It probably didn’t take long Tuesday night for Dollarway fans to feel a lot better about life without Joshua Liddell and Kabion Ento.
With last year’s winners for The Commercial’s All-Southeast Arkansas offensive and defensive player of the year awards away at college, the Cardinals starters impressed in the opening half of Dollarway’s 20-14 scrimmage win over McClellan.
The Cardinals, who went 13-1 last year, showed the offense still has plenty of weapons at its disposal during the first two 10-minute, running clock quarters.
Sophomore quarterback Simeon Blair got to cut his teeth against a tough, blitzing defense. The Lions, who went 1-9 last season as a member of the 5A-Central Conference, appeared to have Blair rattled early, forcing him into an intentional grounding penalty on the Cardinals’ opening drive that cost them about 30 yards.
“It was big,” said Cardinals head coach Cortez Lee of the experience gained by Blair. “It’s one thing to simulate in practice; it’s another to come out and execute. There were a couple times I would have probably made a different decision than he did, but that’s OK.
“Overall, I thought he did well his first time against live action.”
Blair had some help, too.
The first snap following Blair’s intentional grounding blunder, senior running back Keshawn Williams broke off a 48-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Senior A.J. Alford snaked his way into the end zone on the two-point conversion try to give Dollarway an 8-0 lead.
On the Cardinals’ second possession, Blair made up for a wobbly first pass attempt by hitting junior Cameron Girley in stride for a 45-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
Blair followed that up with a swing-pass touchdown to Henri Murphy that allowed the fastest player on the field to show why he’s a track state champion. Murphy, who won the 4A title last year in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, beat the defenders to the sideline and turned up field for a 29-yard TD.
The score gave Dollarway a 20-0 halftime lead and touchdowns on all three first-half possessions.
“I saw that there are some guys that are still seasoned from last year,” Lee said of his offense. “We struggled a bit with them blitzing every play, but most team are going to do that to us. We have to be able to take advantage of it, and tonight we did.
“I thought the first unit did well.”
Lee also was proud of his team’s defensive effort in the first half that led to the Lions gaining just 25 yards.
“It didn’t seem to me like they really threatened our first-team defense,” he said. “I thought we missed a few tackles. … But, I liked our pursuit to the ball.”
The second half didn’t go as smoothly for the Cardinals. With Dollarway content to play its reserves during the final two quarters, McClellan had its starters continue to see snaps.
“One thing we’re trying to do this year is develop depth,” Lee said. “We decided we would play our second- and third-string the entire second half, regardless of result.”
Lee said he did see some positives out of his reserves — that included sophomore Devontae Brown and senior Dion Hill at quarterback — despite allowing the Lions to get back in the game.
Pierre Strong scored a pair of touchdowns for McClellan — with a two-point conversion following the first one — to pull the Lions within 20-14. McClellan had a chance late to at least tie the game, but Strong dropped a wide-open pass from QB Dalvion Childs, then later in the drive Strong caught a pass that would have been a touchdown had he not landed out of bounds.
Overall, though, it was a deserved win for a Cardinal squad that dominated when both teams’ first strings lined up opposite each other. Lee liked what he saw as his team continues preparing for the season opener against Helena-West Helena Central on Sept. 5.
“We know they’re going to be bringing intensity and energy,” Lee said of the Cougars. “Our job is to try and match that.
“We’re going to get a fight from them, and we’re going to have to come at them the same way.”