Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com
The Fayetteville Bulldogs find themselves in a familiar but not unfriendly position as the West’s fourth-place seed in the Class 7A State Football Playoffs. The Bulldogs (8-2) play host the Little Rock Central Tigers (6-4) at 7 p.m. Friday night.
Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton said his Bulldogs have had a great week of practice and that his squad shows no lingering effects from back-to-back losses to Har-Ber and Bentonville to close out the regular season.
Fayetteville (8-2) vs. Little Rock Central (6-4)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, 2013
Where: Harmon Stadium, Fayetteville
“Those games were close, and it was tough to lose them, but our kids have turned the page and moved on,” said Patton, whose Fayetteville squads have won back-to-back state titles and have either won or finished as runner-up four of the last six seasons. “They are excited to be in the playoffs. We feel like this is our time of year.”
While Patton’s Bulldogs would have enjoyed a first-week bye had they received it, Fayetteville’s veteran coach believes playing the first week of the playoffs can be to his team’s advantage. Staying in the rhythm of playing each Friday means no change to the schedule and there is no chance at becoming complacent with a Friday off.
Beside the fourth seed has been good to the Bulldogs in the past. Fayetteville won its first state championship under Patton in 2007 from the fourth-place seed and again in 2011. The Bulldogs were also a fourth seed in 2010 when they finished as state runner-up.
Patton and Central coach Ellis “Scooter” Register know each other well from the days when Patton coached at his alma mater Bryant.
“We’ve coached against each other maybe 10 times,” Patton said. “I have a lot of respect for him and the way he runs his program. Central is a very tough team to see this early in the playoffs. We’re excited. It ought to be a great football game.”
Offensively, Patton said the Tigers do a little bit of everything.
“They run out of the Power I or Pro Set and are a tailback-oriented offense,” Patton said. “It’s smash-mouth and that’s what Scooter has done for years. But now you will see them go to an empty backfield and spread you out. Their quarterback [Cooper West Brook] has thrown 18 touchdowns this year. Their offensive line is big and tough. They present a variety of challenges.”
The Bulldogs have struggled stopping the run the last two weeks in losses to Har-Ber and Bentonville and Central’s Logan Morgane (5-11, 190) could be the speediest back Fayetteville has seen this season.
Patton said Central’s defense plays a physical brand of football.
“There defensive line is really big and physical,” Patton said. “They line up in an even front and have two really physical linebackers who like to play downhill. Their secondary is athletic and can make plays.”
The Bulldogs boast one of the best passing games in the state with quarterback Mitch Marshall throwing for 2,568 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. His favorite targets are Jordan Dennis who has 46 catches for 853 yards and nine touchdowns and C.J. O’Grady who has made 43 receptions for 829 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are an opportunistic group led by junior safety Dre Greenlaw, senior linebacker Seth Finley and senior defensive lineman Damani Carter.
“We feel good about where we are and what we’ve accomplished as a team,” Patton said, “ but we aren’t satisfied just to be in the playoffs. Teams that are satisfied this time of year tend to go home. We’re still hungry. We’ve tried to improve week by week and I think we have. But, now, to keep improving we have to keep winning. Anything can happen. It has before. Conference championships are great, but we know what is at the end of the rainbow and that’s what we are going after again.”
2013 FHS Football Schedule
Sept. 2 – Fayetteville 35, Warren 21 at Razorback Stadium
Sept. 13 – Fayetteville 34, Jeff City 24
Sept. 20 – Fayetteville 27, Muskogee 22 at Muskogee
Sept. 27 – Fayetteville 45, Van Buren 21 at Van Buren
Oct. 4 – Fayetteville 38, Springdale 14
Oct. 11 – Fayetteville 28, Heritage 27
Oct. 18 – Fayetteville 35, Rogers 14
Oct. 25 – Fayetteville 35, Siloam Springs 14
Nov. 1 – Har-Ber 34, Fayetteville 31, OT
Nov. 8 – Bentonville 35, Fayetteville 21
Nov. 15 – Little Rock Central, 7 p.m.
7A/6A WEST STANDINGS
Bentonville – 7-0, 8-2
Har-Ber – 5-2, 7-3
Fayetteville – 5-2, 8-2
Rogers – 4-3, 7-3
Heritage – 3-4, 5-5
Springdale – 3-4, 5-5
Siloam Springs – 1-6, 2-7-1
Van Buren – 0-7, 1-9