The Pea Ridge varsity football team will play host to the Waldron Bulldogs in the first round of the 2017 Class 4A State Playoffs Friday in Blackhawk Stadium.
The fifth place finisher in the 4-4A District, the Bulldogs finished the season with a 5-5 record and currently hold the 32nd ranking position in the MaxPreps/CBS football poll. The loss to Shiloh last week slid the 'Hawks down into the No. 6 ranking in the MaxPreps computer poll, though they ended the regular season with the third position in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 4A poll.
Primarily a rushing team, the Bulldogs threw only 51 passes over their regular season, piling up just 330 yards on 21 completions. The team's quarterback Trey Williams keys the Bulldog offense as he is their leading rusher with 1,115 yards over the season on 138 carries for a credible 8.1 yards per carry.
Two other 'Dogs got significant yardage this season with Cole Huddleston rushing for 386 on 83 totes for a good 4.7 average. Levi Hayden has a good rushing average, gaining 6.7 yards per carry as he picked up 288 yards on 43 tries in 2017.
Defensively, Waldron is led by defensive end Logan Tull who is averaging 12 tackles per game. Linebacker Joel Cagle is close behind averaging 1.5 stops per contest.
The 'Hawks will counter with an offense averaging around 400 yards per game. Quarterback Jakota Sainsbury has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,796 yards while tailback Drew Winn has piled up 1,751 yards on the ground, averaging a little over 9 yards per carry.
The two primary receivers thus far in 2017 have been Hayden Holtgrewe (56 catches for 919 yards) and Jordan Witcher (49 receptions for 652 yards) which ranks them as perhaps the best two-receiver combo in all of 4A football.
The only common opponent the two teams have had is Booneville, whom the Blackhawks defeated 29-19 during the first week of the season. Booneville later whipped Waldron by a 35-0 count in a mid-season encounter.
The winner of the Pea Ridge/Waldron game will face the winner of the Jonesboro Westside/Hamburg contest. Should Hamburg get past Westside, and I am betting they do, the game will mark the third time in Hamburgs' last 13 games that they will battle the Blackhawks. Pea Ridge ended Hamburg's season in last year's playoffs 36-24 then whipped the Lions 50-30 to open the 2017 season. Hamburg plays in the 8-4A District with defending champion Warren. Westside is ranked 24th in MaxPreps with Hamburg holding the 26th position.
The 'Hawks will host the Hamburg/Westside winner here next week if they can get past Waldron. The week after that will be a strong test for the 'Hawks should they win the first two rounds. Nashville, the 2015 state champs, have been coming on as late in the tough 7-4A District and are playing No. 30th ranked Monticello in their first round. No. 8 Booneville drew a bye in the first round and will likely play No. 4 Nashville at home in round 2. Should Booneville get upset by the Scrappers, then Nashville will be coming to Pea Ridge for the quarter-final matchup. If Booneville wins, the Bearcats would be the home team for the quarter-finals.
Pea Ridge is playing in Quadrant 3 of the 4A playoffs with the aforementioned seven teams. The survivor of the three rounds would then would play in semi-final action against the Quadrant 4 winner with Arkadelphia currently the highest ranked team in that section of the playoffs.
The way the playoffs have shaken out, it would seem that the 'Hawks could play Arkadelphia, Nashville and Hamburg. They were three of the teams they played in last year's playoffs as the 'Hawks got past them all to get to Little Rock for the championship game.
Other 1-4A teams in the playoffs
Joining the Blackhawks in the playoffs are No. 2 seed Prairie Grove, No. 3 Gravette, No. 4 Shiloh and No. 5 Gentry.
Seventh-ranked Prairie Grove is playing in Quadrant 2, hosting the No. 23 Pottsville Apaches. Prairie Grove will bring a 9-1 mark into the game with Pottsville having an off-year with a 6-4 mark. The Apaches finished the season as the fourth-place finisher in the 4-4A. It would appear that the Tigers are poised to take on the winner of the Shiloh/Stuttgart battle.
Twelfth-ranked Gravette will be enjoying the fruits of a surprising victory over Shiloh as they earned the right to host a game as the third seed from the 1-4A. They will host the No. 3 seed from the 2-4A which was 15th-ranked Heber Springs. The Panthers have a 7-3 record compared to the Lions 6-4 slate, but Gravette lost three of those games to teams ranked in the state's top eight teams. Should Gravette win, they would have a shot at hosting again the next week as they face the winner of 18th-ranked Gosnell and No. 21st ranked Malvern.
Malvern was the fifth best team in the strongest district in the state with Gosnell the top team in the weakest league in the state. A Malvern victory would not be surprising, which would allow Gravette another home playoff game should they get the best of Heber.
Ninth-ranked Shiloh will be going to 10th-ranked Stuttgart, the only first round game involving both teams ranked in the Top 10. Stuttgart is 250 miles from Springdale, a four- to five-hour bus trip. Stuttgart started the season 1-3, but won their last six games, averaging over 40 points in their comeback streak.
Thirty teams are included in this year's playoffs with the five round playoff action culminating in the state championship game to be played in December at War Memorial Stadium.
MaxPreps/CBS State 4A football rankings
6. Pea Ridge^9-1
7. Prairie Grove^9-1
13. Batesville SS^9-1
15. Heber Springs^7-3
20. Fountain Lake^4-6
25. West Helena^6-4
29. Star City^4-6
40. Central Arkansas^1-9
46. Baptist Prep^0-10
47. West Fork^0-10
48. Cave City^0-10
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. The opinions expressed are those of the author. He can be contacted through The Times at firstname.lastname@example.org.Sports on 11/08/2017
Print Headline: Hawks host Waldron in first round