Conference drama leaves many teams in the balance.
Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of the 5A-West.
“This conference is a soap opera right now,” Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the second half of the season. So are the days of our lives in the 5A-West. There’s all kinds of wrinkles and scenarios as to what can happen.”
Alma hosts Morrilton on Friday in game that’s key to both teams but for different reasons.
Alma is off to a 2-0 start but has the meat of the schedule ahead of it. Morrilton is 0-2 and in the midst of the meat of the schedule.
“I still think we have a pretty good football team,” Morrilton head coach Cody McNabb said. “We’re just young and front-end loaded where we play Harrison, Greenbrier, Alma and Maumelle the first four games of our conference schedule. Being young, that doesn’t match up very well, but we knew it was going to be that way coming in. This week is more about us, getting back right and playing better football.”
The Devil Dogs, a pre-season favorite in the conference every year, definitely want to avoid an 0-3 start in the 5A-West.
“They’re playing for survival right now,” Loughridge said. “If they lose this game and have a chance to not even being in the playoffs. They went from being a team thought of as playing for a conference championship to not even making the playoffs.”
Morrilton lost to Greenbrier last week, 38-31, at home after losing at Harrison, 35-34. The Devil Dogs lost to Searcy, 51-17, in nonconference with a win over Russellville, 21-20, in the opener. It’s been tough schedule for a young team.
“It’s brutal, but it was last year, too,” McNabb said. “Last year, we had more experience than we do this year and that helped. There’s nothing we can do to change that. That’s out of our control and we just have to play the next team on the schedule. For us, unfortunately that’s Alma and they’re as good as anybody in the conference, but we can play better and that’s what we have to focus on.”
Sophomore quarterback Jacolby Criswell has thrown for 649 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 256 yards and three scores.
Alma is off to a 2-0 start, but the Airedales have started a little sluggish in each of their first two conference games. They trailed Farmington, 6-0, after the first quarter last week.
“We have to come out and hit those guys and hit them in the mouth from the get-go and be physical,” Loughridge said. ‘They’re a team that tries to impose their physicality on you. We can’t wait. We’ve got to come out and flex our muscles and be ready to get after them. They’re not a team that you want to let them explode out of the gate.”
Alma quarterback Garrison Jensen went over the 1,000-yard passing mark last week and has thrown for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 386 yards and seven scores.
“They’re a really good football team,” McNabb said. “They had such a good quarterback last year that I was hoping they’d take a step back there, but this guy is playing outstanding. He moves well, runs the ball well, scrambles well and throws it well.
Jensen’s receiving corps took a big hit, though, when Felix Wright suffered a broken collarbone on Friday and is lost for the season.
“He was having a great game,” Loughridge said. “He was making big plays.”
Wright was providing big-play potential along with Grayson Bailey, who were thriving with defenses concentrating on Brayden Johnson.
“Those were two guys that took stuff off him,” Loughridge said. “Peyton Canfield came in and stepped up. We’ll be relying on him and Aidan Walker to take that spot.”