Star City (8-2) may be opening the first round of the Class 4A playoffs with a home game against Heber Springs (5-4), but the players’ minds are elsewhere at the moment and rightfully so.
Last week, Zack Towers suffered a head injury and is still in critical condition at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, according to Star City coach Blair Brown.
“As of right now, can’t get into a lot of details, but I think his condition is similar and everyday has some small victories,” he said. “That’s what the family and we are all banking on. Just that and have faith that this will improve.”
Star City players, along with Warren and Monticello, will wear No. 16 blue stickers in honor of Towers.
“I think this situation has put a perspective on our lives with the coaches and community on what the important things are,” he said. “The support we have gotten in the state and from teams all over south Arkansas, and from Heber Springs, has shown great respect.”
Star City is the No. 2 seed from the 8-4A Conference. Even though it has been a tough week for the Star City players, Brown said the team has not forgotten it has a playoff game today.
“We are thinking about our teammate and our thought and prayers are with him,” he said. “We are playing a very determined opponent that has some outstanding players and we are concentrating on that.
“I am very proud with how our kids have prepared and we are looking forward to the game.”
Lonoke at Warren
Warren (7-3) will be showing support for a fellow 8-4A Conference member in its game against Lonoke (6-3).
The Lumberjacks will wear blue No. 16 stickers on their helmets to honor Star City’s Towers.
“In football with our conference, it’s like a fraternity and what he is going through means more than football,” Warren coach Bo Hembree said. “Shows support for him and we will we could do more.”
Warren, the top seed from the 8-4A Conference, faces Lonoke, the fifth seed from the 2-4A. But Hembree said Lonoke is probably the best five-seed in the state.
“They have gotten hot the last three weeks and a new quarterback has made them a new team,” he said. “They are one of the best teams in the state and proved that by beating Stuttgart. Can’t turn the ball over and they are the fastest team that we have seen this year.”
D.J. Burton is the new quarterback for Lonoke and he rushed for 205 yards and five touchdowns in a week 10 win over Clinton.
“That change really makes them a more explosive team,” Hembree said.
Warren has two quarterbacks it could choose from for this week’s game, and Hembree chose junior Drake Jones over sophomore Justin Gorman. Both have played well this year. Jones was the starter last year for Warren and gave way to Gorman because of an injury and a bit of poor play when he came back.
“We are going to go with Drake Jones, who started last week and came in week nine,” Hembree said. “Have Justin ready if we need him and just going to play the hot hand. Drake has a bit more experience in big games.”
Monticello at Pea Ridge
Along with Warren, Monticello will wear No. 16 blue stickers on its helmets to show support for Towers.
Monticello (5-5) earned the No. 4 seed from the 8-4A Conference and travels about five hours to take on Pea Ridge (9-1), the No. 2 seed from the 1-4A.
It is the ninth straight year Monticello has made it into the playoffs, but it will be no easy task for the Billies.
“They are obviously a good team and just a solid team that plays hard and is big upfront,” Monticello coach Greg Tiner said. “We have a chance to go up and play hard and if we do that, we will have a chance.”
Monticello will have to slow down Pea Ridge running back Dayton Winn, who has rushed for more than 1,800 yards this year.
“Just really been impressed with him on film,” Tiner said. “He runs well and he runs one way and cuts back, and if you overrun it, he can run right by you. He really creates a lot of problems defensively.”
Walnut Ridge at Rison
Rison (7-3), a third seed, earned a first-round home playoff game against Walnut Ridge (7-2), also a third seed.
“Having a home playoff game means a lot to the community,” Rison coach Clay Totty said. “We expect to have play in November and we have lots of people that come home to hunt and take in a game.”
Walnut Ridge brings a high-flying offense to Rison, though. The Bobcats average 35 points per game.
“They’ve got an explosive offense,” Totty said. “They’ve got a good quarterback and do a good job of distributing the ball.”
Zach Crisler leads Walnut Ridge’s offense and has passed for 1,023 yards and 17 touchdowns. But Rison is used to facing a team that airs the ball out on a consistent basis.
“We’ve seen plenty of passing teams all year, so that helps that we are familiar with it,” Totty said. “Just stick with what we have done, get pressure and make open-field tackles.”
Rison averages 283 rushing yards per game and allow just 14 points per game.
Little Rock Parkview at Sheridan
This is the first time in 12 years that Sheridan (4-6) hosts a first-round playoff game.
“This is important to us, the program and the town,” Sheridan coach Louis Campbell said. “We don’t just want to host it. We want to host one and win one. The challenges are there and if we come together like we did in the later part of the year, we will have a chance.”
Sheridan, a fourth seed from the 6A-South, faces Little Rock Parkview (3-7), the fifth seed from the East.
“The thing about Parkview is their speed,” Campbell said. “They have a fast tailback and a quarterback that can run and throw, and that hasn’t been our strength is tackle people in the open field. We have to try and make them go the long way.”
Sheridan almost lost the chance to host a first-round game. The Yellowjackets kicked off with 4 seconds left against Texarkana after a field goal, and the Razorbacks returned it for a touchdown after a few laterals.
But it was called back because of a clip and Sheridan earned the win.
“There was a clip and it happened right by our bench and it was thrown early,” Campbell said., “So that took the anxiety out of it. … If there hadn’t been a flag, well it was easier to watch with the flag, but a crazy ending.”
Fordyce at Horatio
Fordyce (7-3), a four-seed, travels to Horatio (7-3), a three-seed, in the first round and Horatio has been outscored 79-14 the last two weeks.
Fordyce coach Tim Rodgers said Fordyce is bigger upfront than Horatio and will try and use that to the Redbugs’ advantage.
“We are bigger upfront and we are going to try and run the ball and take advantage,” he said. “Plus we have moved a couple of people around and try to cut down on giving up so much points like we have the last couple of weeks.”
Fordyce quarterback Cole Johnson has passed for 2,098 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Horatio is dealing with a couple of injuries, specifically to its starting running back.
“Main thing we are concerned with is just playing our game and don’t get anyone hurt,” Rodgers said. “They got two to three guys that are hurt and will be a bit down and we know it and will try to take advantage.”