Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com
The Fayetteville Bulldogs play their most important game of the season thus far when they head north on Highway 71 Friday night to face the Springdale Har-Ber Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. at Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium.
With a victory, the Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0) would lock up at least second place in the 7A-West, which would give them a first-round bye in the playoffs, and it would keep them undefeated going into a showdown with Bentonville on Nov. 8.
Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton readily acknowledges what’s on the line against Har-Ber, but then again, he doesn’t feel it should be overemphasized.
“It’s a big game with a lot of implications for Har-Ber and us and the rest of the league,” Patton said. “But when you get caught up looking at the grand scheme or the big picture, it can be overwhelming. We don’t want that. We’re preparing for the game like we have all year. Win this play and move on to the next one. If we win enough of those plays, we’ll win the game.
“Whether we win this game or not, we’re going to be playing for the conference title next week against Bentonville at home. But we’re going to take it a play at a time, work our tails off and let the chips fall where they may.”
Thinking about the Wildcats (5-3, 3-2 7A-West) can be alarming. Har-Ber has one of the most imposing defensive fronts in all of prep football, boasting Division I talent at three spots in seniors Josh Frazier (6-4, 320), Jake Hall (6-5, 240) and junior Ricky Dobbins (6-2, 320).
Fayetteville (8-0, 5-0) vs. Har-Ber (5-3, 3-2)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1
Location: Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium, Springdale
“We don’t see that much talent on a single defensive front very often, if ever,” Patton said. “They are very, very good. It’s going to be a great challenge. Other teams have played well against them, though. We’re going to play hard and execute and see where that takes us.”
Chris Wood’s Wildcats may not boast as much Division I talent on offense as it does on defense, but Har-Ber does lead the conference in scoring with 40 points per game and total yardage at 475.1 ypg. Fayetteville is fourth in total offense with 375.1 ypg, but leads the league in passing with 1,988 total yards through the air for 248.5 per game.
Har-Ber’s Kyle Pianalto is the league’s third-leading passer, completing 82 of 155 passes for 1,418 yards and 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Running back Sain Matthew is the league’s third-leading rusher with 1,232 yards and 11 touchdowns on 164 carries. Gus Vitt (38 receptions for 636 yards and 6 TDs), Camden Scott (27 receptions for 513 yards and 11 TDs) and Matt Garrison (26 receptions for 392 yards and 2 TDs) all rank among the top 10 receivers in the league.
“Their quarterback is a two-year starter with a lot of experience,” Patton said. “They are a balanced team. It’s hard to take something away from them because they run and pass well. Their running back is very effective, and they have good receivers. It’s going to be a challenge. It always is against Har-Ber.
“They were picked to be the No. 1 team in the state for a reason. We expect them to play their best football, and we expect to play ours.”
Fayetteville has kept their record spotless by improving incrementally week by week.
“We are a much better football team today than we were when the season started,” Patton said. “We want to keep improving. If we do, we’re going to be a very tough team to deal with in the playoffs.”
Bulldog senior Mitch Marshall leads the league in passing, completing 113 of 189 yards passing for 1,920 yards and 20 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Jordan Dennis, who recently committed to sign with Tulsa during the national signing period in February, is the Bulldogs top receiver with 34 receptions for 606 yards and 7 touchdowns, but C.J. O’Grady isn’t far behind with 28 catches for 593 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Braydon Cook leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 743 yards and 5 touchdowns on 131 carries, despite struggling with a knee injury. He had his best game of the season in last week’s victory over Siloam Springs with nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns.
Fayetteville’s defense is one of the most opportunistic in the league, forcing 17 turnovers, including 7 in the last two ballgames. The Bulldogs’ offense complements that effort with only 9 turnovers of their own. The efficiency of both groups gives Fayetteville the 7A/6A-West’s best turnover ratio.
7A/6A WEST STANDINGS
Fayetteville – 5-0, 8-0
Bentonville – 5-0, 6-2
Har-Ber – 3-2, 5-3
Springdale – 3-2, 5-3
Rogers – 2-3, 5-4
Heritage – 2-3, 4-4
Siloam Springs – 0-5, 1-6-1
Van Buren – 0-5, 1-7
2013 FHS Football Schedule
Sept. 2 – Fayetteville 35, Warren 21 at Razorback Stadium
Sept. 13 – Fayetteville 34, Jeff City 24
Sept. 20 – Fayetteville 27, Muskogee 22 at Muskogee
Sept. 27 – Fayetteville 45, Van Buren 21 at Van Buren
Oct. 4 – Fayetteville 38, Springdale 14
Oct. 11 – Fayetteville 28, Heritage 27
Oct. 18 – Fayetteville 35, Rogers 14
Oct. 25 – Fayetteville 35, Siloam Springs 14
Nov. 1 – at Har-Ber, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 – Bentonville, 7:30 p.m.