Sometimes the biggest motivation a team needs to win is the feeling of being an underdog or being undervalued as a true threat.
In a class that features athletic and talented teams such as Dollarway, Warren, Arkadelphia and Valley View; Booneville has played most of the season with a chip on its shoulder.
And at 14-0, it has worked out pretty well for the Bearcats.
“I wouldn’t say overlooked,” Booneville head coach Scott Hyatt said. “Those are some great talented teams.
“We don’t have the athletic speed of Warren, Dollarway or Hamburg. You could see why people might overlook us.”
Booneville will play for the 4A state championship on Friday when they face Warren at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock beginning at 7 p.m.
“The guys play with a chip on their shoulder,” Hyatt said. “It has been a big motivation to play.”
Hyatt credited his team’s chemistry for the success it has seen this season.
“I can’t quite put a finger on it,” Hyatt said. “Anytime you go 10-0, that is a special year.
“We got to stay healthy and get a lot of breaks along the way. The kids played hard and are motivated to win.
“They take pride in what they do and that is something special. It is something that doesn’t happen all the time.”
Going into this season, Hyatt knew his team had a chance at having a good year, but he didn’t think they would be undefeated.
“It is hard to have that kind of season,” Hyatt said. “Our team chemistry is a big part of it.
“The kids love playing the game. Usually, players might get tired of playing but this bunch hasn’t.
“They love to play and they love being around each other. That is a big part of our success.”
Booneville advanced to the state title after handing Dollarway its first loss of the season in the semifinals, which was held at Golden Lion Stadium on the campus of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“I think the weather played a big factor,” Hyatt said. “They are extremely fast and extremely talented.
“… They had a couple fumbles early and we were able to capitalize on it. Turnovers in the playoffs are always big.”
The Bearcats are 14-0 for the first time in school history after defeating the Cardinals, 43-14, last week. Senior quarterback Cody Harrel ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Booneville had a 20-0 by halftime as Dollarway turned the ball over two times in the first half.
“Anytime you get in the playoffs, luck is a big factor,” Hyatt said. “And we had a couple of lucky breaks early and that was big.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs and any team can have a bad night. That can happen to anybody, especially on a wet and muddy field.”
In 2001, Warren defeated Booneville 45-39, the first of the Lumberjack’s consecutive state titles.
Top-ranked Warren advanced to this year’s state championship game after rallying past Valley View 27-20 last week. Senior quarterback Drake Jones ran in four touchdowns against Valley View, and he’s rushed for 17 scores this fall.
Jones won the Farm Bureau Award for 4A offensive player of the year. He has 2,264 yards and 26 touchdowns passing on the season for the Lumberjacks (10-3), who have won 10 straight.
It is Warren’s first state title appearance since 2006 when they lost to Nashville in overtime.
Harrel, who also plays defense for Booneville, was named the 4A defensive player of the year on Monday as well.
“I don’t know if you can really get ready for Warren,” Hyatt said. “Drake Jones is very physical and a very smart football player and he throws the ball well.
“… They got so many weapons all over the field. We will have to have a solid defensive game plan to slow them down a little bit — if that’s possible.”
Warren running back Kilay Cox has ran for more than 600 yards and five touchdowns this season. Senior linebacker Kendrick Newton has 104 tackles, while sophomore linebacker D’Angelo McCoy has 115 stops.
Preparing for a state championship is always tough as there are a lot of distractions leading up to the title game, so it has been important for Hyatt and his coaching staff to keep everything as close to normal as possible.
“As far as practice goes, we have had the same routine and not change anything up,” Hyatt said. “Like we’ve done all year.”