story by Aric Mitchell
No one in the state of Arkansas save for the players and coaches of Fayetteville High School saw Saturday afternoon’s upset of the No. 16-ranked Bentonville Tigers coming. (Make that formerly No. 16 team.)
Yet after falling behind two touchdowns, the Purple Dogs were able to come from behind and send the game into overtime. After Fayetteville won the coin toss and deferred, the Tigers scored an easy seven, taking the lead 28-21. At that point, the Purple Dogs’ Head Coach Daryl Patton had no intention of giving Bentonville Coach Barry Lunney and his Tigers another crack at the end zone.
On a fourth-and-3 play, quarterback Austin Allen connected with receiver Reid Holmes for six. Down 28-27, Patton decided to go for the two-point conversion and risk everything on one play. The points after would be a near repeat of the touchdown that preceded it as Allen found Tyler Tuck for the win.
Here’s what this stunning upset has taught us about the 2011 high school football season:
• It could have been Fort Smith Southside.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, they’ve lost 10 out of the last 11 games to Fayetteville and twice this year by three points each. Saturday Bentonville was ready to be taken out, and had Southside been able to get over the Bulldog hump, it could have been them taking home the trophy from Little Rock.
• Any given Friday (or Saturday in this case) any team can win.
Sounds like we stole this one from the NFL, huh? Well, if it works, why not? Consider for a moment what Bentonville did to Fayetteville during the regular season. The Dogs looked more like whipped pups taking a 41-6 beating at the hands of Lunney’s Tigers in Week 4. The Fayetteville defense was hapless. Saturday, they sacked Tiger quarterback Dallas Hardison an astonishing seven times en route to well-earned vengeance.
• Western Arkansas is the hot spot for high school football talent and coaching.
Winning a state championship is a difficult thing to do, yet as of Dec. 3, with three classifications decided, Fayetteville and Greenwood (Greenwood beat the Batesville Pioneers 53-11) have claimed two of the trophies. Furthermore, the Charleston Tigers will be carrying the River Valley torch to Little Rock next weekend for a 3A showdown with the Barton Bears. It will be the Tigers’ attempt at a third state crown in the last six years.
• Being the best is about more than just numbers.
Bentonville has come under a lot of criticism for having what some refer to as an unfair advantage. The school boasts enrollment numbers of more than 2,500, the largest of any in the state. In spite of pressure to split the school in two, tax payers have agreed that the Tigers are fine under one roof. As a result, many 6A and 7A teams have used the situation as an excuse.
But the fact is, Fayetteville’s victory proves there is a lot more to a championship football team than the size of a roster. After all, you can’t ever play more than 11 guys at a time, and if a coach is lucky, he’s able to use 40 to 50 guys in a single game. When rosters hit numbers of 80, 90, and 100, it really doesn’t make that big of a difference how many guys are suited up and how many students attend classes Monday through Friday. The Bentonville loss could have happened earlier in the season. No reason why not. Except maybe schools have a tendency to psyche themselves out and lose before ever taking the field.
So what does make a championship football team?
Depth is certainly part of it, but you don’t need 140 guys listed on the program to be successful. You need good coaches, who instill the belief in kids they can do something remarkable working together as a team.
You also need kids, who have a passion for the sport and for each other. On Saturday, three schools did just that: the 7A Runner-Up Bentonville Tigers, the 5A State Champion Greenwood Bulldogs, and the 7A State Champion Fayetteville Bulldogs.
Congratulations to all on a terrific season.