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.
He pointed to:
a) Lack of continuity in the football philosophies and systems young players are learning. This boils down to more liberal transfer rules in Pulaski County, which allow talented players to more easily transfer to another school on a whim – whether that be to a magnet or private school – than in the NWA. There, on the whole, kids in late elementary and middle schools already know where they will attend high school and actually follow through with attending that school. This means the high school coaches there have more of an incentive to work with the middle school coaches and implement a system that the player can excel in. This differs from many Little Rock schools. Of all the defensive players Washington has coached at Fair in the last few years, he told me he recalled only three players who stayed at their same position from ninth through 12th grade.
b) Lack of daily workout periods. Washington said a rotating block schedule means many LRSD have scheduled weightlifting periods 2-3 times a week. I haven’t yet checked, but this may be different in NWA. Please let me know otherwise, but there it may be that workouts periods are daily.
c) Prevalence of private schools in central Arkansas siphoning talent away from public schools. Granted, NWA has some private schools, too, but Shiloh Christian is the only one which has had much success on the football field in recent years. Meanwhile, a plethora of Little Rock private schools – Pulaski Academy, Central Arkansas Christian, LR Christian and Episcopal Collegiate – have emerged as (at least occasional) title contenders at their classifications with the help of some extremely talented players.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. And disparities between NWA and central Arkansas public schools extend far beyond the football fields. I’ll definitely revisit this issue soon, and would appreciate your insight in the meantime.
An album of pictures of the NLR-Fayetteville game here