story by Aric Mitchell
Greenbrier’s Neal Burcham was the toast of Arkansas last week when he threw for 518 yards against Siloam Springs. He tossed eight touchdown passes and rushed for one more. But coming into Airedale Stadium Friday night — a place where Greenbrier has never won — it couldn’t be that easy, right? After all, Alma has posted a 6-1 record in the 2011 season, its only loss a heartbreaker against a 7A team. (Never mind that team was Russellville.)
Would the Airedales put Burcham to the test?
Nope. Burcham was at 21-of-26 for 293 yards passing by halftime. The score was 35-3. By the end of the third quarter, the Panthers led 49-3. The second half saw Greenbrier allowing the Airedales two mercy touchdowns, but the 49-17 final was never as close as it sounded.
While Alma did strike first with a field goal at 8:48 of the first, set up by a blocked punt, they quickly allowed Burcham to work. It took the quarterback, who’s being recruited by a host of Division I NCAA schools, 2:10 to get into the end zone, flinging a 2-yard pass to Seth Peters for the go-ahead score. The next series for Alma was as close as they’d get while playing catch-up.
With 1:37 remaining in the opening quarter, Burcham found Austin Fisher for a 49-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Sam Burchfield booted the extra point and Greenbrier closed out the quarter with a 14-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Burcham continued to pick apart the Airedale defense with a 6-play drive that culminated in a keeper from 4 yards out at the 9:45 mark to push the Panthers ahead 21-3 following the extra point. Four of the 6 plays were passes totaling 59 yards.
Alma started the next drive from their own 19-yard line, and after a 7-yard completion, quarterback Brady Bradley would throw a pick-six to Jojo Oluokun, who returned it 40 yards for the score. With another successful point after, things continued to get worse for the Airedales, and Burcham was mostly to blame.
After Alma’s next drive had stalled, Burcham put together an impressive 12-play journey that consisted of 67 yards passing with a 5-of-7 completion ratio. His last was a 6-yard throw to Fisher with 1:51 left in the half.
The Panthers were sitting on top of a 46-point lead when Alma finally got their consolation touchdowns at the end of the game, coming at the 9:58 and 1:44 marks of the fourth quarter.
Elsewhere in the River Valley, the Northside Grizzlies shocked a lot of people by leading the nationally ranked Bentonville Tigers throughout the first half and taking a 28-28 moral victory into the locker room at halftime. Then, things got bad for the Grizzlies—really bad. On a night when legends Joe Fred Young, Billy Joe Releford, Benny Shepherd, Jr., and Charles Presley, were being inducted into the Hall of Honor, there was nothing honorable at all in Northside’s second half performance.
Both teams came out in the third quarter looking like completely different teams than the ones that had shown up for the first 24 minutes. Northside tried an onside kick to start the third, but failed to recover, setting the Tigers up at midfield.
Two plays later, Bentonville was in the end zone, care of a 28-yard pass from Dallas Hardison to Mason Snow and a 22-yard touchdown run from Tearris Wallace. After a quick three-and-out, the Grizzlies’ punt was returned by Demarcus Murphy 45 yards for the touchdown. With less than two minutes elapsed from the third quarter, Northside went from having a chance to beat the top team in Arkansas to having no chance at all.
Three more touchdowns from Hardison, Wallace and Murphy would have the game in Mercy Rule Country at the beginning of the fourth quarter, giving the Tigers a surprisingly hard fought 63-28 victory—at least for two quarters it was anyway.
The one bright spot for the Grizzlies came when receiver Shaquille Jones broke the all-time state high school receptions record late in the fourth quarter.
If you’re a Fort Smith football fan, and that’s not quite good enough for you, at least Northside’s crosstown rivals showed up to play. The Southside Rebels offed Springdale Har-Ber 28-21 at Springdale.
Next week Northside (3-5) makes the trip to Northwest Arkansas to face the Rogers Mounties (2-6). Southside (5-3) will be home against Rogers Heritage (1-7). Greenbrier (8-0) will be hosting the River Valley’s own Greenwood Bulldogs (8-0) in a competition that will pretty much decide the 5A West. And Alma (6-2) will be hoping to put the ghost of Oct. 21 behind them in time for Halloween with a victory over Siloam Springs (6-2).
Magazine 54, Johnson County Westside 16
Danville 42, Decatur 0
Hackett 52, Two Rivers 18
Union Christian 62, Hartford 6
Mountainburg 48, Western Yell County 6
Paris 42, Atkins 15
Charleston 47, Lavaca 6
Mansfield 28, Cedarville 6
Ozark 28, Farmington 20
Booneville 28, Waldron 0
Dover 30, Clarksville 14
Dardanelle 31, Subiaco Academy 13
Greenbrier 49, Alma 17
Greenwood 45, Vilonia 15
FS Southside 28, Springdale Har-Ber 21
Bentonville 63, FS Northside 28
Conway 47, Van Buren 20
PREDICTION RECORD THIS WEEK: 14-3
RECORD OVERALL: 98-19