Playing with a new coach and new system while having one of the toughest non-conference records in the state along with losing starters to injuries has made the Blackhawks' first year as a 5A competitor in high school football tough.
Starting tailback senior Cole Brown was lost in the season's first offensive series at Shiloh in the opener with starting quarterback junior Logan Stewart knocked out of the Siloam Springs game with both players unavailable for the Prairie Grove game.
Backup quarterback senior Zac Withrow did an admirable job under center, but it meant he was not available as a receiver, a position at which he excels. The loss of Brown took away the Hawks' depth at running back.
The passing game was moribund in the first half against Prairie Grove but came alive late in the game, racking up three touchdowns and over 180 yards in the late going. Junior Trevor Blair has emerged as one of the best receivers in the state, coming away with numerous difficult catches. When starting quarterback is back in the game with both Withrow and Blair on pass routes, the Hawks will be much more effective.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from the game last Friday was the Blackhawks' grit. They were out gained and outplayed in the first half, but would not back down and managed to go into the half tied at 14-14.
In the first 9 minutes of the third quarter, the Tigers had scored twice to take a commanding 28-14 lead, out gaining the Blackhawks 110 yards to 6.
Instead of folding, trailing a favored team on the road, the Hawks' line got active, helping pave the way for running backs sophomore Caden Mann and Withrow to run for two first downs and get into Tiger territory just before the end of the third quarter. On the quarter's last play, Withrow threaded a 22-yard pass to Blair, and things changed.
In the fourth quarter, Blair caught seven more passes for 129 yards and with about a minute to go, the Hawks were within a 2-point conversion pass of tying the game at 35. With the receiver running along the back of the end zone and with the pass needing to be high enough to be caught but not low enough to be deflected or intercepted, the pass wound up just a bit too high, and the game was over.
A big defensive play by senior Samual Tillman derailed one Tiger drive, with the Hawks' defensive line stuffing the Tigers when they went for it with less than a yard to go on fourth down. Prairie Grove has long prided themselves as being able to get a yard any time they needed it with their usually talented linemen.
Prairie Grove, still a 4A team, will have a great year as I expect they will not lose a conference game this season outside the Oct. 9 matchup with Shiloh. Injuries do happen and inopportune loss of players can always change the outlook.
All in all, Pea Ridge may may a good first year in the 5A West. Beginning next week, the Hawks are 0-0 with a decent chance to beat the Alma Airedales in a road game.
Big week for volleyball
The Pea Ridge volleyball girls are in the midst of a big week, playing No. 9 state ranked Farmington Monday on the road with a home game against Washington County No. 12 ranked Prairie Grove. The week culminates Thursday as the Hawks host No. 1 state ranked Shiloh.
Shiloh is 7-0 and is 5-0 in the 4A-1 with 3-0 wins over Gentry, Harrison, Prairie Grove, Gravette and Farmington as of this past week end. They also own wins over 6A Bentonville West and 5A Russellville by 3-1 and 3-2 counts respectively.
Pea Ridge has 3-0 wins over Berryville and Huntsville and has a narrow 3-2 loss to Harrison on the road. The Hawks earlier lost to 6A Rogers 3-0 but overcame 6A Rogers Heritage 3-2. There were games scheduled last week with Gentry and Gravette but information was not available at press time.
5A West rankings
8. Pea Ridge^0-3
Vilonia is the new poll leader for the 5A West, slipping past longtime leader Harrison. Both teams lost last week with Vilonia losing to 5A third ranked Maumelle 21-8 with Harrison getting handled by 6A Siloam Springs 34-14.
Of the six conference teams playing last week, only Farmington came up with a victory as the Cardinals edged 7A Springdale 14-7. The Cards had previously lost to Prairie Grove 19-7, with the Blackhawks coming up short against those same Tigers by a 35-33 count last week.
Morrillton lost a close one to No. 4 ranked Wynne 20-19 with Clarksville rounding out action in the 5A West with a 32-12 pounding by 4A Ozark.
This week, Pea Ridge, Harrison, Farmington, Greenbrier and Morrillton are all idle until conference opening day on Sept. 25th. There are three games on tap for Friday with Vilonia hosting 6A Russellville, Alma at Rogers Heritage and Clarksville visiting 4A Pottsville.
MaxPreps/CBS State 5A
2. Little Rock Christian^2-1^NC
9. White Hall^2-1^-5
10. Watson Chapel^1-0^+2
12. Greene County Tech^2-1^+8
14. Valley View^1-1^-2
16. Hot Springs^1-1^+3
17. Forrest City^0-1^-3
26. Pea Ridge^0-3^NC
27. Little Rock Hall^1-2^NC
5A West football
Strength of schedule
3. Pea Ridge^9.4
4. Pea Ridge^2-1
5. Prairie Grove^2-2
CBS 4A State poll
2. Valley View^3-0
8. Fountain Lake^1-1
10. Pea Ridge^3-3
11. Batesville Southside^1-1
12. Prairie Grove^2-2
16. Little Rock Robinson^1-2
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. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted through The Times at [email protected]