Wildcats try to damage Rams’ playoff chances

One more win and Watson Chapel is back in the 5A state playoffs. One more loss and Hot Springs Lakeside could be done after next week.

So Friday night’s game means plenty for both teams.

“In all actuality, it has all the makings of a playoff game because it has playoff implications,” Watson Chapel coach George Shelton said. “Lakeside is improving every week in terms of their play.”

But Lakeside (4-4, 2-3 in 5A-South), which won a playoff game for the first time in 36 years last November, is in danger of missing this postseason. The Rams are tied with Hope for fifth in the conference, one game out of playoff contention. If Watson Chapel wins Friday, Hot Springs High would have to lose to Camden Fairview to create a battle for the fourth seed the following weekend with Lakeside — and that could end in a three-way tie because Hot Springs has beaten Hope, which has beaten Lakeside.

Shelton understands the challenges the Rams will bring.

“They definitely present some challenges on the defensive side,” he said. “They want to bring a lot of pressure if you decide you want to attack them in a Spread formation. They run to the ball well and they’re aggressive. That part of it is a concern.”

For Watson Chapel (6-2, 4-1), the predicament is much simpler. Not only will the Wildcats see a Week 11 with a win Friday, but they’ll play Camden Fairview on Nov. 2 with a chance to win a share of the 5A-South title.

The Wildcats don’t have to depend on style points to get into the playoffs, but they’ve been in close games recently. After dodging Hope 28-23, they lost 48-41 at White Hall and scored 14 points in the final 90 seconds of a 34-12 win at Magnolia, a game in which the Wildcats led 20-0 at one point.

Jordan Stargell made a crucial stop against Magnolia, returning an interception 68 yards for a touchdown with 1:30 left. Then, Joshua Harris came up with his second pick of the game to set up Watson Chapel’s last score.

“It was a good situation in terms of our defense having to make some plays to secure the victory,” Shelton said. “This time of year, your defense is going to have to step up and make plays, so it still turned out to be a positive experience for our football team. Even though we didn’t, per se, blow them out, I wasn’t terribly disappointed at all in how the game went.

“I was really pleased with the plays our defense made when Magnolia had a chance to tie the ballgame and they just stepped up.”

Shelton said Watson Chapel lost a little momentum with quarterback SanAntonio Cole out of the game. Cole has a ligament injury in his thumb, the coach said, but he likely will play against Lakeside.

“We think he’s going to play somewhere,” Shelton said. “He probably won’t play much quarterback.”