When the Fayetteville Bulldogs and the Van Buren Pointers open 7A-West play Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Van Buren, even with three nonconference games under their belts, both squads will have some growing up to do.
“We’re an inexperienced team, and we are learning a new defense,” said Pointers coach Brooks Coatney. “It’s a new day for us every time we line up.”
The Pointers (1-2) have a new starter this season at all 11 positions on offense. Quarterback Bradley Eversole made 40 catches at receiver last season, but he is still attempting to master calling the signals for Van Buren.
“He learns something new every time he’s on the field,” Coatney said. “He’s improving and has done a great job at making some big plays, but he’s not always certain who to go to with the ball.”
at. Van Buren (1-2)
Date: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Van Buren
TV: Cox 217, Uverse 99
Likewise the Bulldogs (3-0) are an inexperienced group that is learning as they go this season.
“This group is so inexperienced and young,” Patton said. “Even most of the seniors didn’t play that much last year. They don’t recognize the difference in conference play.
“Our goal is to play better each week. We don’t put a huge emphasis on winning the conference championship. It would be nice to win one every once in a while, but we just don’t put much emphasis on it.
“Our emphasis is on improving each week, getting better and being healthy come playoff time. Then we try to get on a roll and make a run at the [state championship]. They don’t give you rings for a conference championship. We like rings, we like winning titles, and the one that counts is that state title.”
Fayetteville linebacker Tommy Coker said the players do understand that the intensity only gets higher in conference play.
“Conference games definitely mean a little bit more,” Coker said. “We’re going to give 100 percent effort and try to play the best we can. You can see it in practice. We’ve had great practices this week. Now, we just want to carry that into the game.”
Coker said playing at Van Buren shouldn’t have a bearing on Fayetteville’s play.
“We are going to do what we do,” Coker said, “and hopefully play well enough to win.”
Van Buren (1-2) defeated J.A. Fair, 43-19, last week for their first victory. Eversole completed 15 of 25 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. He also scored three touchdowns and gained 108 yards on eight carries.
“Their quarterback is an athlete,” Patton said. “He’s a former receiver with great feet. He’s really surprised me with how he has thrown the ball.
“Offensively, they do a good job in the spread. They are going to try to get the ball to their playmakers.”
Patton has also been impressed by tailback Tyrone Joseph, who played linebacker last year for the Pointers.
“Their running back, No. 26, is something,” Patton said. “I remember when Van Buren seemed to be kind of a slow team for our league, but he will be the fastest kid on the field for both teams.”
Coatney admitted Joseph, who rushed for 90 yards against Fair, has good speed, but added that he needs to learn how to finish his runs and be more physical. Ethan Hudspeth backs Joseph and gained 58 yards and scored a touchdown.
“They are impressive,” Coker said of Van Buren’s offense. “They’ve been able to score a lot of points and that makes you take notice. It’s going to be a big challenge for our defense for sure.”
The Bulldogs will be without a key component of their offense with Brayden Cook out with a knee injury. Patton believes Cook, who leads Fayetteville in rushing with 390 yards and 2 touchdowns on 68 carries, will be back for next week’s game.
Senior Terrell Tyson, who has 85 yards and a touchdown on 23, will fill in at the running back spot.
“Terrell is the best athlete on the team,” Patton said. “We lose Brayden’s vision and toughness, but we pick up a little more speed and elusiveness.”
Tyson will continue to contribute on defense at linebacker as well.
“It’s high school football. It’s not the NFL or college,” Patton said. “We feel like if you have special players, they ought to be able to play both ways. We’ve done it with Brooks Ellis and Alex Brignoni and we will do it with Terrell. He may not be able to play both ways the whole game, but he could get 20 or 25 snaps on defense.”
Patton has been impressed with what he’s seen of Van Buren’s defense, which is no coordinated by Darrell Henry, former Fort Smith Northside head coach.
“Defensively they are aggressive,” Patton said. “That’s Darrell Henry’s nature. You can see that in their defense. They are a 4-2-5 defense, but they do a lot of things and will go to a five-man front on you, especially against the run. They seem to have settled down and are playing better defense than they did early.”
Coatney has also been pleased with the improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re building some trust on the defensive side of the ball,” Coatney said. “And, we are seeing some results. We have had some three-and-outs and have been able to make plays to stop some drives. Getting other offenses off the field was a big issue for us last year, and we are seeing improvement.”
Patton said Fayetteville could take nothing for granted against the Pointers.
“I told our kids that in this conference there is no easy wins,” Patton said. “We will have to go down there and earn everything we get. If we aren’t prepared mentally and physically for the war we are going to get in there, we will come back home with a loss.”