Wednesday, November 02, 2005

SPORTS >> Wildcats to settle 6AA title at Des Arc

Leader sports editor

Everyone figured that the regular-season finale for Harding Academy would likely be all about preserving an undefeated record and securing another conference championship. There was the possibility that Hughes could slip up on the Wildcats to make it a more interesting race, but few expected their week 10 matchup with Des Arc to be quite as big as it is.

The Eagles have surprised everyone so far this season and also sit at 9-0, 8-0 in conference, making this one final game with perennial power Harding Academy for all the marbles in the 6AA.

Des Arc, however, is not only playing for a conference championship, the Eagles
are also playing for their first conference championship since 1982, their first undefeated regular season since 1976 and third in school history, and for their first-ever win over Harding Academy.

Everyone thought HA would be here at this point, while very few thought the same of Des Arc, but don’t tell Eagle head coach Tim Harper that his team has exceeded expectations.

“We may have exceeded your expectations,” Harper said. “We’ve felt all along we’re a pretty good football team.”
The season is ending for the Eagles the way it began, as underdogs.

In week one, Des Arc played highly ranked Hazen, and waxed its biggest rival with ease 35-0, and Hazen isn’t bad. They’re also playing for their conference championship this week.

It’s the last time Des Arc has been such an underdog, until this week.
“We’ve sort of felt like the underdogs all year,” Harper said. “We kind of relish the idea that people don’t believe in us. It gives us a little something more to play for. It helps unite us a little bit.”

Moving from intangibles to tangibles, Harper feels his team matches up very well. Des Arc shares eight common opponents with HA, and has faired a little better than the Wildcats. HA has one of the most explosive offenses in the state, while Des Arc boasts one of the stingiest defenses.

Des Arc is bigger and probably even a little faster, but the Wildcats are so good at what they do, Harper is still worried sick.
“I’m probably more nervous about this than any of my players,” Harper said. “They’re (HA) so precise, and so good at running their offense, it’s scary. There have been times in the past when I’ve known what they were going to do, and told my kids exactly what they were about to do, and we still couldn’t stop it. That is one of the best-coached teams in the state of Arkansas for any classification. It’s remarkable what they accomplish up there year in and year out.

“I know we have the physical advantages in this game. I think our speed has been underestimated all year. We just have to be very well prepared. We have to be ready and we can’t make mistakes.”

Harding Academy head coach Tommy Shoemaker doesn’t see Des Arc as an underdog either. The Wildcats are taking this game to heart more than any other all season. Shoemaker says the preparation for the big game has been intense.

“A lot of the players have made comments about how excited they are,” Shoemaker said. “You can tell these kids are taking it very seriously. There has been a tremendous increase in intensity around here this week, they have been taking game film home and watching it.

“This will be the best all-around team we have played so far this year. They have a ton of talent. We have been looking forward to this game for a few weeks now, I think it is going to be exciting.”

As for who has the advantage, Shoemaker believes that experience will outweigh talent when it all comes down to the wire.
“I think experience helps in situations like this, we are somewhat used to preparing for big games. It’s a little bit of an advantage, so hopefully it will help us some.”