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story.lead_photo.caption Gus Malzahn (left) former Springdale head football coach talks with former players from the 2005 season Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 before the game against Fort Smith Northside at Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium in Springdale. - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette / ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR

The Springdale Bulldogs were such an attraction in 2005 that fans were still piling into War Memorial Stadium for the championship game well after kickoff.

Photo by ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR / NWA Democrat-Gazette
Former members of the 2005 Springdale undefeated football team against Fort Smith Northside Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 at Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium in Springdale.

In the press box, reporters and cameramen, coaches and administrators, arrived late with variations of the same story about the traffic jam in downtown Little Rock.

"Can you believe this crowd?" was a common expression from many as they settled in.

More than 30,000 fans, the most ever for a high school football game in Arkansas, came to see if Springdale could apply an exclamation point to what had been a dominating season.

It did, 54-20 over West Memphis.

Nearly 10 years later, Springdale had its own "Back to the Future" moment when former head coach Gus Malzahn and nearly 30 players from that 2005 team were honored before the Bulldogs' homecoming game with Fort Smith Northside.

Malzahn stood at midfield with Damian Williams, Ben Cleveland, Andrew Norman, Matt Clinkscales, Bartley Webb and others from a team that finished 14-0 and won the state championship in Arkansas' largest classification.

Cheers from a sparse crowd greeted the players and coaches as they stepped forward and waved after being introduced. Malzahn declined interviews just hours before his Auburn team met the Razorbacks on Saturday morning. But others had plenty to say about the Bulldogs from 2005.

"This is the best team I've ever played on," said Williams, a standout at Southern Cal who's played five years in the NFL. "I've been fortunate to play in the Rose Bowl and the NFL, and the best thing for me is being here with these guys and being with this team. We were a band of brothers. We knew every time we stepped on the field we were fighting for each other."

If you saw this team play, you remember the flash cards, the big plays and the fast-paced offense led by quarterback Mitch Mustain, the consensus national player of the year who appeared with Emmitt Smith on the cover of Parade magazine. For those who didn't, consider these accomplishments.

• Springdale averaged 47.4 points and allowed 7.9 per game.

• Springdale outscored its opponents by an average of 39 points while routinely pulling many of its starters at halftime.

• Five seniors signed Division 1 scholarships and a junior on the team, Zach Pianalto, signed with North Carolina the following year and later played briefly in the NFL.

• Springdale finished No. 2 nationally behind Southlake (Texas) Carroll in the StudentSports magazine poll and No. 4 in the final USA Today ranking.

• Malzahn left Springdale after the season and began a successful college coaching career that's included two appearances with Auburn in national championship games.

After the win over West Memphis, there was an attempt to arrange another game with one of the few teams ranked higher than Springdale in the national polls. A prominent businessman from Little Rock offered financial backing for the game, but the idea ended after Malzahn took a job as an assistant coach with the Razorbacks.

There've been other standout teams in Arkansas, most notably at Little Rock Central, Fort Smith Northside, Barton and Pine Bluff Dollarway. But 10 years later, the Springdale team of 2005 is still widely regarded as the best.

"There's no question about it," said Don Struebing, a former high school All-American and assistant coach with the Bulldogs. "There've been other dynasties in the state. But to do it on the largest platform and dominate the way they did, there's no question who's the best. This was a once-in-a-lifetime group."

Springdale had talent, great coaching and dedicated players. The team was mostly void of the ego problems and turmoil that can often unravel a talented team.

"This is the most humble group of guys," Struebing said. "I'm looking at them now with their families, their wives, their children and there's no class structure within this group. Everybody's the same, even 10 years down the road."

Minutes before kickoff Friday, former players nearing their 30s, locked arm-in-arm with current Bulldog cheerleaders and sang the Springdale High fight song.

It was another memorable moment from the best high school team to ever take the field in Arkansas.

Sports on 10/25/2015

Print Headline: Springdale High honors 'best ever' team from 2005

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