The high school playoff campaign begins for Conway High tonight, while Greenbrier takes to the road for a tough second-round matchup.
The Wampus Cats (9-1), who received a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed from the Central Conference, host Springdale Har-Ber at 7:30 p.m. at Centennial Bank Field at John McConnell Stadium.
The Panthers (9-2) head to Pine Bluff to play Watson Chapel, the top seed in its half of the bracket. That game also begins at 7:30 p.m.
It’s the biggest game to be played at John McConnell Stadium since the Peyton Hillis days.
Har-Ber, 9-2, and the Cats have been among the top three teams in the state in Class 7A all season. Har-Ber is the No. 2 seed from the West.
"They are a great football team, offense, defense and special teams," said CHS coach Clint Ashcraft, who has led the Cats to their second playoff appearance in as many years. "They have a lot of size and a lot of speed in all three phases."
Har-Ber comes in with a balanced attack, averaging 245 yards rushing, 281 passing and 45.8 points per game. Quarterback Ryan Luther has rushed for 400 yards and 11 touchdowns and has passed for 34 more touchdowns.
"We’re gonna have to play well in all three phases," Ashcraft said. "Their running game is very tough, but they also like to throw the deep ball of that. Our defensive backs are gonna have to be aware of that and make plays off that. On offense, we’ve got to get our ground game going."
The Cats had a bye in the first-round last week while Har-Ber easily eliminated Little Rock Central, 38-0.
"Last week, we really went back to the basics and spent a little more time in the weight room," Ashcraft said. "We tried to keep things as normal as possible. You stay in a routine and that helps the players play better. You don’t want to get them out of sync."
The winner will play the Bentonville-Bryant winner next week on the home field of the highest seed.
"Once you get to the second round, there’s not a bad team left," Ashcraft said. "This should be a four-quarter game. Nothing is probably gonna be settled early."
Both the Panthers and the Wildcats reached the Class 5A semifinals last season.
"The No. 1 thing that jumps out at you against Watson Chapel is they have awesome speed at all skill positions," Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble said. "And their skill people also play in the secondary. So this is more speed than at the skill positions, offensively and defensively, than we’ve faced."
Leading the Watson Chapel attack is quarterback Kyle Coleman and receivers Sam Bass and Aaron Lagrone.
"Defensively, we’re gonna try to bottle up their speed and try to keep them from making big play after big play on us," Tribble said. "On offense, we’ve got to make every possession count and avoid turnovers so they don’t get extra chances and a short field."
The winner plays the Alma-Camden Fairview winner.
"Our kids are really excited about the challenge," Tribble said. "They have been really focused this week and have watched a lot of film. I think we will play well and hopefully run some time. We’ve got to keep them from getting away from us."