LITTLE ROCK — Last season in 11 games, Vilonia passed for a total of 29 yards. It was very late in the season before the Eagles completed a pass.
Monday in their season opener, they almost doubled their yardage of last season on one play. Quarterback Drew Knowles connected with Mitchell Atkinson on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Knowles just missed on a deep ball to an open receiver on a couple of other occasions.
Don’t mark this down as a trend. Coach Jim Stanley has hardly shucked his pound-it-out, keepaway, double-wing philosophy. He’s not a convert to the Spread. But it’s a nice toy to play with once in awhile.
The point is the Eagles have a second dimension and it makes them a much more dangerous team.
"It was kind of amazing (to connect with a long pass for touchdown)," said Knowles, who rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries on the way to MVP honors. "But it was a great thing. We hope to do it a lot more."
What Vilonia did to Sylvan Hills in a 42-14 thumping turned out to be a sideshow on the first night of the First Security High School Classic.
It was the first game in the newly renovated ($7 million-plus) War Memorial Stadium.
And the improvements to the press box and suites are also amazing. W
ar Memorial moved from a classic, mid-20th Century Stadium to a 21st-Century look and feel. The usual minor glitches will certainly be tweaked for the Razorbacks’ game with Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 11, but there is notable improvement.
What Vilonia did in the opening game was just a spark on the real offensive fireworks display by Pulaski Academy quarterback Fred Knighten, who led the Bruins 700-yard attack (569 through the air) in a 59-33 thumping of rival Central Arkansas Christian.
No, this wasn’t a football/basketball doubleheader. It was a 92-point football game that featured a 99-yard touchdown pass from Knighten to Garrett Lamb.
By PA standards, Vilonia’s 1-for-5, 55 yards, one TD passing total seems an anthill to a mountain of eye-popping statistics.
The Eagles almost matched PA in one thing. They punted one time — with 54.5 seconds left in the game. Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley is philosophically opposed to punting. The Eagles passed up the punt because they physically didn’t need to punt. They scored touchdowns on all four of their possessions in the first half and six of the seven meaningful possessions of the game.
They weren’t perfect. They had seven penalties (some that nullified or neutralized long runs), fumbled away a punt and had a PAT blocked.
"Silly mistakes that we can’t afford to have against a good team and shows us we have a long way to go," Stanley said.
The fumbled punt accentuated a "comedy of errors" aspect of the season opener. That punt by Mitchell Maddox was his fourth on four straight snaps — Sylvan Hills was penalized twice for an illegal formation (not having enough players on the line of scrimmage) and once for an illegal shift — which was offset by an illegal block by Vilonia for a true "no-play." Mitchell began the series punting from near his 20 and ended punting almost from the end zone.
Then, the Bears gained 14 yards on the exchange with the recovered fumble on their 46.
The Eagles then threw the Bears for 13 yards in losses on two running plays, forcing Maddox Maddox’s fifth punt in less than two minutes.
But that exchange and that one completion camouflaged a pretty impressive night for the Eagles.
Knowles, James Sax, Trey Lewis and Jake Wiedmier combined for 356 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Vilonia line provided some gaping holes for the power slashes, often punctuated with double handoffs.
And the Vilonia defense, facing a young but athletic team (particularly in the backfield) with a good offensive line, yielded chunks of yardage early but adjusted and allowed the Bears only 121 total yards (60 rushing) the second half.
The Eagles are hardly a complete or invincible team (hardly any team is right now), but they are certainly a team with multiple daggers that has a chance to be in the thick of the 5A-West mix. They are also a team on a mission beyond themselves.
Many of their fans wore pink.
The Eagles have a thick pink stripe that clashes atop their bright red helmets. Most players’ have with slashes of pink, many times with pink shoelaces.
Pink is the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness and support.
When asked about the fashion statement after the game, Stanley said, "It’s for my wife ...." He teared up and couldn’t finish the statement.
It was quite a scene after the game as the Eagles gathered for a picture with the trophy for winning the special game. They held aloft those red helmets. But you couldn’t ignore all the pink.
This was a neat scene that reflected an immediate triumph and hope for longterm victories that go beyond games.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)