The 6AAA Conference is the home of one great team, two very good teams and five other squads who will fight it out for the one remaining playoff berth in 2003.
In the time it takes to say "Pulaski Academy," the Bruins should sew up their fifth consecutive conference championship. Yet, the golden ring has been eluding the Bruins. It's caused enough consternation to bring about frustrations and a changing of the guard after head coach Kirby Norwood led the school from the ranks of the unknown to a total of 87 victories in a 10-year period.
Kevin Kelley inherited seven starters on both sides of the football and a roster that more closely resembles a college coach's recruiting list. Stephen Green, Matt Stoltz, Jonathan Luigs, Adam Thrash and John Rees could all find their way onto college football fields in the coming years. But before they become Saturday afternoon college stars, there is a Saturday the Bruins have circled on their calendars.
That's Saturday, Dec. 13, at 6:30 p.m. – the date and time of the Class AAA State Championship game at War Memorial Stadium.
It really shouldn't matter what team the Bruins play that day. PA will be the favorite, having readied itself by playing the likes of Springdale, Stuttgart and Warren – all three defending or potential state champs in their own right.
After seven games the Bruins can't avoid – against teams from the 6AAA Conference – the drive will begin to the school's first state-championship football game.
If Kelley can win it, he won't get all the credit because of Norwood's previous success and the caliber of players at PA. If Kelley does not win it, then it will be obvious that the hex that has kept the Bruins from reaching their goal has not been broken.
Padding behind the Bruins will be Brinkley, a stout championship contender in any other league in the state, and Central Arkansas Christian.
Brinkley returns nine players on both sides of the football from a club that went 8-4 last year. The Tigers also advanced as far into the playoffs as the jinxed Bruins, who bowed out in the second round.
CAC may have turned the corner in 2002, posting its first winning season since an 8-2 campaign – the school's best record ever – in 1993.
Lonoke, based on its tradition that includes the most playoff wins among the current group of 6AAA teams, has the inside track to grab the final playoff spot ahead of DeWitt, Bald Knob and Marianna, which brings back all but two starters on both sides of the football.
Here's how RPS sees the 6AAA race stacking up:
7-0 Pulaski Academy
5-2 Central Arkansas Christian
2-5 Bald Knob