Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com
Fayetteville’ 7-0 record speaks well of how head coach Daryl Patton’s squad has played this season, but an undefeated mark does not mean the Bulldogs have gone unchallenged.
Fayetteville has staved off comeback efforts against Springdale, Muskogee and Rogers and scored the winning touchdown late against Heritage to pull off a come-from-behind victory of its own. Patton is well aware that the Siloam Spring Panthers (1-5-1, 0-4 in Class 7/6A-West) remain a threat despite their record.
The Bulldogs meet the Panthers at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Glenn W. Black Stadium, at Siloam Springs.
“They are a good football team,” Patton said. “I know their record says otherwise, but they are good. This is just a tough conference. They are playing with a lot of confidence of late. They played Springdale really tough and Har-Ber, too. We are in for a fight. We are going to have to play hard for four quarters.”
It took four quarters for Har-Ber to eek out a 42-35 victory over the Panthers last week when the Wildcats fell behind by three touchdowns. Patton is proud of the way his Bulldogs have negotiated their schedule thus far, locking up at least a third-place seed in the state playoffs, but he knows even the best of seasons can be fragile.
“I’m very proud of our kids and what we have accomplished so far,” Patton said. “They have played hard and gotten better each and every game. There is some confidence amongst us, but that can be wiped away in one outing. We have to just keep working and improving and go right on down the road.”
Patton has been impressed with how Bryan Ross’ Panthers used the spread offense to open up running lanes.
“They are going to run the ball with the buck sweep and the counter,” Patton said, “And they do it well. I like their quarterback Chris Lampton. He is just a tough, hard-nosed kid, who does a great job for them.”
Fayetteville (7-0, 4-0) at Siloam Springs (1-5-1, 0-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25
Location: Glenn W. Black Stadium, Siloam Springs
When the Panthers do throw, Lampton’s key target is Chandler Gregory, who is leading the conference in receptions with 42 for 478 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s an excellent receiver who is always capable of making a big play,” Patton said.
Defensively, Siloam Springs relies on a 4-2-5 base defense, which the Bulldogs deployed in previous years.
“Their philosophy is similar to what we’ve done here in the past,” Patton said. “They do a good job of mixing things up and bringing pressure. They are very aggressive.”
One of the big keys to Fayetteville’s success this season has been special teams play. While the Bulldogs captured a second consecutive state crown a year ago, their play on special teams has improved.
“I want to give a lot of credit to our special team coordinator Tim Miller, who spends a lot of sleepless nights putting together a plan,” Patton said. “Going into this season, special teams were a huge concern. We had very little experience back.”
The Bulldogs gave up returns for touchdowns against Jefferson City, Mo. and MUS last season, but Patton said his team couldn’t give up cheap touchdowns again this year.
“The thing I’ve told Coach Miller is don’t give up a touchdown on a return,” Patton said. “If we squib kick it, sky kick it and give it to them on the 35, so be it. What we can’t have is kicking it off and the opponent going the distance for a score. We can’t do that.”
The Bulldogs are perfect on field goal attempts and PATs this season with Cal Conway hitting 6 of 6 field goals with a long of 46 and all 19 of his PATs. Jon Fagg has also hit all 13 of his PATs.
“Joe Thoma, who works with our kickers and punters, has done a great job,” Patton said. “We’ve had three young men come out and do a fine job kicking for us in Cal Conway, Jon Fagg and Jan Dhorre. They have improved. They have been winning the day.”
Junior safety Dre Greelaw has returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this year, but Fayetteville has had a tough time finding him a consistent partner back deep.
“Our return game has been kind of pieced together this year with injuries, but Dre Greenlaw gives us a big-play threat back there,” Patton said. “We had Terrell Tyson back there but he got hurt and then we tried Brayden Cook and he got hurt. So we’ve had to mix it up a little bit to get someone back there with Dre.
“Overall, I’m glad with the way the special teams have performed. We don’t have a kicker that is going to kick it into the end zone, so we have to be creative. Our goal is to have teams start inside the 30, and we’re right there. We’ve done a good job; we just have to keep it up.”