Monday, November 19, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Charging Wildcats close to their goal

Leader sports editor

There are four teams left in class 7A football, and two of the most talented meet Friday night at North Little Rock Stadium. The Charging Wildcats (10-1) host the Fayetteville Bulldogs (8-3) in a game that sends the winner to War Memorial Stadium for the state championship game.

Both teams are loaded with college-level, even SEC-level talent. North Little Rock’s most high-profile player is senior running back Altee Tenpenny, who has verbally committed to Alabama. Fayetteville has two Razorback commitments, senior quarterback Austin Allen and linebacker Brooks Ellis (6-3, 220).

Both teams have several other players who are garnering NCAA Division I attention and could likely sign with major programs on national signing day in April.

“I don’t know if we’ve played anybody as talented as they are,” Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton said of North Little Rock. “In fact, I think I’d have to say they are the most talented team we’ve played.”

North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said almost the same thing about Fayetteville.

“They’re right up there with Longview,” Bolding said of the Bulldogs. “They’re definitely in that category. I don’t get too caught up in players on teams. We have a lot of respect for Fayetteville, but our focus is how we execute.”

Fayetteville’s three losses have come against some of the top teams in three different states. The Bulldogs started the season 0-2 after losses to Memphis University School and 10-time Missouri state champion Jefferson City. They reeled off seven straight wins before closing the regular season with a 24-17 loss to Bentonville. The Purple Dogs have averaged 34.8 points per game while giving up 19.9. The defensive number is somewhat skewered by the 91 points given up in the first two games. Since then, Fayetteville has allowed just 14.4 points per game.

North Little Rock averaged 38.8 points per game and has given up just 10.1 points per game. Even that number is high for what the varsity defense has actually allowed. The two high-games against the Wildcats this year was Longview’s 30 and Jonesboro’s 20. Longview scored two touchdowns on short fields after turnovers. The Wildcats also spotted Jonesboro a two-touchdown lead in the first three minutes after fumbling twice inside its own 20-yard line. Pine Bluff, Searcy and LR Central all scored late touchdowns against the junior varsity defense.

The Bulldogs will present some looks that North Little Rock hasn’t seen much this year. Unlike most of the teams on the Charging Wildcats’ schedule, Fayetteville looks to establish the passing game first, then come with the running game. Still, the Bulldogs have a pretty balanced attack.

“We want to establish the pass and let Austin Allen do what he does,” Patton said. “He’s really good. This is no disrespect to North Little Rock or anybody they’ve played, but they’ve not seen a quarterback as good as Austin Allen. On the flip side, we’ve not seen a running back as good as Tenpenny or Juan Day. They’re going to want to run the ball on us, win the battle in the trenches, control the clock and keep our offense off the field. So it’s going to come down to who wins that battle in the trenches.”

Bolding agrees with that assessment.

“It always goes back to winning in the trenches,” Bolding said. “The game is going to be won at the line of scrimmage. I think with us able to keep running different backs at people, just keep bringing different guys at you, we’ve been able to wear teams down. We just have to execute at the line like we’re capable of doing. Those Fayetteville kids have some pretty good size themselves, so no doubt it’s going to be a bigger challenge.”

Tenpenny has 1,328 rushing yards this season and averages 7.6 yards per carry. Day, who missed two games with a concussion, has 892 yards on 101 carries. That’s an average of 8.8 yards per carry. Rodney Bryson, who lines up at receiver almost as much as running back, has carried 69 times for 524 yards for an average of 7.6.

North Little Rock tries to be a balanced attack as well, averaging about 130 yards passing per game, but Patton is focused on stopping the run.

“I don’t know if you can stop them,” Patton said. “Nobody has all year. Tenpenny, Day and Bryson are all fantastic athletes and they can all score on you at any time. We have to play good gap control and tackle well. And we can’t let the passing game get involved. That just opens things up even more for them and they have some dangerous receivers as well.”