Two weeks ago Prairie Grove coach Danny Abshier won his 200th game, last week his Tigers snapped a 3-game skid against Pea Ridge by beating the Blackhawks, 35-33.
One thing evident to Prairie Grove fans is the Tigers possess a lot more punch at this stage of the young season as they recorded their second straight win over a Class 5A opponent.
Prairie Grove senior quarterback Knox Laird completed 11-of-16 passes for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions, spreading the ball around among junior Landon Semrad, 4 catches for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns; senior Jackson Sorters, 4 catches for 48 yards and a touchdown; senior tight end Caden Redfern, 2 catches for 21 yards; and senior halfback Cade Grant, 1 catch for 9 yards.
"Knox is doing an excellent job. We do have our passing game down a little bit better," Abshier said. "We had two receivers that one of their corners couldn't cover. We should have stayed with that, made it a shootout kind of a thing, and went with that. Maybe, we could have stretched it instead of burning the clock."
The running game out of the Wing-T has long been Prairie Grove's bread and butter and the Tigers out-performed their opponents by rushing for 181 yards on 36 carries for a 5-yard average compared to Pea Ridge's 39 rushes for 119 yards and 3.1 average.
The Tigers have shown pass out of the Wing-T, but lately have been effective shifting into a spread formation. The passing attack helped the Tigers overcome losing a pair of fumbles which led to both Pea Ridge scores and the game tied 14-all at halftime.
In the first quarter, Prairie Grove coughed up the football on a fumble. Ten plays later Joe Adams scored from 2-yards out to give the visiting Blackhawks a 7-0 lead with Colin Stewart's PAT kick.
Less than a minute later Prairie Grove answered with Laird passing to Semrad isolated against 1-on-1 coverage for a 48-yard aerial strike. The play began with triple receivers to the left side. Laird hit Semrad on the run at the 15 and he kept on his feet stumbling into the end zone.
"The spread offense we're running is good to us. That gave us experience at it. We like it. We need to improve at it," Abshier said. "We've shown that we can throw short, we've shown that we can throw long, and in the intermediate area. The passing game would be kind of complete. We've shown we can run out of it, too, so we've got to try an improve those things without getting too complicated."
The rivalry with Pea Ridge showcased two schools which dominated the 4A-1 from 2012-2019 combining for 148 wins against 51 losses overall and a joint 49-23 league record. The Tigers finished as State Runner-up in 2015 and Pea Ridge did likewise in 2016. Prairie Grove won four outright undefeated (7-0) conference championships and shared another with the Blackhawks (6-1) in 2017 while Pea Ridge finished second four times with a 6-1 conference record.
The Blackhawks jumped up to Class 5A for the 2020-2021 cycle and former coach Stephen Neal left, but the schools kept their rivalry going by playing each other in nonconference.
The rivalry has taken some interesting turns. The Oct. 19, 2012, game was deadlocked in a scoreless tie at intermission before Prairie Grove erupted for 31 unanswered points to blow out the Blackhawks in the second half. Pea Ridge appeared to be driving for the winning score with the game tied at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter of an Oct. 25, 2013, contest when the Tigers' Connor West rumbled 61 yards the other way with a fumble recovery to score the winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds to go.
Pea Ridge broke into the win column, 28-20, on Oct. 17, 2014, as the Blackhawks ran the table going 7-0 in the 4A-1. The Blackhawks advanced to the state semifinals in 2015 on the opposite side of the bracket with Prairie Grove getting into the Dec. 12, 2015, state championship game and losing 39-20 to Nashville.
Pea Ridge beat Shiloh Christian in a state semifinal a year later on Dec. 2, 2016, the same night Prairie Grove lost 48-28 to eventual state champion Warren in the other semifinal. The Blackhawks lost in the finals, 54-37, to place second.
The 2017 season showcased another outstanding year for both teams, who shared the conference title with identical 6-1 records. Prairie Grove lost 35-13 to Warren in a quarterfinal. Pea Ridge made it one step further before going down 51-26 to eventual state champion Arkadelphia in a semifinal game. Pea Ridge qualified for the 2019 state quarterfinals but couldn't get past Ozark, losing 21-14.
Going into Friday's game the Blackhawks had beaten the Tigers three straight times to close out the 2010-2019 decade trailing 6-4 in the series over that 10-year span.
Prairie Grove's Paytin Higgins may have kicked himself for missing a potential game-tying extra-point in the fourth quarter that cost the Tigers a 28-27 playoff loss at Hamburg last Nov. 15, but his foot loomed large Friday. Higgins went 5-for-5 giving the Tigers separation on the scoreboard and forcing Pea Ridge to attempt a 2-point conversion pass which fell incomplete with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter.
This week Prairie Grove takes on Stilwell, Okla., in an away game. The Tigers may be on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with as they close out the nonconference portion of their season.
MARK HUMPHREY IS A SPORTS WRITER FOR THE ENTERPRISE-LEADER. THE OPINIONS ARE HIS OWN.