North Little Rock High School, Arkansas’ No. 2 ranked team, clashes this Friday night with No. 1 Fayetteville at War Memorial Stadium. It promises to be an epic showdown – ‘dogs vs. ‘cats, Central Arkansas vs Northwest Arkansas and a rematch of North Little Rock’s heart-breaking loss in the 2012 state semis.
Suffice to say, for the players, this warrants getting just a little hype.
Or a lot hype.
Or … this:
Because what Charging Wildcat worth his six pack doesn’t like to sneak a little King of Pop action into his NLR O’ Donovan School of Irish Dance homework?
Last Saturday, during Arkansas’ 73-71 win against Missouri, Hog fans glimpsed on the court of Bud Walton Arena what they hope will become a common occurrence in the future – a scrambling, clawing squad which regularly knocks out the best SEC teams.
A critical part of that future might have also been glimpsed among the fans themselves. Two Razorback recruits who rank among the nation’s best guards in their classes attended the game, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport. Freshman Adrian Moore (6-4, 170 pounds) of Conway is ranked by Future150.com as the No. 4 shooting guard in his class. Sophomore Kevaughn Allen (6-3, 170) of North Little Rock is ranked as the No. 7 shooting guard. Last summer, ESPN ranked him as the nation’s No. 21 player in the class of 2015. Arkansas has already offered scholarships to both players.
I caught up with Allen, along with some of the state’s other top guards, in a feature article for this week’s Sync magazine. Allen has roughly 15 scholarships offers, from schools like Florida, Nebraska, Connecticut and Louisville. So far, he’s taken three unofficial visits: Arkansas, Baylor and Mississippi State. Allen doesn’t yet have a Top 5 or anything like that, but says his favorite player is former Razorback and Little Rock native Joe Johnson. Allen met Johnson after seeing him play at the Dunbar Summer Recreational Basketball League.
I also profiled Little Rock Parkview junior Anton Beard, who recently reopened his recruitment after decommitting from Missouri. “I just wanted to see all my options,” the 6-0 combo guard said. “I think I committed a little bit too early. Me and my family decided that wasn’t what was best.” His Parkview coach, Al Flangian, added one factor in Beard’s decision was uncertainty swirling around the future of the Mizzou basketball program and its head coach Frank Haith. Haith had long faced allegations of unethical conduct stemming from his previous job at Miami. A Miami booster and convicted felon, Nevin Shapiro, alleged he paid $10,000 to the family of a Hurricane recruit during Haith’s 2004-11 Miami stint.
A casual observer might call the down-to-the-wire victory Fayetteville High pulled off at North Little Rock High on November 23 an act of God. North Little Rock had just finished surging back from a 24-6 deficit early in the fourth quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 30 seconds left in the 7A state playoff semifinals. As the teams lined up for the ensuing kickoff, the home crowd was rocking. Surely, after so many close calls, North Little Rock would make its long-awaited appearance in the state’s football championship game.
Then, the most statistically probable miracle in Arkansas sports happened.
In 25 seconds, Fayetteville drove the ball down the field with almost surgical precision. A 22-yard kickoff return and two passes totaling 37 yards led to a 38-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights and cut through the heart of every blue and yellow clad fan in the stands that bitter cold night.
Was it manifest destiny that Fayetteville return to its third straight championship game, where it would win its second straight title?
But, more likely, it was only the latest result of Arkansas sports’ own law of probability: Most things being unequal, northwest Arkansas football teams have the edge over central Arkansas counterpart long before they ever take the field.
Since 2004, no central Arkansas team has made the finals of 7A, the state’s largest classification. A team from the northwest, including Fort Smith, has won the title every year since 2005. Each runner-up since 2006 has also been from NWA. This year, NWA dominance extended to the second-largest classification when Greenwood beat Pine Bluff 51-44.
Central Arkansas’ biggest schools keep falling short. “Frankly, it’s almost embarrassing to those who have some pride in your athletic programs,” says Frank Williams, the athletic director at Little Rock McClellan High School, which is in 6A.
Why can’t anybody beat NWA?
“All coaches have talked about it from time to time, and everyone has their own theories,” says Shane Patrick, head coach at Springdale High School and former president of the Arkansas Football Coaches Association.
North Little Rock’s loss to Fayetteville only latest example of NWA dominance in high school footballPosted: November 24, 2012
North Little Rock nearly pulled off the improbable Friday night.
The Charging Wildcats were down 24-6 to Fayetteville early in the fourth quarter, and any hopes of reaching the championship game were quickly slipping away. But, with the help of a few big plays and the mounting support of a home crowd, NLR righted the ship and began quickly chipping away at the lead. With about 30 seconds left, North Little Rock converted a two-point play to push ahead 28-27 and cap a stunning 22-3 run in less than 10 minutes. The miraculous comeback neared completion.
Yet, even more improbably, a central Arkansas team was poised to win a semifinal game in the state’s largest classification – something that hasn’t happened in eight years. Moreover, since 2006, every 7A title game has featured northwest Arkansas teams.
North Little Rock’s successful reversal of the trend was not be to be.
The Fayetteville Bulldogs returned NLR’s ensuing kickoff to their own 42 yard line, then completed two passes for 37 yards to set up a game-winning 38-yard field goal.
And so, just like that, the 2004 Little Rock Central Tigers remain the last central Arkansas high school to not only win a state title in the largest classification, but even play for one at War Memorial Stadium.
Since then, in the playoffs, NWA teams are 26-10 against central Arkansas teams.
Here are the results from the last two rounds:
Springdale 54, West Memphis 20
Springdale 49, LR Catholic 14
West Memphis 17, FS Northside 14 OT
FS Southside 23, Rogers 22
FS Southside 40, NLR 34 2 OT
Rogers 35, Fayetteville 26
Fayetteville 28, Springdale Har-Ber 7
Fayetteville 24, Bentonville 7
Springdale Har-Ber 47, Russellville 23
Bentonville 32, FS Southside 20
Bentonville 27, Russellville 0
FS Southside 8, Springdale Har-Ber 7
Springdale Har-Ber 27, FS Southside 6
Springdale Har-Ber 14, Cabot 10
FS Southside 24, NLR 23
Bentonville 49, Fayetteville 28
Bentonville 49, Springdale Har-Ber 20
Fayetteville 24, FS Southside 21
Fayetteville 29, Bentonville 28 OT
Fayetteville 23, FS Southside 20
Bentonville 31, NLR 7
Fayetteville vs Bentonville
Fayetteville 30, North Little Rock 28
Bentonville 28, FS Southside 21
After the game, I spoke to Jamie Washington, an assistant football coach at Little Rock Fair, about why central Arkansas teams have so drastically fallen behind their NWA counterparts.
They say in Texas everything is bigger, at all levels, all the time. That the highways are more clogged with more F-150s than anywhere on the planet. That under those wide open skies are arteries are more clogged with steaks far juicier than anything grazing in Oklahoma and Nebraska. And it should never be forgotten in Austin stands a state capital building thrusting its pointy fist far higher than all other states capitals’, even the US capital.
In no arena, though, are Texans more proud of being the biggest and baddest around than in football. Besides oil, big-time gridiron talent may their export most vital to the rest of the nation. This is a land in which Allen High School just opened a $60 million, 18,000 person stadium, bigger than all but two Arkansas universities’ home stadia.
No doubt the Longview Lobos will carry some Lone Star bravado into its 9,200-person home stadium when it takes on the Wildcats on Friday. Across the field, though, the Lobos find a team which it won’t be able to easily overpower. Indeed, by building what may be the biggest prep team in state history, North Little Rock has been looking downright Texan.
Five Heaviest Players on North Little Rock
Kenny Howard, 6’3” 315 pounds, defensive tackle
Malcolm Cranford, 6’0” 310, noseguard
Gerald Watson, 6’1” 302, DT
Javian Williams, 6’2” 300, N
Mike Stewart 6’1” 295, DT
Five Heaviest Players on Longview
Regginal Robertson, 5’10” 320 pounds, offensive lineman
Cornelius Williams, 5’10”, 290
Adrian Jackson, 6’2” 280, OL
Zaycoven Henderson, 6’2” 280, OL
Kenny Andrews, 6’2” 250, OL
On the college level, Cowboys Stadium events have been a resounding success for Arkansas. The Razorbacks have won all four of its games – three regular season matchups and a Cotton Bowl – in Arlington, Texas.
It’s been more of a mixed bag for high schools.
In 2010, Shiloh Christian School, during the 2000s one of the state’s premier programs at any level, traveled to Texas for an early season matchup with Euless Trinity, which entered the season at the top of the state’s highest classification. Although Shiloh was doubtless the underdog, their performance was seen a barometer of how far Arkansas high school football had come relative to the nation’s best.
It wasn’t a contest. The Saints hung with Euless for a quarter, but couldn’t match the Texans’ overall size, speed and depth as the game wore on. Trinity triumphed 80-26, and for many Texan apologists this was validation Arkansas had been put in its place.
The last two summers, North Little Rock sent some of its players to Cowboys Stadium for the Nike Football SPARQ Combine, a variety of contests measuring speed, agility and power. Of the roughly 1500 participants, North Little Rock produced two top place finishers (Altee Tenpenny and Kavin Alexander) and this year had 10 of the top 20 finishers, says North Little Rock head coach Brad Bolding.
The Texans didn’t take kindly to this, and made sure to inject some interstate trash talk.
“There was a lot of chirping going on from some of those Texas players after we had won it” in 2011, Bolding says. “They were talking about ‘Shiloh this,’ ‘Trinity that.’ I didn’t get caught up in all that. The players were telling me that.”
Rarely are massive central Arkansas public schools and private northwest Arkansas schools in the same boat, but when it comes to toppling Texas, Friday will prove an exception.
Long before Jerry Jones descended on Arlington, Texas to construct the world’s largest domed structure, he perched himself at the front of his father’s super market, and carved holes in watermelons to expose their ripeness for customers.
No matter how rich the Dallas Cowboys owner becomes, his past will always be firmly affixed to the blue-collar neighborhood of Rose City in North Little Rock, as I write in this week’s Sync magazine.
In that piece, I wasn’t able to go too deeply into the history of the community, which was formally annexed into NLR in 1946. But this space affords me a sort of epilogue, which I’ll use on the following images sent to me by Cary Bradburn of the North Little Rock History Commission.
The first two deal with the sudden demise of Jerry’s dad’s super market, which burst into flames one January night in 1958.