The Arkansas high school football season is 13 days away, with six teams in action on Labor Day. Today, we look at the best non-conference games against out-of-state opponents.
Check back later for lists of the best non-conference games against in-state opponents and the best conference games.
1. Sept. 19 – Bergen Catholic (N.J.) @ Bentonville
The best non-conference game of the season will be a showdown of two star junior quarterbacks.
Bentonville’s Kasey Ford and Bergen Catholic’s Jarrett Guarantano are each rated as four-star prospects. Ford has an offer from Louisville and has drawn interest from Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, among others, while Guarantano has 24 offers, including Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
The Crusaders had a down year last season, going 2-7, but are a tradition power in New Jersey. Since 1963, they have won 16 state titles.
2. Sept. 5 – Pulaski Academy @ Highland Park (Texas)
Pulaski Academy’s season opener could be full of fireworks. The Bruins averaged 49.6 points per game last season, while Highland Park averaged 41.9 points.
It will also be Pulaski Academy’s first chance to get on the field after being upset by Morrilton 57-50 in the second round of the 5A playoffs. The loss ended the Bruins’ undefeated season, but two-star quarterback Will Hefley, a Tulsa commit, will be back in 2014.
The Scots will have eight starters back from a defense that gave up only 17.7 points per game, as well as senior dual-threat quarterback Brooks Burgin, who has an offer from Texas State, two-star center Clayton Woods, a UTSA commit, and two-star linebacker Mitchell Kaufman, an SMU commit.
Highland Park also has a rich football tradition, as it is the alma mater of a pair of NFL Hall of Famers, Doak Walker and Bobby Layne, and 2008 No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford.
3. Sept. 5 – Springdale Har-Ber @ Webb City (Mo.)
One of the best games of the season last year was Springdale Har-Ber’s 42-35 comeback win over Webb City. The Wildcats scored 28 unanswered points to end the Cardinals 46-game winning streak and 91-game regular season winning streak.
After the loss, Webb City won its next 13 games to capture its fourth straight state title and sixth in eight years. The Cardinals averaged 44.9 points and gave up only 13.5 points per game and are led by two-star offensive lineman Dalton Ford, who has offers from UCA, Eastern Illinois and Illinois and has drawn interest from Arkansas, and two-star athlete KiAnte Hardin, who has 11 offers, including Minnesota and Tulsa.
4. Sept. 12 – Bentonville @ Broken Arrow (Okla.)
A week before playing Bergen Catholic, Bentonville will head west for a rematch of a 2013 game. Last season, Broken Arrow beat the Tigers 24-17 en route to a 10-3 record and appearance in the Oklahoma 6A semifinals.
The Oklahoma school has plenty of college talent to compete with Bentonville again this year. Junior quarterback Scotty Ray Gilkey is a three-star recruit with offers from Louisville and Louisiana-Monroe, while two-star cornerback Markale Moses is committed to Army and Rowdy Frederick is a three-star offensive lineman.
5. Sept. 12 – El Dorado @ Shreveport Byrd (La.)
In a down year, El Dorado went 5-5 in the regular season before breezing through the playoffs to win its fourth state title in five years. Fourteen starters will be back for the Wildcats, but they will have to break in an inexperienced quarterback and running back.
On the other hand, Shreveport Byrd, which runs a triple-option offense, returns its starting quarterback, Tyler Howard, as well as two of its top three running backs, Dominic Haggerty and Tysen Hardman. The Yellow Jackets are coming off an 11-2 season and a one-point loss in the state championship game.
6. Sept. 12 – Wynne @ Rosa Fort (Miss.)
Last season, Ross Trail completed 8-of-14 passes for 102 yards, two touchdowns and one interception to lead Olive Branch (Miss.) to a 37-18 win over Rosa Fort. It was Rosa Fort’s only regular season loss, as the Lions won a conference title and lost in the quarterfinals of the Mississippi 4A quarterfinals.
Trail, a Cincinnati commit with offers from Louisville and Ohio State, is at Wynne for his senior year and will face Rosa Fort in the second week of the season. The Yellowjackets also have all-state junior running back Antonio Davis back. Davis gained 1,990 yards on 238 carries as a sophomore.
7. Sept. 19 – Victory Christian (Okla.) @ Shiloh Christian
In the third week of the season, Shiloh will host Victory Christian School from Oklahoma. The Conquerors are led by the Tulsa World’s All-World quarterback Keats Calhoon.
Only a junior, Calhoon has already passed for 5,867 yards in his career and is on pace to set the Oklahoma state record. Last season, he completed 74.5 percent of his passes and led Victory Christian to an 11-1 record before losing 27-26 in overtime in the second round of the 3A playoffs.
The Saints will have their hands full as the Conquerors averaged 50.3 points while allowing only 14.9 points per game in 2013.
8. Sept. 5 – Kansas City Rockhurst (Mo.) @ Bentonville
Before its rematch with Broken Arrow, Bentonville will host Rockhurst, a traditional power in Missouri that won state titles in 2007 and 2010. Last season was a down year for the Hawklets, however, as they went 5-5 and lost in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
It will be the Tigers’ first game since winning their third state title in six years and seventh straight conference championship. The championship made Ford the third sophomore quarterback to win a state title in the state’s largest classification.
Like the Broken Arrow matchup, the Rockhurst game will also be a rematch from 2013, when then-junior Hekilli Keliiliki carried the ball 23 times for 193 yards and two touchdowns to lead Bentonville to a 24-21 comeback win.
9. Sept. 12 – Springdale Har-Ber @ Kansas City Rockhurst (Mo.)
A week after traveling to Bentonville, Rockhurst will host Springdale Har-Ber.
The Wildcats went 8-4 and lost in the 7A quarterfinals last year, but return only seven starters. Despite the roster turnover, Har-Ber is picked third in the 7A West. Its defense is led by two-star defensive tackle Rickey Dobbins, who has drawn interest from Arkansas and has offers from Tulsa and UCA.
The Hawklets, on the other hand, are led by junior three-star offensive lineman Brendan McConnell, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 290 pounds.
10. Sept. 1 – Highland vs. Midland Christian (Texas) (Fayetteville)
Midland Christian does not compete in the UIL, but has established itself as a TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) powerhouse, winning seven state titles since 2000, including the last three. The Mustangs will enter the game on a 26-game winning streak and are led by three-star offensive lineman Johnny Wilson, an Oklahoma State commit.
Highland has a pair of Division I players, as well. Three-star wide receiver Deon Stewart is committed to Arkansas, while two-star athlete Avery Johnson is committed to Arkansas State. The Rebels went 8-3 and lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs last season, but return 15 starters and are picked to win the 3-4A conference in 2014.
Honorable Mention: Sept. 4 – Alma vs. Poteau (Okla.) (Fort Smith)
After going 10-3 and reaching the 5A semifinals last season, Alma moves up to the 7A/6A Central in 2014. The Airedales are picked to finish fifth in the conference, but have 14 returning starters, including all-state quarterback Evan Burris.
Poteau is coming off one of its best seasons in a while, going 12-2 and losing in Oklahoma’s 4A state title game. However, the Pirates will be without the Times Record Oklahoma Player of the Year, Jace Pitchford, who was not only a dual-threat quarterback, but also a standout kicker and punter.
Honorable Mention: Sept. 12 – First Baptist Academy (Fla.) @ Shiloh Christian
Jeff Conaway must navigate a tough non-conference schedule to start his tenure as Shiloh’s new head coach. Sandwiched between games against Victory Christian and defending 3A state champion Charleston, the Saints will host First Baptist Academy from Florida.
First Baptist is coming off of a 9-2 season and second-round loss in the 2A Florida state playoffs. The Lions averaged 35.6 points per game and scored 50 or more points four times en route to their second consecutive district title.
The Saints have struggled the past two seasons in the 5A West, going 6-4-1 and losing in the first round of the playoffs last year, but they fall back into the 4A in 2014. With 12 returning starters, Shiloh is picked to win the 1-4A conference.