It dawned on Dollarway coach Cortez Lee: The Cardinals will start the 4A state playoffs at home.
Friday’s game against Jonesboro Westside will be the first at Cardinal Stadium since the 2008 season, Lee’s first as head coach when he led the Cards to a second straight state runner-up finish.
“It’s a weird feeling,” said Lee, who was accustomed to plenty of home playoff games as a Dollarway player from 1989-91. “I actually thought about it for the first time. It’s going to be nice to come out in front of the home crowd, get a home game back at Dollarway. It’s a good feeling.”
The 2012 Cardinals (9-1) earned home-field advantage by sharing the 2-4A Conference championship with Stuttgart, which handed them their only defeat of the season, 24-14 on Oct. 19. Coming up a victory shy of perfection in the regular season serves as motivation for attempting Dollarway’s first state championship run since 1993, Lee said.
“It’s our second-level goal,” Lee said. “The next goal is to become state champions. I think the guys are sensing the urgency in that. I’m noticing a better camaraderie among the players. We seem to be getting smarter, even in our execution. It’s going to come down to opportunity, and once we get that chance, we make the best of it.”
Dollarway has had little trouble making the most of opportunities, averaging 39.8 points per game. The Cardinals have been proficient in the ground game with a deep backfield that includes senior quarterback/running back Jeremiah Long, junior Joshua Liddell and injured sophomore Keyshawn Williams.
Last Friday at Heber Springs, Liddell rushed nine times for 178 yards and three touchdowns while Dollarway totaled more than 400 yards of offense.
“Last year, when Jeremiah went down around that eighth week, we started counting on Joshua to be a big part of our offense,” Lee said. “Ever since then, we’ve counted on him and he’s been gradually improving. As of late, he’s been turning it on with yards and touchdowns. He’s just another weapon we count on and he gets better as the season ends.”
Senior Xavier Long and Young have been weapons behind center this season, but Lee didn’t say if he would lean more toward one or the other against Westside.
“I really can’t say,” he said. “I just know we’re going to concentrate and do what we do best. If that’s running the ball and we’re successful, we’re going to keep doing that. If we have to open it up, we’re going to do that also.”
Westside (4-6) slides into the state playoffs on a three-game losing streak and has averaged only 18.5 points this season. But Lee sees some good things in the Warriors, who are in the playoffs for only the second time in school history and first since 1998.
“They have an offense that’s kind of scrappy,” he said. “They run the Wing-T and they run the ball pretty well. I don’t think they’re glaring in size or anything, but it seems like they’re pretty consistent on offense.”
4A FIRST ROUND
Jonesboro Westside (4-6) at Dollarway (9-1)
• 7 p.m. Friday at Cardinal Stadium
• Seeds: Westside fifth in 3-4A; Dollarway second in 2-4A
• Last week: Westside lost to Pocahontas 42-19; Dollarway def. Heber Springs 54-20