Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com
The countdown on Seth Finley’s high school football career has started, and the Fayetteville Bulldog senior linebacker is well aware of it.
He knows tonight’s 7 p.m. game against the Little Rock Central Tigers (6-4) at Harmon Stadium in the first round of the Class 7A State Football Playoffs could be the last time he straps on the pads and dons purple for Fayetteville.
“This could be the last four quarters other seniors and I play,” Finley said. “You don’t like to think of it that way, but it could be. All I want to do is to go out there and take it play by play and make the most of each one of them. If I do that and if the other seniors and guys on the team do that, we’ll get another game. We want to keep on doing that until we get to Little Rock.”
Little Rock, of course, means a third consecutive trip the Class 7A State Championship Game for the Bulldogs. Playing for and winning state titles is almost dialed into the DNA of the Bulldog seniors. It’s all Finley and his teammates have known as Bulldogs.
“We feel like the playoffs are our time,” Finley said. “It’s what we’ve worked for and been conditioned for since we’ve been here and especially since the summer.”
The 2013 Bulldogs have had sort of a chip on their shoulders. Prevailing wisdom outside the Fayetteville locker room was that the state titles won in 2011 and 2012 were built around the strong senior class of 2012. Some thought and still believe the Bulldogs would take a tumble this season. Finley and his fellow seniors are well aware of that, and they’ve worked very hard to make sure that did not happen.
Fayetteville (8-2) vs. Little Rock Central (6-4)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, 2013
Where: Harmon Stadium, Fayetteville
“We know what was said and written, but it’s motivated us,” Finley said. “Our offseason was brutal and two-a-days was just intense. We felt challenged and we wanted to rise up to it.”
The Bulldogs did meet the challenge going 8-0 to start the season.
“The coaches really pushed us physically, and they knew how to fire us up and get us ready. I’m proud that we improved each week. It’s been a great team effort.
“It’s been a surprise to all the fans. It’s been fun around school. Everyone was saying that they didn’t think we would be that good. We’ve gotten so much support from our friends and the students. It’s been great.”
However, the Bulldogs lost their final two games to Har-Ber, 34-31 in overtime, and Bentonville, 35-21. The latter contest was more of a touchdown contest until the very end.
“Those two games were really humbling,” Finley said. “We worked our tails off, but we know we could have done things better. It’s never good to lose, but we’re using those games as motivation to make sure we play better for the rest of the year.”
Finley was voted a team captain, and Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton couldn’t be more pleased with the leadership Finley has shown.
“He’s one of the best captain’s we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Patton said. “You couldn’t ask more of him. He’s just a very solid young man, who has been a steading influence on our team. He’s very accountable. Everyone knows they can depend on Seth.”
Finley had always been a worker, but being named team captain only redoubled his efforts this season.
“Being picked as captain showed everyone believed in me as a player and a person,” Finley said. “I’m glad and proud they chose me. I’ve worked hard to not let anyone down. We’re a really close team and we’ve all pulled together to make this season possible. We just want to finish it the right way.”
The Bulldogs have a tough task in facing Little Rock Central right out of the gate.
“They are a solid, strong team,” Finley said after studying the Tigers on film. “They are probably the best team we’ve seen this early in the playoffs, according to our coaches, in a number of years. They have a really good running back and they play physical ball, which I love. I love the contact and hitting people. They are like Bentonville or Har-Ber or any other top level team we’ve played.”
Finley said he expects Central to test the Bulldogs up front.
“They are going to run the ball right at us because our defense has been slacking against the run,” Finley said. “We’ve made a few adjustments this week especially for them. I think we have a good game plan for them. It should be an exciting game.”