Bulldogs begin hunt for elusive 7A-West title

Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com

With the nonconference schedule out of the way, the Fayetteville Bulldogs now begin to chase what has eluded them despite winning three state titles in the past six seasons — a 7A-West title.

Accomplishing the a task won’t be easy for the Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 5 in the state by Hootens.com, and are picked to finish third in the conference by the same site. No. 2 Bentonville (1-2) and No. 3 Har-Ber (2-1) are the favorites to win the league crown. The Tigers and the Wildcats return more experienced rosters and have traditionally played their best football during the regular season, while the Bulldogs have played their best ball in the postseason.

One certainly can’t argue with the results. State titles are more meaningful than the conference variety, but there is no doubt that Coach Daryl Patton and his Bulldogs would love to add a 7A-West trophy to their stockpile of championship hardware.

The advantage of finishing first in league play, beyond the bragging rights, is the first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage until the state semifinals.

After waiting 11 days between the Bulldogs’ season opener, a 35-21 defeat of Warren, and their second game, a 34-24 victory over Jefferson City, Mo., Patton lamented the wait between contests, saying the only way he wants to have that much space between games again would be in Week 11. He, of course, was alluding to the bye that comes from finishing first or second in league play.

However, Fayetteville could use an open date right now. Though the Bulldogs came through their nonconference schedule unblemished, they are banged up and bruised after three hard-hitting contests.

Tailback Brayden Cook hurt his ankle on his last carry of a 14-yard night last Friday against Muskogee, Okla., and quarterback Mitch Marshall is showing the wear and tear of three physical ballgames. Other Bulldogs are dealing with aches and pains of their own. However, they will move on with their motto of “win the play; improve everyday” as the Bulldogs prep for their 7:30 p.m. Friday trip to Van Buren.

“It sounds simple,” Patton said. “We want to be playing our best football come November.”

We don’t put emphasis on trying to win the state championship this week. We just want to improve, give maximum effort, which our kids have proven they will do, and play the best we can this week.”

The No. 16 Pointers (1-2) picked up their first victory of the season with a 49-7 victory over J.A. Fair last Friday. Van Buren lost tough battles to Alma, 35-27, and Poteau, 43-40, during the first two weeks of the season.

The Bulldogs have made solid improvement from week to week in their preconference schedule despite the injuries.

“I’m pleased with where we are at, but I’m not satisfied or content,” Patton said last week. “We’ve got to improve in all areas. I don’t think there is one facet that we are solid in, but I think we have the players who can do it. We do have some positions where there is still some competition, which is good, and the kids have shown a great deal of want-to and heart.”

Patton said the Bulldogs are using a seven to nine man rotation on the defensive line as players jockey for playing time and added that sophomore offensive lineman Noah Johnson is a back-up right now but is really pushing for playing time. He said there is still untapped talent that could come to the front as the Bulldogs continue to strive to improve in practice.

For their play against Muskogee, the Bulldogs coaching staff named Cook as Outstanding Offensive Back, Offensive MVP and the State Farm Player of the Week, Ramsey Jones as Outstanding Wide Receiver, Nathaniel Kiser as Outstanding Defensive Lineman, Ridley Weeks as Outstanding Linebacker, Jake Hornibrook as Outstanding Defensive Back, Terrell Tyson as Defensive MVP, Miles Taliaferro as Hammer Award Winner, Cal Conway as Outstanding Special Teamer. The staff elected not to name an outstanding offensive lineman for the game.

2013 FHS Football Schedule

Sept. 2 Fayetteville 35, Warren 21
Sept. 13 Fayetteville 34, Jeff City 24
Sept. 20 Fayetteville 27, Muskogee 22
Sept. 27 at Van Buren, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 Springdale, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Rogers Heritage, 7:30. p.m.
Oct. 18 Rogers, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Siloam Springs, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Har-Ber, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Bentonville, 7:30 p.m.