A four-way tie for the 5A West conference championship caused a large amount of confusion on who would play whom in the first round of the 5A State Playoffs. The Watson Chapel Wildcats (8-2, 7-0), conference champs of the 5A South, drew the No. 4 seed out of the west.
After members of the Arkansas Athletic Association met Saturday morning, the seeding order was determined. The Wildcats will face the Devil Dogs (7-3, 5-2) at Wildcat Stadium tonight in a win or go home 5A showdown.
Watson Chapel Head Coach Jared Dutton didn't find out who they were playing until Saturday, just like everyone else. Out of the four teams in the tie, Dutton said he believes Morrilton is the best.
"You have a four-way tie for a conference championship, so they're all considered conference champions, and it all came down to seeding," Dutton said. "All the points were almost even. I definitely think Morrilton is the top team out of that four. Kind of an unlucky draw, but our guys are going to be ready to go regardless."
One of the main reasons that Dutton credits Morrilton as being the best team out of the 5A West is their sophomore quarterback Jacolby Criswell, who has garnered a lot of attention around the state.
Criswell is emerging to be one of the best players in his class, and pretty soon the high major Division I interest will start to come. For example, according to 247sports, the Arkansas Razorbacks have already shown interest in him.
For the season, Criswell leads the Devil Dogs in passing and rushing yards. Criswell has completed 107/171 passes for 1,652 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, Criswell has recorded 665 yards on 109 carries for 10 touchdowns.
Their second leading rusher behind Criswell is sophomore Xaviar Clemmons. Clemmons has rushed for 539 yards on 79 carries for eight touchdowns. Their go-to guy in the passing game has been senior Laken Dillard.
Dutton and his guys have heard all the praise that Criswell is receiving, and they feel that nobody is giving them a chance.
"They come in with a spread attack," Dutton said. "They're going to go empty five-wide, and they'll run doubles and trips. They try to spread you out and they have a really good quarterback. The Criswell kid, there's starting to be a lot of talk about him around the state. They have a couple guys on the outside who can go get it. We have to contain the quarterback, and at the same time we have to cover the field. It'll be a little bit of an adjustment but we're confident. Coach Wamble has done an excellent job with the defense, and they're feeding off his passion. Our defensive line has become a dominant defense line. We're forcing teams to throw it and when they throw it we have to have guys ready to cover. Our guys are up for the challenge and they know exactly what it takes and they know what we're playing for. I think our defense is going to come out with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody is giving us a chance. It's been a good week of practice and the team is ready to go."
Tracking back to last season, the Wildcats faced a similar challenge by having to go to Sylvan Hills and face their dual threat quarterback Jordan Washington. According to Dutton, his guys instantly began to make the comparisons, and they'll look to use the experience they gained from last season's playoff wins.
"It didn't take long for them to start thinking back to that," Dutton said. "They read the stuff and see how people are starting to talk about how dynamic Criswell is. They said they were saying the same thing about the Sylvan Hills kid last year. Our defense has been playing good football, and we're confident about our ability. It's a one game season. Our experience last year being down to Sylvan Hills, going to Alma and beating them like we did, all that has helped. Our kids have been referencing that and experience goes so far. We'll be ready to go at 7 o'clock Friday night."
Watson Chapel sophomore quarterback Devin Curry has shown moxie early in his high school career, and Dutton is pleased with his steady progression. The Wildcats offense has been able to connect on timely big plays to open up their leads over their opponents in their last three outings.
Although Curry gets a lot of the credit for the offense's success, Dutton knows that it all starts up front with the big fellas.
"Our offense has been executing very well," Dutton said. "We haven't been turning the ball over. Devin Curry has been taking care of the football and we've had good ball security overall. It starts up front with our offensive line. They've been getting a good push up front. We do a bunch of motion, misdirection, and we have a lot of people touching the football. We're looking for great execution and great focus by everybody. Devin Curry just being a sophomore has done an outstanding job orchestrating this thing, and he's gotten better each week."
Dutton couldn't end without talking about the guy who he considers the hardest worker on the team, senior running back Omar Allen.
"Our bell cow has definitely been Omar," Dutton said. "He's wanting the ball more and more and he's getting it. He's been able to show off his speed and power. Whenever we need those tough yards, we know we can get them. Omar has been our offensive leader this year, he keeps Devin going and when something doesn't go right he's the first to pick him up."
The Watson Chapel Wildcats will vie to defend their home turf as the Morrilton Devil Dogs come stomping in for a 5A playoff first round duel.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.