A traditional powerhouse will host a program on the rise as Valley View will travel to Warren on Friday night for the 4A state semifinals.
Valley View’s head coach Shannon Sherman believed that a Week 2 win over Stuttgart would be the biggest win for the football program. It’s safe to say that the Lumberjacks may raise the level of competition Friday night.
In only their sixth year of having established football at the school, the Blazers’ quick rise to the semifinals has been highlighted by a 9-1 regular season record. The team’s only loss stems from not having their starting quarterback due to an ankle injury, but the timing has been perfect for the Blazers with the return of senior quarterback Noah Johns.
In the second round of the playoffs he led his team to a tight victory against Prairie Grove, 14-12, and beat Maumelle 37-17 in the quarterfinals two weeks ago. Johns has passed for 1,872 yards and 24 touchdowns this season and has the help of running back Jaeger Sullins on his side. The senior has 202 carries for 1,719 yards and 18 scores this fall.
Warren head coach Bo Hembree acknowledges the talent of the pair.
“Defensively, we keep playing the way we’ve been playing,” said Hembree. “We have to make sure that we contain their running back. He’s really fast. Their quarterback is back now. He’s been hurt most of the year.
“So we have to be able to adjust to whatever they’re going to bring to us.”
With Friday night’s game rescheduled this week as a result of last week’s inclement weather, both teams have had an extra week to prepare for the matchup.
For Warren, a main priority was to get senior quarterback Drake Jones back to being 100 percent healthy.
“We’re just trying to get Drake better,” said Hembree. “He was hurt three weeks ago against Dardanelle and then played against Arkadelphia but wasn’t full speed.
“This has been able to give him four or five extra days that he wouldn’t have had if he had to play a game last Friday.”
It will be interesting to see what more a fully-recovered Jones can do based off his performance against Arkadelphia two weeks ago when he passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 31-24 win. The Lumberjacks have had perfect timing as well with the return of junior running back Kilay Cox. In three playoff games, Cox has accounted for nearly 300 yards on the ground.
Aside from the playmaking ability of Warren’s wide receivers Von Eric Gonder, Jaylon Marshall and Darveon Brown, Friday night’s game may depend on the effort of Jones and Cox. Valley View contained Maumelle’s defense to 84 total yards (57 rushing, 27 passing). However, there may be a chance of rain when the Blazers play the Lumberjacks. Cox rushed 20 times for 199 yards and touchdowns in similar conditions against Dardanelle.
But Hembree does not believe the weather will dictate who advances to the 4A state championship against either Booneville or Dollarway.
“You can’t really worry about that,” he said. “You just have to go play. We’re going to do what we’ve been doing offensively and defensively. This late in the season it’s going to be cold and wet but you just have to adjust.”