The most important week of the of the 2014 conference football season is here with the top four teams of the 4A-1 district facing each other down. Some northwest Arkansas sports writers have stated that the Shiloh/Prairie Grove game will determine who the league champion will be for 2014 but they may have forgotten that there is a team just north of Rogers that has ended the first half of season undefeated and will have a big say on who will eventually emerge triumphant.
This week is reminiscent of 2012 when Pea Ridge was off everyone's radar until they went 7-0, defeating the defending conference champion Ozark team in the process. Headlines and news stories asked the question "Is Pea Ridge For Real?" The answer then, as it is now, is "Yes!"
Lauren Ivy in the top 10
Pea Ridge Lady Blackhawk golfer Lauren Ivy capped a fine career on the links with a 10th place finish in the 4A State Golf Tournament. Pea Ridge didn't have a team in the state finals but Ivy had qualified earlier to compete individually. This week the boys will swing into action at the State 4A Tournament as their team qualified earlier as a team.
I called them all
I was a perfect four for four again this week as all my picks came to pass. Two of the games were no-brainers ('Hawks over Wolves, Shiloh over Huntsville), but the Prairie Grove/Gravette and Berryville/Gentry games were sort of close. Game summaries are:
Shiloh 54/Huntsville 13
As I figured, Huntsville was very weak on defense with their offense handing Shiloh numerous extra scoring opportunities. The Eagles mishandled kickoff returns on two occasions in the first half, giving Shiloh back to back possessions twice with the Springdale school managing to score 28 points without Huntsville getting to run so much as one play. With their play to date, I can see the Eagles finishing the season in the cellar. Shiloh won in spite of getting whistled nine times for penalties, something they have a penchant for doing.
Gentry 21/Berryville 6
Gentry went with another starting quarterback, Dustin Stouflett, after their regular one was injured in the Pea Ridge game. He passed to Kevin Easter for the game's first TD, then he received a pass from Easter for another score. Berryville didn't score until late in the game, after trailing 21-0. Berryville is slated to be the Blackhawk Homecoming game opponent in a couple of weeks.
Prairie Grove 39/Gravette 27
The Tigers slowed down Gravette's star running back Cedric Duarte, limiting him to just a pair of TDs and far less yardage (131) as Prairie Grove won a road game. The Tigers had rushing yards from lots of folks, and their QB Ryan Marrell threw for three touchdowns, so they had good balance offensively. Gravette almost matched Prairie Grove's rushing attack, getting out gained only 186-170, but the Tigers got a 12 of 14 passing performance from Marrell for 175 yards, the difference in the game.
So now we come to this week's battles, in what I call the "semi-final" week.
At the mid-point of the 2014 regular season, four teams have emerged as the clear cut cream of the league. Gravette, Shiloh, Prairie Grove and our Blackhawks are nearly certain to take the top four spots when the regular season closes in early November. This week, all four teams engage each other in what will go a long way in determining the final seeds for the state playoffs.
This week, while these top four teams take on each other, the bottom four schools will be taking steps to see who might pick up the fifth and final playoff spot for 2014. All these games could swing to any team with turnovers, mistakes and just plain luck having the potential to switch the outcomes.
My predictions in week No. 6 are:
Gentry 21/Huntsville 12
Gentry has more speed than the Eagles and will be the home team. Gentry won their first game last week and have hopes of still being able to make the playoffs. Against Pea Ridge, their lack of depth was crucial in being able to compete but that won't be a factor in this game. I believe the Pioneers will win to go to 2-1 with only a victory over Lincoln needed to take the fifth seed for the playoffs.
Lincoln 13/Berryville 6
Lincoln was a very good team last year, lost heavily through graduation but still have some vestiges left of knowing how to win. Berryville is going through a very long stretch of finishing at or near the bottom of league races every year. The Wolves have some skilled players, more than Berryville anyway, and they should get their first conference win of the season. This would be a game where turnovers could be crucial.
Prairie Grove 35/Shiloh 21
When all is said and done, the Tigers' depth will hand Shiloh their first conference loss since rejoining the 4A-1. Shiloh's defense has not been a strong point this year, even though they smothered a weak Huntsville team last week. Shiloh will run first, and have a trio of good receivers for their quarterback Conner Reece to pass to. Shiloh has a good team, but not as good a Prairie Grove's. Prairie Grove will win this week then host Pea Ridge next week for what the Tigers hope is a chance to lock up a conference championship in the seventh week. The Tigers will play the league's bottom three teams to close out their regular schedule.
Pea Ridge 28/Gravette 21
Gravette cannot suffer another loss and have any chance to win a conference championship. They will be playing at home and will be dependant on their nearly unstoppable running back Cedric Duarte as they have their backs against the wall. Prairie Grove's focus on stopping Duarte gave the Lions' quarterback Bryce Moorman more opportunities and he did well, completing 12 of 17 for 122 yards although he was intercepted twice. To win, the 'Hawks will have to contain Duarte and at the same time cover Moorman's receivers. This will be by far the 'Hawks' sternest test of the season but one that I feel the locals can and will pass. Pea Ridge will likely beat the Lions the same way that Prairie Grove did, but it will be close. The odd thing about Gravette's record so far is that they are undefeated on the road (3-0) but are winless at home (0-2). Here's hoping the trend continues.
4a-1 District standings
Pea Ridge 2-0 5-0
Prairie Grove 2-0 3-1
Shiloh 2-0 3-2
Gravette 1-1 3-2
Gentry 1-1 1-4
Berryville 0-2 2-3
Huntsville 0-2 2-3
Lincoln 0-2 1-4
'Hawks rise six spots in state MaxPreps/CBS football poll
Arkansas 4A high schools matched their collegiate counterparts as a number of top 20 teams were upset in games last week. No. 2 Nashville lost as did No. 5 Star City, No. 9 Malvern, No. 10 Robinson, No. 15 Heber Springs, No. 16 Gravette, and No. 17 Clinton. Only the Gravette and Clinton games were not considered upsets.
Pea Ridge rose from 23rd to 17th overall on the strength of their easy win over Lincoln and the aforementioned upsets. They also moved past Gravette to be ranked third in the 4A-1.
Nationally (they do keep stats on such things), the 'Hawks are ranked 4,786th, an upswing of 860 over last week. Their overall state ranking is 58th, even ahead of Rogers and Springdale. Of course this information, while interesting, is rather meaningless since there is no national playoff or post-season competition between the classifications.
MaxPreps/CBS Arkansas state 4A football poll
1. Dardanelle 5-0
2. Warren 3-2
3. Arkadelphia 4-1
4. Nashville 4-1
5. Dollarway 4-1
6. Pottsville 3-2
7. Fountain Lake 4-0
8. Mena 5-0
9. Hamburg 4-1
10. Shiloh 3-2
11. Prairie Grove 3-1
17. Pea Ridge 5-0
25. Gravette 3-2
35. Huntsville 2-3
40. Gentry 1-4
41. Lincoln 1-4
42. Berryville 2-3
Editor's note: John McGee is an award-winning columnist and sports writer. He is the art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, coaches elementary track and writes a regular sports column for The Times. He can be contacted through The Times at email@example.com.Sports on 10/08/2014
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