The Blackhawk football team will hit the road Friday to take on the Prairie Grove Tigers in a pivotal 4A-1 district battle.
The Tigers and 'Hawks were the 2017 conference co-champs. Pea Ridge topped the Tigers at home last year for the first time in history but were upset at Shiloh at the end of the regular season, creating the tie. The 'Hawk victory over the Tigers gave them the No. 1 seed, however.
Prairie Grove has won or has shared the conference title every year since Pea Ridge the ran the table in 2014 and went undefeated in the regular season. Though it seemed every season saw the Washington County school graduate a ton of talent, the very next year the Tigers would be reloaded and ready to roll.
This season has been out of the ordinary for Prairie Grove. They were edged by a Farmington team in the season opener, a team that the 'Hawks pretty much destroyed. They lost to Shiloh 56-14 last week with a score that shocked a lot of people. They were also manhandled by Dardanelle in a non-conference game for their third loss, leaving them with a 3-3 overall mark to date.
The three losses were marked by turnovers, especially the loss at Shiloh last week. Suffering five turnovers to a team like Shiloh is a recipe to disaster. Three straight fumbled kickoffs by the Tigers early in the third quarter last week was the coup de grace in that contest. However, when the Tigers take care of the football, they are a potent team who can put lots of points on the board.
The Tigers won their game against Gravette by an identical 42-0 score. In that game, the Lions turned the ball over frequently and didn't have the speed to match the Tigers as Prairie Grove scored on plays of 70, 89 and 98 yards. As has been their their MO for many years, the Tigers are a run oriented year with Lane Dalton their biggest threat on the ground.
Pea Ridge victories over Prairie Grove have been rare.
State 4A Football poll
A lot of shuffling has occurred this relative to the CBS computer poll. Warren re-emerged at the top with Rivercrest sliding down into the third position, both teams with 6-0 marks. No. 2 remains Robinson who is sitting atop the 4A-7, the state's top 4A conference.
Shiloh moved into the seventh spot overall with Pea Ridge slipping up closer to the Top 10, coming in 12th for their best ranking of the season. For the first time in many years, no other 4A-1 team is in the top 25 except for the 'Hawks and Shiloh. The two will meet on the last regular season game, to be held at Pea Ridge the first Friday of November.
Pea Ridge owns but three wins over the Tigers all time, all close games. They bested the Tigers 27-24 in 2005 in a game that ruined the a perfect season, and they won 28-20 in 2014, with both games considered huge upsets. Last season's 26-21 win over Prairie Grove was the 'Hawks first victory when they were favored to win, ever. Coach Stephen Neal's charges will be going into Friday's battle as the favored team.
As the Tigers have proven themselves, turnovers throw the stats to the wind. If you can't maintain control of the ball when you have it, the chances of victories are greatly diminished. Pea Ridge suffered a slew of turnovers in the season's first two games, losing both and giving up lots of points. Since then, the locals have outscored their opponents 138-21 with few turnovers.
If the 'Hawks take care of business Friday, they will then face the league's two worst teams in Berryville and Green Forest, before hosting Shiloh in what could a game for the conference championship and with it, the number one seed for the playoffs. Retooling the lineup after the loss of a very talented senior class has been challenging but the pieces are coming together for the 2018 'Hawks.
Not many gave the Blackhawks much of a chance to defend their title of a year ago. Just like the most recent presidential election, "It ain't over until it's over."
Hawks tied for first
The Blackhawks are knotted with Shiloh for first in the district.
Last week saw four one-sided games, with the 'Hawks thumping Gravette 42-0, Shiloh blowing by Prairie Grove 56-14, Lincoln bombing Berryville 41-7, with Gentry mercy ruling Green Forest 35-0.
This week, besides the Pea Ridge/Prairie Grove matchup, Lincoln plays Green Forest, Gravette battles Berryville, with Gentry invading Shiloh. Lincoln will get their third win to almost cinch a playoff berth, Gravette will likely earn their first victory of the 2018 season, with Gentry having a rough time in Springdale.
4a-1 District football
1. Pea Ridge^3-0
3. Prairie Grove^2-1
8. Green Forest^0-3
MaxPreps/CBS 4A State
10. West Helena^5-1
12. Pea Ridge^4-2
16. Harmony Grove^4-2
21. Heber Springs^2-4
22. Fountain Lake^3-3
25. Bald Knob^3-3
26. Prairie Grove^3-3
30. Star City^2-4
32. Central Arkansas^3-3
39. Cave City^1-5
48. Green Forest^1-5
Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. He can be contacted through The Times at email@example.com.Sports on 10/10/2018
Print Headline: Big game looms Friday