Battle On The Hill: Wildcats head for Hog Heaven to meet Panthers


So far, Southeast Arkansas has been well-showcased in Simmons First/Hootens.com Kickoff Week.

As the series of games comes to a close tonight, Watson Chapel takes to the statewide stage a long way from home — in Hog Heaven. The Wildcats will start off tonight’s Kickoff Week doubleheader at the University of Arkansas’ Reynolds Razorback Stadium against Siloam Springs of Class 6A.

Watson Chapel got its warm-up for the season nine days ago at home against Forrest City, winning 34-14. Junior quarterback Kris McCullough finished with 130 yards and three touchdown passes on 7-of-13 passing.

He was protected by a young but talented offensive line that created holes for the running backs to gain 150 yards. Watson Chapel was without senior running back James Collier that scrimmage, as he was sidelined with a tweaked hamstring.

It’s not known whether he will be available against Siloam Springs. Wildcats coach George Shelton could not be reached Wednesday evening.

Watson Chapel’s offense succeeded against a Forrest City team that returned nine defensive starters. Siloam Springs has six, led by lineman Luis Gutierrez at 6 feet, 290 pounds, according to Hooten’s Arkansas Football.

The Panthers had their challenges on defense last year, giving up 30 or more points four times in a 6-4 campaign that saw them barely miss the 5A state playoffs. This year, they move up to the 7A/6A-West, which includes perennial power Fayetteville, Bentonville and Springdale Har-Ber.

Senior Oscar Alaniz is a two-way starter for the Panthers, handling cornerback and running back duties. On offense, he lines up behind Austin Van Poucke, who moved to quarterback from wide receiver, where he made big plays for the Panthers.

Siloam Springs has shown it can be potent on offense, scoring 30 or more points five times last season. But the Panthers will have to test themselves against a Wildcats secondary that includes five seniors.

One of them, Jordan Stargell, returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown against Forrest City.

The Wildcats are looking for a strong start in this neutral-site game, but it’s also the first of four straight games to be contested away from Wildcat Stadium. They won’t play a home game until Sept. 28 against DeQueen.