Northwest Arkansas capsules, predictions

Be ready for some surprises as conference play opens ...

Do coaches hide some of their own team's abilities early in the season?
Can we expect a little more out of the teams that are opening conference play tonight?
The answers, strong evidence indicates, are "absolutely" to both questions.
Coaches, subconsciously or otherwise, refuse to tip their hands too much during the non-conference season. Because of that, football teams seldom show their entire arsenal before the "real" season begins.

The "real" season starts tonight for practically every one of the teams in the tri-county area. Everybody in the AAAAA-West, the AAAA-West, the 1AAA and the 4AAA conferences has an equal opportunity to make the playoffs.
Some, as George Orwell would have put it, are more equal than others. It seems pretty evident that Springdale and Fayetteville are AAAAA-West Conference contenders. On the other end of the spectrum, Lincoln could win two of its first three games of the 1AAA Conference season and there would still be a lot of doubt about the Wolves making the playoffs.
Count Rich's Power System among the leaders in the doubt patrol.
But RPS has been wrong several thousand times before. No RPS rating has ever stamped a team a definite "loser" and no RPS rating has ever kept a team from winning a football game.
As for tonight, expect a few more gadgets and tricks and hidden weapons. Football teams have tried to keep important aspects of their attack off other people's game film. The element of surprise, as it is in most any game, is too valuable to waste on a non-conference opponent.
Tonight, everybody pulls out the stops.
Last week, RPS posted a solid 81-19 record. The power system is 248-56-5 (81.6 percent) this season. In its 18th season, RPS is 14,359-3122 (82.1 percent).

No. 4 Fayetteville at No. 7 Russellville

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Cyclone Stadium
Records: The Fayetteville Bulldogs and their new coach, Daryl Patton, are both 3-0. Patton is 37-20 at the high-school level. Former Fayetteville assistant Jeff Holt (28-22) has the Russellville Cyclones off to a 2-1 start.
The series: Fayetteville has won 17 of the last 24 meetings, but Russellville has made a strong comeback the past few years. The Cyclones have won three in a row and 7 of the last 11.
Last year: An 11-point underdog, Russellville won, 44-37, and ultimately knocked Fayetteville out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Notable stats:
Ben Tschepikow caught six passes for 125 yards and a touchdown as Fayetteville drummed Greenwood, 47-17, last week. Russellville's Nathan Brown threw for 324 yards and senior running back Tracey Stiger ran for 125 yards on 14 carries in the Cyclones' 41-20 victory at Searcy.
Outlook: Last year, the quality of the victories of these two teams was questioned. The interrogation this year is only focused at Fayetteville, which bulldozed its way over the same three hapless opponents it thumped last year. And don't forget last year. The Bulldogs, despite a 3-0 start, failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Russellville has a quality win this year. In fact, last week's victory over Searcy was easily the biggest win by any AAAAA-West Conference team. The Cyclones held a team that scored more than 50 points on them last year to a mere 20 points.
Speaking of defense, Russellville is allowing 21 points per game this season, down 8 points from last year's average at this time. Fayetteville, which appears to be better on the defensive side of the ball this year, has actually given up more than twice as many points. Last year, the trio of Mountain Home, North Little Rock and Greenwood scored only 17 points. This year, the same three teams stacked up 37.
RPS Bottom Line: So there is some reason to be concerned for Fayetteville. The Bulldogs are on the road and they still have some questions left unanswered. But this is a team that has a little get-up in its step and Patton leads the swagger. The Bulldogs believe they are better and if that attitude prevails tonight, then Fayetteville will be 1-0 in the AAAAA-West for the first time since 1997 ...
Fayetteville 28, Russellville 27.

No. 2 Fort Smith Southside at No. 1 Springdale

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium
Records: The Southside Rebels are 2-1 and Coach Barry Lunney is 126-52 at the school. Gus Malzahn (21-7) has a 78-9-1 record since 1997. The Springdale Bulldogs are 2-1 this year.
The series: Springdale leads it, 22-18. The two teams have split the last 18 meetings evenly after Springdale reeled off a seven-game winning streak from 1980-86.
Last year: Southside won a state title at Springdale's expense, 17-10, at War Memorial Stadium. Springdale won the conference meeting at Southside Stadium last September, 21-15.

Notable stats:
Zach Butler is second in the area in rushing with 90 yards or more in all three games. John Thomas went 14-of-18 for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the Rebels' 34-7 spanking of Texarkana last week.
If Las Vegas cared, the oddsmakers would not make the odds too long on Springdale and Southside meeting once again for the state title. Traditionally, the teams have a lot in common and are two of the more successful programs in the state. They also have both suffered close, hard-fought defeats outside of the state's boundaries.
Last year, Springdale was coming off a big win over Jenks and we were waiting for a letdown. The Springdale lull did not occur until the sixth week of the season when Russellville shocked the Bulldogs. It appeared Southside might be catching Springdale at the right time - and at the right place, Southside Stadium - but the Bulldogs prevailed.
RPS Bottom Line: This game should be no different than the last three. All that have been decided by a touchdown or less. In the last meeting at Springdale, Southside got out of town with a 24-20 overtime victory. In games this close with so many talented football players on the field, one key play might be the difference ...
Springdale 22, Southside 18.

No. 15 Rogers at No. 30 Bentonville

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium
Records: The Rogers Mountaineers (3-0) are led by Ronnie Peacock, who is 6-17 in his third season as the Mounties mentor. Bentonville coach Gary Wear (16-9) has seen his team struggle to its first 0-2 start during his reign. Wear is also in his third season.
The series: They began playing again continuously and haven't stopped since 1981. Rogers leads the current string of games, 14-8, but Bentonville has won 6 of the last 11 meetings.
Last year: Bentonville won at Rogers, 31-24, despite entering the game a 2-point underdog.

Notable stats:
Johnny Brewer has thrown 11 touchdown passes without an interception while Bentonville quarterback Chris Harralston has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has had four passes intercepted.
Outlook: The jinx that has hindered the Rogers Mountaineers since Peacock's arrival is for real if the Mounties can't end it tonight at Tiger Stadium. Rogers is on a roll. Despite not owning a win in Bentonville since a 24-13 triumph in 1997, the Mounties enter this game with a lot of confidence.
They should be confident. They are 3-0 for the first time since 1990 when they opened the season with three consecutive non-conference wins. The last of those was a 20-3 victory over Bentonville.
Rogers has not been unbeaten through four games since a 3-0-1 start in 1983 and the Mounties have not been 4-0 since 1981.
RPS Bottom Line: Winning is never easy in Bentonville. The Tigers are winless, but it's possible that no other team in Arkansas has played two tougher teams than Bentonville. The week off also plays to Bentonville's advantage, but in the end you simply can't get past the Mounties' 3-0 start and chance to do something that hasn't been done since Gary "Blackie" Bond was the Rogers coach ... Rogers 29, Bentonville 27

Siloam Springs at Greenbrier

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Don Jones Stadium
Records: The Siloam Springs Panthers (0-2-1) are coached by Chris McBride, who is 3-9-1 in his second year as head coach. Greenbrier is coached by another second-year boss, Scott Schwartz, who is 2-11 at the helm. Greenbrier's Panthers are 1-2 this year.
The series: Siloam Springs leads the series, 5-2, with five consecutive victories over Greenbrier.

Last year: Siloam Springs won, 31-28, the fourth in a string of six consecutive losses to open the season for Greenbrier.
Notable stats:
Siloam Springs has only allowed 27 points in three games, but has yet to win. Brandon Moreland was 14-of-35 for 196 yards and Greenbrier outgained Atkins, 275-213, despite losing to the Red Devils, 19-7.
The storyline in the AAAA-West Conference has not changed. Teams not matched up against Harrison, Alma or Greenwood are in situations where they must win to have a good chance at making the playoffs. Simply splitting the four games with the other clubs battling for the final playoff spot isn't going to cut it.
So in that sense, tonight's meeting between Greenbrier and Siloam Springs is a season-maker. Siloam Springs can post its first win of the year, but may have found itself in an early funk with the realization that the record could be 3-0 right now. Greenbrier can double its win total of 2002 with a victory. Schwartz's team only defeated Huntsville last season, but an opening-night win at Beebe and two solid showings against quality opponents has created some optimism near Conway.
RPS Bottom Line: The overriding factor in comparing two clubs with very little to go on is found in the meaning of Siloam Springs' first two games. Neither McDonald County (Mo.) nor Stilwell {Okla.) are great football programs. On Greenbrier's side of the ledger, Beebe, Vilonia and Atkins are not great, either, but all three have often been better than Siloam Springs' aforementioned opponents. Based on that reasoning and home-field advantage ...
Greenbrier 18, Siloam Springs 17.

Greenwood at Huntsville
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Records: Greenwood is ranked 11th in Class AAAA and stands 2-1 under coach Harv Welch (17-9), who enters his third year at the school. Welch is one of just a handful of current Arkansas coaches with more than 200 wins. He is 223-95-1 with the bulk of those victories coming in Missouri, where Welch is a Missouri High School Hall of Fame coach. Huntsville is also 2-1, ranked 16th in Class AAAA and has a pretty good coach of its own in Ken Harriman. In the second year of his second stint with the Eagles, Harriman is 72-48-1.
The series: Last year's was the first meeting of the two teams and Greenwood won it at Smith-Robinson Stadium, 44-0.
Notable stats: Zane Trichel ran 29 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns as Huntsville defeated Yellville-Summit, 28-9. Greenwood suffered its first loss of the season, 47-17, at Fayetteville, but was the first team to hold the Purple Dogs under 200 yards rushing. Fayetteville had only 97 yards rushing against Greenwood.
Outlook: Greenwood entered this game last year under similar circumstances. Welch's team had just been beaten up by Fayetteville and the Bulldogs were ready to take out their aggressions on somebody. They did it in a big way via the 44-point rout.
Huntsville was coming off a punchless performance against Yellville-Summit last year. The Eagles lost 6-0 and were beginning to realize it was going to be tough to put points on the scoreboard. They had scored 53 in their first two games and scored only 60 more over the final eight games of the season.
This time, Huntsville enters the contest with a lot more confidence, a quarterback who can move the offense and a nice receiving corps that will keep the Greenwood secondary busy.
RPS Bottom Line: Don't expect Trichel to have the kind of night he did against Yellville. The Huntsville running game is going to have its hands full with Ryan Crumb in the middle of the defensive line. Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton said his team may not see another interior lineman as good this year. That could mean Huntsville will not have seen anything like him, either ...
Greenwood 23, Huntsville 21.

Farmington at Shiloh Christian
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Field of Champions
Records: The Farmington Cardinals and their new head coach, Mike Adams, are 1-2. Ranked seventh in Class AAA, Shiloh Christian is 2-1 and third-year coach Chris Wood is 17-10-1 during his time with the Saints.
The series: Shiloh Christian won the first two meetings, but Farmington cut the series lead to 2-1 with last year's victory.

Last year: Farmington defeated Shiloh Christian, 27-14, to show up the "experts" who all felt Shiloh Christian - especially coming off an easy win over Dardanelle - was the better ballclub.
Notable stats:
Jesse Shelley redefined "workhorse" by carrying 37 times for 197 yards last week at Paris. Shiloh Christian wideouts Scott Godwin and Brady Arthur both went over 100 yards receiving last week, combining to catch 14 balls for 261 yards.
Outlook: Shiloh Christian did not make the splash it expected when the Saints entered the 1AAA Conference last year. Their debut was a 27-14 defeat at Farmington, sending them on a downward spiral that ended in a 3-7 campaign.
The battle cry around the south end of Springdale was, basically, "don't let it happen again."
The Saints give off the image that they are on a mission this time around. Farmington is a club that has already shown it's going to go through growing pains this year. There's no reason to count the Cardinals out of the playoff picture before the conference season starts, but opening 1AAA play against Shiloh Christian and Berryville - the two favorites - is no treat.
RPS Bottom Line: Any 1AAA team that beats the Saints this year will wear that victory proudly. After all, Shiloh Christian beat a Class AAAAA team this year. The fact that Shiloh Christian beat a team from the state's biggest class, though, is exactly why the Saints are going to be so hard for anyone from the 1AAA to beat ... Shiloh Christian 34,
Farmington 12.

Prairie Grove at Gentry
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Pioneer Stadium
Records: The Prairie Grove Tigers (1-2) are coached by Danny Abshier, who has gone 63-48-2 as a head coach. The Gentry Pioneers enter the game with a 1-2 record with coach Jeff Stewart in his first season in charge.
The series: The teams have played annually since 1981 and Prairie Grove, with four consecutive victories, has taken a 12-10 series lead.
Last year: Prairie Grove won, 34-8, at Prairie Grove. The Tigers came into the game a 13-point preference over the Pioneers and rolled.

Notable stats:
Cody Slaughter returned to the Prairie Grove lineup and rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries last week. Both Timmy Spohn and Jeff Coonrod have racked up more than 200 yards rushing in three games for the Pioneers.
Outlook: Losing is one thing, but losing games that could have been won can have an interesting affect on the psyche of 16- and 17-year old athletes.
Prairie Grove's loss to Dover was viewed by some as a "collapse" as the Tigers squandered a 13-0 lead and gave up 41 second-half points.
Gentry lost its Homecoming bout with West Fork, 26-21, but had the football in West Fork territory before turning it over on downs with 3:47 remaining. The Pioneers were unable to stop West Fork and get the ball back for their offense and ended up dropping their second consecutive ballgame.
RPS Bottom Line: Both teams have some proving to do and are well matched for this 1AAA contest. It's a game Prairie Grove should win, but the Tigers have not won when their conference opener was on the road in their last eight tries. That goes back to a 30-8 win at Gravette in 1983, long before these players were born ... Prairie Grove 22,
Gentry 13.

Lincoln at Green Forest
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium
Records: Lincoln is 0-3 to start the year and Coach Mike Guthrie is 1-12 in his second term with the Wolves. Green Forest is 2-1. The Red Tigers of Bill Gotto (94-83-2) have beaten a pair of Class AA teams - Pea Ridge and Lavaca.
The series: Green Forest leads it, 22-9, and has won seven in a row dating back to 1996.
Last year: Green Forest won, 27-0, at Wolves Stadium, marking its third shutout in the last four seasons. Green Forest came into the game a slight, 1-point favorite, though, because Lincoln was coming off its only victory in the last two years.

Notable stats:
Justin Wyas scored on runs of 30 and 55 yards and accounted for 153 yards on 18 carries as Green Forest held off Lavaca, 28-26. Lincoln turned in a solid effort for three quarters, but had fallen behind Greenland by three touchdowns in the first quarter en route to a 20-2 defeat.

Outlook: Those two close, high-scoring wins by Green Forest may not look like much on paper, but the Tigers have beaten two teams that will probably end the year with winning records. In each victory, Green Forest has had to outscore its opponents in order to win. The reason? The Red Tigers are giving up four touchdowns a game with the regularity of a senior citizen on Metamucil.
Pea Ridge scored 29; Yellville-Summit put up 28; and Lavaca had 26 points against Green Forest.
For Lincoln, the Green Forest might look like a colander that the Wolves can just run through like hot water. Yet, the Wolves have not had a four-touchdown game in three seasons and they've scored only 25 points in their last nine games.
RPS Bottom Line: Shutouts have been all too normal in this series, but this Green Forest defense does not appear capable of keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Something has to break here. Lincoln should not get blanked, but the Wolves will have trouble reaching the four-touchdown plateau that every other Green Forest opponent seems to fine ...
Green Forest 22, Lincoln 14.

Gravette at Berryville
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium
Records: Gravette is 3-0 again and shares in the state's longest regular-season winning streak at 17 consecutive wins. Coach Charlie Phillips is 62-45 as the head coach of the Lions. Berryville is ranked No. 8 in Class AAA. The Bobcats are under the tutelage of Doug Scheel and have opened the season 2-1.
The series: Continuous since 1987, Berryville and Gravette are tied at eight wins apiece. The Bobcats have lost all three meetings this century, however.
Last year: Gravette won, 19-17, after being installed a 5-point favorite. The game became the battle for the 1AAA Conference championship and the Lions claimed their first league crown since 1985.

Notable stats:
Ryan Holloway has been consistent carrying the football with 291 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries this year. He is averaging 8.6 yards a carry. Berryville quarterback Steven Trulove was 11-of-13 for 156 yards in the Bobcats' 22-0 blanking at Highland last Friday.
Outlook: This was the game for the 1AAA title last year and it has huge implications on this year's race.
Gravette got away with a big win last year and, it turned out, might not have been the best team when November came. The Lions were upset in the first round while Berryville won a playoff game - hey, that's news in the 1AAA Conference - and gave high-ranked Gosnell a good game before bowing.
Although the two teams have combined for a 5-1 record, the Lions' victories have come over much weaker competition.
Throw out non-Arkansas competition from Cassville (Mo.) and Afton (Okla.) and the Bobcats have played a 2AAA playoff team in Highland and a AAAA-West club, Huntsville. Gravette has played the only two schools in Class AAA that have NEVER been to the state playoffs.
RPS Bottom Line: Here's a promise for Gravette: The Lions have not been hit harder by any team like Berryville will hit them tonight. It makes for a rude awakening for the Lions, whose non-conference diet of snack food won't have them in the right frame of mind to defend their title ... Berryville 17, Gravette 7.

Greenland at Waldron
7:30 p.m. at Sawyer-Wright Field
Records: Greenland is 2-1 overall and led by third-year Pirates coach Lee Larkan, who is 18-9. The Waldron Bulldogs (1-1) are coached by Alan Rettmann, who is 28-34 in his sixth year at the helm.
The series: Waldron leads, 1-0, following last year's 47-33 win at Jonathan Ramey Memorial Field.
Last year: Greenland was a 9-point favorite at home, but could not stop the Bulldogs and their junior running back, Sean Kearney.

Notable stats:
Greenland has scored just four rushing touchdowns this season and three of them came in one game by Mike Brown, who was injured during last week's 20-2 victory over Lincoln.
Outlook: Ever watch Roller Derby?
This is the "jammer" game. The team that wins this game gets to be the jammer and challenge the 4AAA Conference's "upper crust" of Booneville and Ozark in coming weeks. The loser gets left behind as a "blocker," trying to fend off all challengers from passing them in the pack.

Obscurity comes naturally to some of us. Truly, ask yourself how many people you know who understand how "Roller Derby" is played.
Anyway, starting off strong in the 4AAA Conference is just as important as it is anywhere else. When playing in a league with two juggernauts like Booneville and Ozark - games many chalk up as losses long before the games are played - the margin for error is very slight.
RPS Bottom Line: After tonight, one of these teams will have a loss and still have Booneville and Ozark ahead on the schedule. Greenland's defense struggled last season, had given up 71 points in three games, and has reduced that number to 15 points in three games this year. If that defense shows up tonight, the Pirates have better than a 50-50 shot of going 1-0 ... Greenland 23, Waldron 22.

Ozark at West Fork
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium
Records: The Ozark Hillbillies (2-1) are led by first-year head coach Michael Johnson and are ranked 18th in Class AAA. Johnson matches up with another first-year coach, West Fork's Bryan Dougan. The Tigers are 2-1 as well.
The series: Ozark leads the series, 1-0, following an easy win at home in Franklin County last year.
Last year: Ozark was a three-touchdown favorite and the Hillbillies had those three touchdowns and more in a hurry as they drilled the visiting Tigers, 49-13. It was West Fork's first league game as a member of the 4AAA Conference.

Notable stats:
T.J. Rennie piled up a career-high 139 yards on 13 carries and scored his second rushing touchdown of the season in West Fork's 26-21 win at Gentry. Ozark's Chaz Holderman was 7-of-10 passing for 123 yards as the Hillbillies had more yards through the air than on the ground.
Outlook: Ozark has won 13 of its last 16 games - including two losses to Alma - and has a 12-game conference winning streak.
The Hillbillies are no bargain for a conference-opening game.
It's not unusual that West Fork is 2-1 at this point. The Tigers have beaten a team they should have beaten, lost to a team that should have beaten them and then won a game that might have been termed a toss-up last week in Gentry.
West Fork returns home to face the state's 18th-ranked Class AAA team and, as usual, Ozark is pretty stout. The Hillbillies are 2-1 against teams from Class AAAA and would be capable of making the playoffs in the next classification.
RPS Bottom Line: While Ozark is a scary opponent, West Fork does not have to accomplish much to turn in a better showing than last year's game. Ozark had the 2002 game won in about eight plays. Once they get past the eight-play mark and then the first quarter, the Tigers might even realize they can play with these guys ... Ozark 21, West Fork 12.

Pea Ridge at Hartford
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Scalet Field
Records: The Pea Ridge Blackhawks are 1-2, 1-1 in the 1AA Conference. They are led by third-year head coach Mike Harrod, who is 11-12-1 at the school. The Hartford Hustlers (0-2, 0-1) are guided into battle by Lonnie Hester, who is 8-32-1 in five seasons.
The series: Pea Ridge leads the series, 1-0, following last year's victory at Blackhawk Stadium.
Last year: A healthy 17-point favorite, Pea Ridge came away with a 26-0 shutout, one of only two shutouts suffered by the Hustlers in 2002. The other shutout came at the expense of Elkins.

Notable stats:
Ryan Barnett has 423 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Blackhawks and all area ground-gainers.
Outlook: A tough early-season schedule has put the Blackhawks on the deck, but they are bound to get up and get going again.
This is the point in the season when the Blackhawks got on a roll last year. They shut out two teams in a row, starting with Hartford, and reeled off six straight wins before running into Charleston.
Hartford has not put any points on the board in two tries this season. The Hustlers were whitewashed by Magazine, 39-0, to open the season and then shut out by Mountainburg, 33-0, last week.
RPS Bottom Line: This is a good chance for Pea Ridge to get its first shutout of the year. RPS does not often pick shutouts, but can see the possibility for one at Hartford tonight ...
Pea Ridge 28, Hartford 7.


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