Pine Bluff vs. Jonesboro, 7 p.m. at Pine Bluff; White Hall vs. Lakeside, 7 p.m. at White Hall; Watson Chapel vs. Hope, 7 p.m. at Hope; Dollarway vs. Hope, 7 p.m. at Dollarway
Pine Bluff hosting Jonesboro
The Pine Bluff Zebras (4-1, 2-0) and the Jonesboro Hurricane (4-1, 2-0) are meeting up for a battle tonight that has conference title implications on the line.
Picked number one and number two in the Hooten's preseason coaches poll, respectively, the Zebras and the Hurricane have set the table for a heavy weight 6A East showdown.
In their match up last season, Jonesboro outlasted Pine Bluff to beat them by a touchdown in a 41-34 final. Both teams went on to finish with a 6-1 conference record, allowing them to split for a conference championship.
The Zebras haven't really been tested within 6A East play, as they've cruised to wins over Little Rock Hall and Mountain Home. Pine Bluff Head Coach Bobby Bolding is rolling with his sophomore quarterback Tyler Foots. Foots is surrounded by an arsenal of weapons, and the Zebras’ offensive line has shown steady progression.
Last week, Foots completed 11/13 passes for 149 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
Senior athlete Jyrimee Thompson had been the go-to guy for Foots, but fellow senior Diaundre Ellison stepped up to have a big game for the Zebras last week.
The Zebras’ backfield has continued to shape itself out. Junior Braylon Moody is the leader of that group, and sophomore Kerry Hadley had emerged as their second option. Zebras senior Kylen Williams has recorded a rushing touchdown in their last two outings.
The Hurricane haven't played the cream of the crop either, as their first two conference wins were over Mountain Home and Jacksonville.
Jonesboro's offense is run by a two-quarterback system. The senior quarterbacks, Tyson Williams and A.J. Aycock, have split the snaps, and it's been successful so far. For the season, Williams is 31/55 passing for 581 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions; Aycock is 35/60 passing for 468 yards and six touchdowns.
The Hurricane have a duo of running backs that both get their fair share of carries. Their leading rusher is senior Daniel Johnson with 71 carries for 593 yards and nine touchdowns.
Johnson is running behind a stout offensive line, anchored by Arkansas Razorback commit Noah Gatlin.
Jonesboro's defense has given up 20 or more points to three out of five of their opponents, as opposed to Pine Bluff’s defense, which hasn't given up more than 14 points to any of their opponents.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Jordan Stadium.
White Hall hosting Lakeside
The White Hall Bulldogs (4-1, 1-1) hit a bump in the road last week when they suffered their first loss of the season at Camden-Fairview.
For the first time, they've had to respond after a loss, and according to Bulldogs Head Coach Mike Vaughn, the week of practice has been spent preparing for the Hot Springs Lakeside Rams (2-3, 2-0) and getting a number of their guys healthy.
"Well, they know how important this next ball game is," Vaughn said. "We've been trying to get everybody healthy for the most part. Lakeside presents a different problem than anyone else in the conference. We make adjustments every week, and that's what we've basically spent the week doing on the field. We have people bummed up that we have to get back on their feet."
The Rams and the Bulldogs were considered the top two teams in the 5A South heading into the season, according to Hooten's Arkansas Football Rankings.
As it stands, Lakeside is in a two-way tie with Watson Chapel for the top spot in the 5A South, while White Hall is in a four-way tie for second.
Lakeside didn't get off to a good start, as they were win-less in non-conference play. However, they've bounced back to open their conference schedule with wins over Camden-Fairview and Magnolia.
It's no secret that the Rams’ offense is spearheaded by their All-State running back Dupree Swanson.
Swanson is three yards away from eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark only five games into the season. While the Rams like to mix it up with their passing attack, stopping Swanson is the number one goal for the White Hall defense.
"He's a big kid, and he runs hard," Vaughn said. "Their offensive line is really good, and they block well. You take that combination and it makes for success. He's not the only one, as they have a couple others that are pretty good. Our challenge is to stop their running game and, of course, no one else has been able to do that in conference. It'll be a challenge."
Last week's loss to a then-win-less Camden team woke the Bulldogs up. Now that they find themselves chasing the leaders, everything they do has importance to it, according to Vaughn.
"Our guys know how important each game is in the conference," Vaughn said. "We found out all it takes is one loss and you're behind the eight ball. If we don't continue to improve and win this ball game, it'll be a major problem. I think we're focused in because it's so important."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.
Watson Chapel heading to Hope
Coming off of a dominant 5A South win, the Watson Chapel Wildcats are focused on the next task at hand.
For the second straight week, the Wildcats will take a long road trip. This time, they'll be going to take on the Hope Bobcats (0-5, 0-2). Even though the Bobcats haven't won a game this season, Dutton has resonated to the team that no one in the conference can be taken lightly.
"It's really been a good week," Dutton said. "Everybody is focused, and we've spent some time trying to get guys healthy. We understand that you can’t overlook anyone, and each week we're just trying to get better.
Dutton said he can visually see the guys getting better on offense, defense and on special teams from week-to-week. Dutton is hoping that they continue to make strides, and that it'll show up on the field against Hope.
"I definitely see us getting better," Vaughn said. "We're starting to throw it and catch it better. Anytime we can be balanced and keep defenses on their heels it makes us better. I see our defense each week continuing to get better. They're grasping the scheme, and they're flying around. On special teams, we had a couple mishaps against Hot Springs, but last week we excelled. I definitely can see all three phases getting better."
As for Hope, what Dutton sees is an athletic Bobcats team that just has continued to shoot themselves in their own feet. Also, just to speak of the parody of the league, Dutton referenced their rival White Hall’s loss to a Camden team that was winless before last week.
"Hope is very athletic, and you can see it on film," Dutton said. "They've been dangerous to a few teams, it just seems like when they get a drive going they fumble. All it takes is one night for them to turn it around, and you can’t overlook them. Just ask White Hall, who lost to Camden last week. Our focus is to win a championship, and each week we're trying to go 1-0. Our focus has been there this week and, of course, we're going on another long road trip. We're ready, and I can see things coming together."
The Bobcats have a big play threat in senior Jaylon Conway, who likes to utilize his 4.4 speed. Senior quarterback T.D. Walton is another one of their more athletic guys.
"They have several athletes," Dutton said of Hope. "Their running back is fast and, of course, they have good athletes at receiver, and the quarterback has a good arm. They have a lot of drops, but they can turn that around. We have to do a good job of covering them and getting after the quarterback. They're going to try to spread us out."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Dollarway hosting Monticello
For the first time since 2015, the Dollarway Cardinals will play a football game on their home field. And, ironically, it's their 2017 homecoming game.
The Cardinals will welcome their long-time 8-4A foe the Monticello Billies to their newly refurbished facilities.
Cardinals Head Coach Lee Hardman expressed the importance of having their home field back. Although they're winless on the season, this is an uplifting time within the Cardinals program.
"We will be playing at home for the first time in almost two years," Hardman said. "It's big for the program, the athletes, and the supporters of Dollarway. By playing at home, we'll draw more interest, and our fans can come out and support us. The kids are excited about being able to play on our home field again. We played seven ball games away from home last year and two at UAPB, and this year we haven't played here yet. It's very important to establish home field."
Last week, the Cardinals came up on the short end against DeWitt. According to Hardman, things were going just as they wanted them to, but all of sudden things spiraled out of control.
"One thing we know is that we have to play four quarters," Hardman said. "What happened last week was tough on the players … to end up losing like we did. We had a super third quarter, but in the fourth nothing went right for us. We lost two crucial fumbles, and along with that we lost the momentum. We know we have to get the momentum, keep the momentum, and play a tough four quarters to secure a win."
Monticello senior quarterback Ryan Lambert leads the Billies on the field. Lambert has passed for 535 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. However, what the Billies want to do on offense starts with the big guys up front. Hardman is preparing his guys for Monticello's smash mouth style of play.
"They'll come in pretty big on the offensive and defensive lines," Hardman said. "They like to run the ball up the middle behind their big guards and tackles. They'll try to pound it and mix in some misdirection. This is the first year they're running their new offense. We have to stop them by being physical and playing with intensity."
Playing in front of their homecoming crowd, and playing at Cardinal Stadium for the first time since 2015, means a lot. According to Hardman, the field and stadium look brand new.
"It's really big for us," Hardman said. "We're playing on a field that's night-and-day compared to what we played on in the past. Everything is fixed up, and it looks like a new stadium. Monticello is going to come in and try to use their size to dominate the line; we just have to be mentally and physically ready to take them on. This is a big ball game for us, and it's as big as it gets."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Cardinal Stadium.