story by Aric Mitchell
Of the six state champions, three hailed from western Arkansas with two — Charleston and Greenwood—representing the Fort Smith region directly. However, the area had a lot more to be proud of than just these two teams. Of the 23 schools that we cover —from 2A to 7A — 12 made it into the playoffs, and aside from the two state champions, there were another two that finished in the quarterfinals and one in the semifinals.
The following list is not necessarily to be taken as a statement that one team could beat another. Obviously, Fort Smith Northside would have likely bested the Danville Little Johns in head-to-head play, for instance; but we’re also factoring in the accomplishments of the team as a whole within its classification. A 3A semifinal appearance and a solid record are held in higher regard than a 7A team with a high-powered offense that had a losing record.
In short, who gave our area the most bragging rights? Read on to find out:
12. 4A: Clarksville Panthers (5-7)
Clarksville was a schizophrenic team that could get its doors blown off one week and then step up and play tough in the playoffs. Its 5-7 record would not typically earn it a place in these final rankings if not for its showing in the playoffs. Clarksville made it further than any of its 4A brethren (mostly due to a first round draw of the 3-7 Lonoke Jackrabbits, but still).
11. 4A: Booneville Bearcats (8-3)
The Bearcats were iced in round one of the 4A Playoffs, thus moving to hoops before Clarksville, but they’ve earned their slot at one above on this list thanks to an 8-3 final record, a playoff appearance, and a straight-up shellacking of the Panthers in head-to-head play. Further proof that record is not everything as we compile this list, however: Booneville’s season was clearly not as good as DeQueen’s, the 5-5 team, who knocked them out in the first round.
10. 5A: Alma Airedales (7-4)
Alma was embarrassed in front of its home crowd against Greenbrier 49-17 in Week 8, setting the stage for what was sure to be a wholesale slaughter when they faced the Greenwood Bulldogs two weeks later. Surprisingly, the Airedales stepped up and played the Bulldogs hard, fighting to a narrow 23-20 loss and showing signs of life in time for the playoffs. One week later, the team that played Greenbrier showed up again and got whipped 40-14.
9. 7A: Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies (5-7)
With Shaquille Jones and Kenrick Burns anchoring the offense, the Grizzlies could beat any team on any given night — if not for that defense. The Northside D gave up an astounding 46.5 points per game. That’s an average, people. To serve as an example for how simultaneously competitive and terrible the Grizzlies could be, one need only look at the Bentonville performance in Week 8. Northside fought the nationally ranked Tigers to a 28-28 standstill at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, they’d given up 35 unanswered points, taking themselves out of the game and falling into the Mercy Rule — in a single quarter. Fort Smith Southside ended the Grizzlies’ regular season and postseason with 56-7 and 41-24 victories, respectively.
8. 3A: Paris Eagles (9-2)
Most of the Paris 2011 season read like a storybook. A once solid football program falls on hard times for years, and then makes a dramatic comeback with a team that could go all the way. While that didn’t happen — the Eagles fell in round one to state finalist Barton — Paris’ regular season was a sight to behold. Nine dominant wins with only one loss — to the eventual state champions by a margin of six points — could mean a sign of great things to come for the Paris faithful.
7. 2A: Mountainburg Dragons (8-3)
Believe us, we were as surprised as anyone when the Mountainburg Dragons turned up on this list. The 42-14 and 35-7 losses to Danville and Magazine, respectively, were not that impressive. But Mountainburg walked through the rest of the conference, tested only by Hackett in a thrilling 35-32 victory. Mountainburg was gone after Week 1 of the playoffs, but they’d clearly improved by that point, testing the 2A state champion Strong Bulldogs, but eventually falling 35-28. Considering Strong’s victory on Saturday over Carlisle was dominant, one has to wonder what successes Mountainburg might have achieved as well as what the future could hold for this up-and-coming program.
6. 2A: Danville Little Johns (9-3)
Danville lost a close opener to 4A Dardanelle, but then exerted its dominance over most of the conference in a bid to make it back to the state finals. That didn’t happen. Finalist Carlisle eventually offed the Little Johns 22-16. But throughout the season, Danville dominated in its victories and lost with dignity to tough opponents.
5. 4A: Ozark Hillbillies (9-2)
Ozark had what could be the school’s best team ever this season. Unfortunately, the Hillbillies were playing in a hellacious conference that featured Farmington, Gravette, and Shiloh Christian. In spite of the draw, the purple-and-gold managed to win the division. But by Week 1 of the playoffs, they were too worn down to go any further. Ozark fell to Pine Bluff Dollarway 34-31. Dollarway would go on to give 4A state champion Pulaski Academy its toughest contest of the postseason.
4. 2A: Magazine Rattlers (12-1)
Losing starting quarterback Ryan Chambers was a setback Magazine could not afford as it headed into the postseason. Head Coach Josh Jones’ 26-game winning streak came to a close against Junction City in the quarterfinals, 9-3. Still, after winning conference for a second year in a row, it’s a good time to be a Rattler fan.
3. 7A: Fort Smith Southside Rebels (8-4)
The Rebels lost two to the eventual 7A state champions, both times by three points. The last loss came in the semifinal round to a team that would later defeat the Bentonville Tigers for the crown. No one can say what would have happened had Southside been the ones facing Bentonville, but logic dictates it could have been the Rebels hoisting that trophy instead of the Bulldogs.
2. 3A State Champions: Charleston Tigers (13-1)
Charleston’s only loss was a 20-14 contest against 4A Ozark. The rest of the time —save for another close contest against Paris — quarterback Dustin Shelby and crew had an easy time with their opponents, including in the state finals Friday night. In spite of a 10-8 deficit at halftime, Charleston’s offense and defense stepped up in the second half and took it to the Bears, earning a 31-10 victory and a third state title in seven years.
1. 5A State Champions: Greenwood Bulldogs (14-0)
You can’t argue with perfection. The Bulldogs will enter a conference with Northside and Southside next year, so we’ll see how they fare in head-to-head play at a higher level, but pitching a shutout in the 5A is no easy task. We think they’ll be just fine. From 2000 through 2011, Greenwood has won six state championships.