bit tonight. We’re fairly deep there and feel like it’s definitely a strength of the team.”
Rogers is a whole different animal with its option attack. But Springdale is defending the run better than it has in quite some time.
Bad trend: Jack Lindsey got beat up again Friday. A week after Deontre Hardwick had five sacks and Northside totaled nine, Southside defensive end Daevon Johnson had 5.5 as the Mavericks totaled eight.
It’s become a huge problem for the offense. If Lindsey isn’t getting sacked, he’s getting hit as he throws the ball or pressured into releasing it early. Springdale got into a little zone for a few possessions in the second half Friday, but for the most part Southside got constant pressure.
“We tried to get it out a little quicker, tried to do some things,” Clark said. “That’s a major issue. It’s affected our efficiency. We’ve got to figure it out.”
The offensive line has had its struggles during the five-game stretch, understandable given that they’ve faced some of the best defensive fronts in the state. But the second half Friday did offer a glimmer of hope and improvement. Erick Mendez ran for 59 yards on 14 carries, including five carries for 32 yards and a 4-yard touchdown run on Springdale’s 15-play, 98-yard scoring drive, likely its best of the season, especially given the offense was without an injured Kyler Williams.
“We’ve got a package with our big guys where there’s four or five from defense that come in and block in our jumbo package,” Clark said. “Coach (Mark) Whatley, he can scheme. And it’s a simple scheme that we can execute. That’s a mentality type formation and that got us out of the hole and got some momentum.
“It’s a sound, simple scheme. We try to sell it as a mentality play. It’s really only one play. There’s a lot of different variations, but it’s going to be one play. And we did a good job with that.”
Those two trends will be huge and worth monitoring going into a high-stakes regular season finale against the Mounties.
Player of the Game: Southside defensive end Daevon Johnson. For the second straight week, it’s an opposing defensive player. Johnson had a career-high 5.5 sacks and was a near-constant disruptor for Springdale’s offense.
Play of the Game: Southside quarterback Cooper Johnson found receiver Randy Rainwater deep for a 46-yard gain a play after the Mavericks recovered an onside kick following Springdale’s lone touchdown. The Bulldogs briefly had momentum, but that pass set Southside up with a first-and-goal. Springdale’s defense held and the Mavericks had to settle for a field goal and a 17-7 lead, but the way the game was going, a two-score advantage was all the Mavericks needed.
Notable: Springdale receiver Hunter Necessary had five catches for 95 yards, stepping up after Williams went down in the first half. He didn’t set a career-high in either category, but it was likely his best performance given the circumstances. He also had a 30-plus yard catch negated by a hold. … Southside’s average starting field position on its four scoring drives was the Springdale 36-yard line. … Sophomore Trevor Browning began the game as Springdale’s No. 4 receiver and finished with two catches for six yards.
Up Next: Springdale will host Rogers. Southside will wrap up its regular season at Northside.