Billies, Owls to end long wait

According to McGehee coach Marcus Haddock’s sources, 1988 was the last time the Owls faced Monticello in football. That year, the Owls went on to win their second of three straight state championships in the old Class AA.

Tonight, in the second game of the Kickoff Week at Golden Lion Stadium, McGehee meets Monticello as the No. 2-ranked team in 3A by Hooten’s Arkansas Football. But Haddock isn’t trying to rely on any omens.

“You can’t overpower a semi-truck with a little Chevrolet,” Haddock said, comparing his team to the Chevy. “Their defense is young but bigger. My biggest offensive lineman is 5-(feet)-11, 270 (pounds). The next biggest is 205.”

Monticello coach Greg Tiner is anxious to see how his younger players fare against a team that won the 8-4A Conference and went to the 4A state quarterfinals a season. The Billies, ranked No. 6 in 4A, have dropped down a class after finishing third in the 5A-Southeast and falling to Wynne in the 5A first round.

“We’ve got our skill players back and our perimeter players on defense, but I’m curious to see how some of our younger kids respond to the atmosphere, how they respond to adversity if things don’t go well,” Tiner said.

Senior Will Naron will start at quarterback for Monticello after a long battle with classmate Cole Connelley and junior Imani Riley. Naron saw limited action last season after he injured his hand, giving way to Connelley under center.

“We feel comfortable with any of those guys starting, but if there was a deciding factor, it’s Will’s ability to throw the football,” Tiner said.

Possession time could be crucial for the Billies, who expect a test against the Owls’ experienced skill players. Seven offensive starters return in McGehee’s Wing-T offense.

“All we try to do is get stops here and there,” Tiner said. “The thing about it is, when we get the ball, we’ve got to be able to score points. They’re a team that can keep the ball away from you.”

McGehee also has a seasoned defense that allowed 12 points a game last year. Senior Michael Risner leads the unit, coming off a season of 100-plus tackles.

Offensively, the Owls are a little beaten up. Junior wingback Kendall Handley is out until Week 4 with a broken left ankle, and senior tailback Roger Blackmon was awaiting an MRI on an injured knee before his availability would be determined. Handley and Blackmon have shown the most promise in practice along with junior offensive lineman Cody Mencer, the coach said.

But the Owls have a little more depth as a team this season despite dropping a class. Haddock counted 35 players on his squad, seven more than he had last year.

“A little bit of breathing room is welcome,” Haddock said. “If we can keep their attitudes where they need to be, they can help us. When you can have two to three guys to spell someone, it makes a difference.”