The football playoff picture isn’t any clearer for Crawford County teams.
That picture should develop better focus as Van Buren, Cedarville and Mountainburg venture out of the county for another round of league games.
Alma is back home as it hosts Vilonia.
Van Buren at Bentonville
It doesn’t get easier for Van Buren as it hosts Bentonville, who barely dodged Heritage 13-10 last week. The Tigers are 4-0 in the 7A/6A West and 5-2 overall.
Bentonville hasn’t lost a conference game since 2009.
The Tigers "have a really solid offensive line with a really good starting sophomore quarterback," said coach Brooks Coatney. "They have great tradition."
Heritage was up 10-7 with 2:00 remaining and the Tigers kicked a field goal to tie the game. Heritage gets the ball, fumbles it away. Bentonville executes two running plays to get up the game-winning field goal.
Bentonville has only given up 20 points over the past three weeks.
"Bentonville’s defense has been solid since (Barry) Lunney has been up there. The defense is fast and it looks like they rotate in six to eight guys on the line to try to keep them fresh. It’s 7A football at its best."
Van Buren is coming off its fourth straight 7A/6A West loss this season as Springdale won 49-21 at Blakemore Field.
"We’re coming off a tough night and we’re going to be playing in a tough environment," said Coatney. "It’s still going to be a great high school football atmosphere to play in, though.
"Our guys should be looking forward to the challenge. We just can’t make any mistakes and not give (Bentonville) the advantage to capitalize on those mistakes."
Bentonville defeated Van Buren 55-7 at Blakemore Field last season taking advantage of five turnovers and allowing just 169 yards of offense.
Vilonia at Alma
Vilonia suffered its first shutout of the season last week as Morrilton won 42-0. Vilonia had averaged 22.5 points per game heading into last week’s contest.
Defensively, Vilonia has given up 35.7 points per game.
However, that won’t keep coach Doug Loughridge and the rest of the Airedale staff and team from looking past the Eagles in the 5A West contest.
"This is a classic Vilonia team. The Eagles get into their Double Wing, get foot to foot splits and run right at you," said Loughridge. "Our guys must be disciplined and play their technique and not let Vilonia’s scheme beat us. Defensively, Vilonia lines up all over the place and are constantly moving its fronts. Vilonia runs to the football really well and are very good tacklers."
The Airedales received some unexpected help as Morrilton handed Greenbrier (4-3, 2-2) a 36-29 loss.
By 2004, Alma had won eight conference titles dating back to 1992. Since then, the league title has eluded the Airedales.
While the scent of a league title is in the wind, Loughridge and his crew know that each game becomes a must-win.
"Our kids have not had a problem finding something to play for each week. This team has done a great job focusing on each team each week, and have not been looking ahead. Our guys respect each opponent and know how critical each week is for an undefeated conference championship."
The game Friday is Alma’s only two-game homestand this season after spending four of the first six weeks on the road.
"Our team will be ready this week. We love playing in our stadium and each week the crowds get bigger," said Loughridge. "Each week the competition gets better so we’re expecting a great following throughout the remainder of the season."
A trio of turnovers hindered Alma last season as Vilonia took a 32-17 lead, but Alma rallied back to win 48-38. Gage Jensen engineered three scoring drives in the second half as the defense forced Vilonia to go three-and-out on four of its first five possessions, and a fumble recovery accounted for the fifth possession.
Cedarville at Mansfield
Cedarville faces three crucial must-win games in order to keep its playoff hopes alive. However, with Mansfield, Charleston and Lavaca remaining on the 3A-4 schedule, the Pirates will be tested each week.
The Mansfield Tigers are reeling from their 25-21 loss to Atkins and hasn’t had back-to-back wins since Week 1 and 2 of this season. The Tigers are averaging 23.7 ppg while giving up 22.2 ppg. Mansfield began the season outscoring Waldron and Greenland by a combined 97-34, but has since gone 69-122.
Cedarville played catch-up most of the night against Paris in the 22-14 loss. Dylan Shelton threw for 190 yards and Corey Fincher added 52 yards and two touchdowns. Austin Soehlman led the Pirates with 66 yards and one interception.
Last season, Soehlman gained 169 yards to help the Pirates battle back to a 19-6 win at home.
Mountainburg at Western Yell County
With just two 2A-4 league games remaining, each win becomes more precious as a the Dragons could finish as high as runner-up or miss the playoffs this season. Mountainburg has Western Yell County and Magazine (5-2, 4-1) left on the conference schedule.
The Dragons could wrap up the No. 2 spot in the league and get to be back home for the playoffs, but will have to win their remaining games.
Western Yell County defeated Decatur last week 26-13 for the Wolverines first win of the season.
"Western Yell County is much improved over where the team was in the past few years. The receivers are tall and athletic," said coach Tom Harrell. "The quarterback has decent speed and is hard to get to. We need a very good effort defensively."
Josh Skattebo scored 20 points as the Dragons defeated Hackett 38-7 during homecoming last week. He rushed 14 times for 77 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 7-of-10 passing for 93 yards and another score. Skattebo ran in a pair of two-point conversions and threw another one. He also had three punts for 86 yards.
Sophomore Clayton Stephenson had the biggest night of his prep career as he gained 159 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown. Stephenson also ran in one two-point conversion. The sophomore has 387 yards total this season.
The Dragons finished with 303 yards on the ground during the Hackett contest.
Sophomore Bobby Gatewood led the defense with 12 tackles (seven solo). For the season, Gatewood has 75 total stops (48 solo).
"We need to keep improving this week. Friday night against Hackett was by far the best we have played this season," said coach Harrell. "Hopefully, we can build on that and continue to improve on both sides of the ball."
Last season Nathan Jones threw four touchdown passes to three different receivers as the Dragons won 43-20. Mountainburg led 43-8 at the break.
Errata… Van Buren will be playing Southside and Poteau at home next season with a road game to Farmington as part of the non-confernece schedule. The Pointers will be a part of the new 7A/6A Central Conference comprising of itself, Conway, Bryant and Catholic as part of the 7A Conference, and Siloam Springs, Russellville, Alma and Greenwood as part of the 6A Conference.
Van Buren will open league play against Greenwood and the Battle of the Bone will be Week 9 followed by Little Rock Catholic for Week 10.
To reach the football playoffs next season, Van Buren will just need to win one 7A conference game. Wins or losses against the 6A schools will not be counted.