Although the Dollarway Cardinals had a fairly successful season last year — finishing 10-2 with a share of the conference championship — head coach Cortez Lee knew there was still something missing in order for the team to be even more successful.
“Last year, we were very good, similar to how we are this season,” Lee said. “But every now and then, some were putting their individual accolades ahead of the team.
“And we know that is not how you win championships.”
So before this season began, Lee and his assistant coaches preached on team unity and so far it has paid off as the Cardinals are now one game away from making it to the 4A state championship.
“We are quick to pick each other up,” Lee said. “As a coach, I’ve been proud to be a part of that. To see these young men grow together.”
Dollarway will test its team unity next Friday night when they host undefeated Booneville in the semifinals of the 4A state playoffs.
The game was moved back one week due to the forecasted inclement weather.
“They are a very solid team,” Lee said. “All the guys play hard and they have bought into their scheme.
“Don’t really see a drop off and most of their personnel goes both ways.”
Booneville won the 4-4A conference title this season, blasting league playoff teams Dardanelle, Maumelle, Mena and Pottsville by an average of 43-12, and the Bearcats beat Clinton (42-13), Hamburg (35-14) and Lincoln (35-0) in the playoffs.
“We have to create turnovers and stuff their run,” Lee said. “All guys have to ride to the ball and make the play.
“We can’t take anything for granted.”
Lee said he was not concerned about the schedule change because it affects Booneville too.
“They are in the same scenario, too,” Lee said. “It doesn’t change anything. It just gives more time to get focused and improved on things we need to improve on.
“They are in the same scenario. If we are rusty, they are rust; if they are on tap, we’re on tap.”
According to Lee, the game will still be played at Golden Lion Stadium on the campus of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. It is still scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Booneville quarterback Cody Harrel leads the attack with 1,039 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Junior fullback Bryson May has 1,174 yards and 24 scores.
Junior Michael Berry (676 yards, eight TDs) and junior Josh Smith (587 yards, eight TDs) rotate at halfback.
Junior noseguard Justin Shackleford leads Booneville with 21 tackles for loss and senior tackle Dalton Gray has 10.5 tackles for loss. The Bearcats allow 11.6 points per game.
Senior linebacker Damon May has 61 tackles, including nine tackles for loss. Harrel has 32 tackles at cornerback, while Berry has six interceptions.
Booneville won state titles in 1986 and 2000 and finished as runner-up four times since 1978. Dollarway won five state titles in six years from 1988-1993, and the Cardinals finished runners-up five times since 1991.
Dollarway beat Booneville 22-21 in the 2004 semifinals.
Dollarway defeated Star City, 36-0, last week in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. Junior Keshawn Williams rushed for 88 yards on five carries with two touchdowns.
“He works hard,” Lee said. “Just his preparation, he is getting better. His skills set has improved.
“I’m watching for him to continue to be a key part of what we do.”
Williams leads the Cardinals on the ground with 1,284 yards on 123 carries and 20 touchdowns.
“He’s been key to our scheme and getting his touches,” Lee said. “He is one of our main backs and he works hard.
“He plays one way and we want to utilize his skill sets as much as we can.”