It is arguably the most influential football game in northwest Arkansas in the last two decades. Friday night’s clash between Bentonville and Fayetteville will once again have a big impact on the course of the season.
Bentonville (5-1, 3-0) sits alone atop 7A-West with an undefeated conference record, while Fayetteville (4-2, 2-1) is looking to even win at Tiger Stadium. The Bulldogs are currently tied for second with Rodgers (5-1, 4-2) and Bentonville West (4-2, 2-1).
“It’s been a phenomenal game over the last 15 or 20 years,” said Bentonville head coach Jody Grant. “Our kids love it. Our community is excited about this. I’m sure they have the same. Fayetteville is playing well now and I think we are too, so it should be a really good game.”
Since 2001, the two teams have won a total of 10 state championships, five each. But in the conference game, Bentonville has a clear advantage. The Tigers won 15 straight games against Fayetteville in the regular season until the Bulldogs won 42-34 last October. Despite this streak, Fayetteville went 5-2 in the playoffs against the Tigers and won all five state championships (2007, 11, 12, 15 and 16).
“It’s always just two well-prepared football teams playing at a high level,” said Fayetteville head coach Casey Dick. “You can look at the history of those two programs, they’ve done really good results. Something special.”
Last season, Fayetteville bounced back from a 14-point deficit, went undefeated in the West, and claimed its first Western Conference title in 58 years since 1963. It also snapped Bentonville’s 35-game Western Conference winning streak.
“Every time you have a game as important as this one, you want to get as many wins as possible,” Dick said. “One of our goals every year is to fight for a conference title and win it. But staff and management all over Bentonville, they’ve done an incredible job year after year, creating a great atmosphere and putting together a great team on the field.”
Grant echoed that sentiment, saying that his team’s first goal this year is to win a division title and then eventually aim for a state championship. Usually the road passes through Fayetteville, and this year was no exception.
“The conference tournament is important to us and to our program,” Grant said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to win the state championship, but I think you should also celebrate your achievements, and one of our yearly goals is to win the conference. It also gives you better state championship success.” You go home, you got goodbye and all that stuff. So we talk every week about what our plan is and how we want it to happen.
“Fayetteville is a contender every year, and so are we, so they’re always the team we have to go through to get there. One of the things we’re going to do now is control our destiny. So we have keep playing a good game, winning football games, hopefully it will work for us.”
The Tigers’ only loss that season was a 44–35 loss to Conway in a Week 2 out-of-conference game. Fayetteville’s two losses add up to four points: a 31-28 loss to Cabot this season and a 29-28 loss to Rodgers two weeks ago. So both teams understand the importance of this game.
Bentonville was nearly flawless on offense, with junior quarterback Carter Nye and controller and senior quarterback Josh Ficklin, one of the best runners in the state, leading the offense. Ficklin rushed for 785 yards on 121 possessions (averaging 130 per game) with 17 touchdowns in six games. Nye completed 95 of his 135 passes for 1,402 yards and 16 touchdowns. His top catcher, junior CJ Brown, had 26 catches for 458 yards and 8 points.
“Our offense is really clean and I think a lot of people will be surprised to know that we have nine starting players who are all juniors,” Grant said. “So, this is a young group, but very talented and athletic. Carter was the trigger for this group, he had a lot of the confidence and swagger you want from a quarterback. In what we do, we try to be quite diverse in attack. and trying to maintain a fairly balanced running speed.
“It’s been fun to watch these guys grow and develop and as a coach I’m amazed that they’re doing it at such a young age. We have a few sophomores and juniors who really grow and change in a hurry. Very well done.” It was fun to watch.”
“If you want to stop our running games, you’d better put some kind of fuse in the box that really opens up opportunities for our airstrikes,” he added. “But I think both Carter and Josh will tell you that they wouldn’t have been as successful without a great supporting cast, a great offensive line and some very dangerous threats.
The Tigers’ defense struggled at times in the first few games, but the situation has improved recently after tweaking the roster.
“I don’t think we played well in the first few games, but I think we got better,” Grant added. “We have made some adjustments to our staff to try and find the best match for our top 11 athletes on the field at the same time. The work is ongoing, but I think they’ve done really well over the past few years. weeks.”
He knew Fayetteville would be a threat on both ends of the court, but was impressed by the Bulldogs’ explosive offense.
“I think they have two very good coordinators and their offensive coordinator (Jay Wilkinson) is a really good commander who puts his players in the right position,” Grant said. “Their quarterbacks have thick arms and are very accurate. They have catchers and can find ways to open up and play some games.”
Fayetteville junior quarterback Drake Lindsey led all 7A passes with 2,056 yards and 21 touchdowns and was near-perfect lead for the Bulldogs. His No. 1 target, junior Caron Morris, had 51 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns.
On defense, the Bulldogs are led by senior linebacker Brooks Juracek, who averaged over 10 tackles per game and threw an 84-yard ball in last week’s game against a Fort Smith South Return interception.
But Dick knew that success this week would depend on their ability to guard Bentonville.
“I think they’re just a typical Bentonville team – they want to line up and have the ball like they used to,” he said. “They use two narrow ends and multiple positions, and they want you to control the line of scrimmage. They also have people who can hurt you if your eyesight isn’t right. Of course, they hold you accountable to everyone on the battlefield. . . ”
“They did a really good job with him,” Dick added. “Their actions are modeled to support him and his running style, but they also do things that support the offensive line. They are very good in complementary football.”
So, again, Dick’s message to his team is to just stick to the basics of the game and play good football in all three phases of the game.
“First, we have to get things right,” he said. “These are the basic things that we can do that we can control. They will give us a lot of leverage. So we need to flatten the ball and then keep the ball from going out, and that will cause some problems.” We just need to come to terms with it. Just simple football.”
Post time: Oct-14-2022