All week, the Conway versus Cabot 7A-Central Conference game was the talk of the state in Arkansas high school football.
Many of the state’s various media outlets labeled Friday night’s game at John McConnell Stadium as the state’s Game of the Week, and for good reason, with the history of these two schools. As early as last Sunday, I was hearing that anywhere from 12,000 to 14,000 fans were expected to be in attendance at the game.
I’m all too familiar with seeing that many fans flood into John McConnell Stadium for a football game against what may be the Wampus Cats’ top rival in the fall. I’ve had firsthand experience with playing in one of the state’s all-time greatest rivalry games.
Many of you that know me, will laugh at what I’m about to write. But, it’s kind of your fault why this column today is going to go a certain direction.
OK. From time to time, I have people who have followed Wampus Cat football for decades get on to me about not sharing some of my personal experiences in the program. It’s nothing serious; everybody just meddles in good fun. I have former coaches and teammates who want me to reflect on the days when Conway was feared on a state level. So to all of you guys, who I see out at the grocery store, the workout gym, and where ever else. This is for you ladies and gentlemen.
I don’t ever take my journalistic hat off while writing a column or an article, but I’ll set it on my seat beside for a few moments until I finish.
I graduated from Conway High in 1998, and after that I went over to play on scholarship for “Iron” Mike Isom at the University of Central Arkansas. During all of my years in middle school, junior high and high school, I only lost to Cabot once. Yeah, just once in all of those rivalry games, but it was the one that meant the most.
The year was 1997, and the stage was at none other than John McConnell Stadium, where we liked to call “The Jungle.” The Panthers ended up beating us 14-0 in the semifinal round of the state playoffs, but it was a week that we could not forget. The game had standing room only during the pregame. When we first went out for warm-ups, I’m talking about 45 minutes before kickoff, the stadium was packed and the rain was rolling down.
My senior season, we led the state in every category on offense and defense, except for one — passing offense. Fort Smith Southside, the team that won the state championship that year, led in that one category. Other than that, we led in every single one. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at all of the offensive and defensive stats on all classifications during the 1997 season.
The 1996 season, which was my junior year, I caught a Hail Mary pass from about 50 yards out to push the game into overtime against Cabot in the first round of the state playoffs. I later scored, following behind our top lineman at the time Shannon Money, who played at Arkansas and for the Colts, on a play called 36-power to give us the victory in double overtime. That game was played at Panther Stadium, and of course, that was standing room only too.
It’s good to see that fans, students, players and coaches are just as excited about participating in the Conway and Cabot game like we were many of years ago. It’s good that the state of Arkansas can have rivalry games like this one.
(Michael Allen is a freelance journalist/columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.)