7AA-East Conference: It's a two-team horserace

Bearden and Junction City are both good choices to reach the Class AA quarterfinals, but the rest of the teams in the 7AA-East Conference will have to be satisfied with little more than reaching the playoffs. It's a good, solid conference, but by no means is it the best in its classification.

As long as the lights stay on, the place to be on Oct. 10 will be Junction City, Ark., when the Dragons host the Bearden Bears.

On the line that night will be the 7-AA East Conference title – even with four more games left to play – and a good spot on the Class AA State Playoffs bracket. Junction City won that honor last year and enjoyed a 76-13 humiliation of Hermitage in the first round of the playoffs.

Bearden, the 2002 runner-up, had a pretty easy time with Altheimer, but ran into eventual runner-up Danville in the second round.

The importance of that Oct. 10 game is great.

Yet, making the playoffs and earning a first-round home date are not items about which the Bears and Dragons should be concerned. There is a Thelma & Louise dropoff between Bearden and Junction City and the remaining six teams of the league. It makes old-timers think about the golden days of the Big Eight when the conference often was called "The Big Two and the little six."

Yeah, that's about right.

Hampton, Harmony Grove and Smackover – The "Middle Three" -- are the teams that will eventually produce the final two playoff combatants from the 7AA-East. Norphlet may not be too far behind in sixth, but might need wins over two of "The Middle Three" in order to secure its first playoff berth since 1980. It's been 28 years since the Leopards even won a postseason game.

Before anybody gets carried away about this league being anywhere near as good as the 6AA Conference, let's point out that none of "The Middle Three" would be picked to make the playoffs in the 6AA. Sure, Junction City will probably be Augusta in the season-opener Sept. 5, but that's probably the 7AA-East's best team beating a 6AA squad that could miss postseason play for the second consecutive year.

Let's just say that Hampton, Harmony Grove and Smackover should all be glad they're not located in the east-central part of the state.

Of the three, Smackover gets our blessing as the most likely third-place finisher. Yet, Hampton, the least likely of the lot to finish third, entertains both Harmony Grove and Smackover.

As for Harmony Grove, the Hornets have solid returning numbers and a 100-win coach in Joe Beasley. Harmony Grove is also still stinging after a disappointing 4-6 campaign. It was the Hornets' first losing season in 10 years.


Here's how RPS sees the 7AA-East race stacking up:

6-1 Junction City

6-1 Bearden

4-3 Hampton

4-3 Harmony Grove

4-3 Smackover

3-4 Norphlet

1-6 El Dorado West Side Christian

0-7 Sparkman

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