The regular season is over and it’s time for Rick’s Picks, the playoffs edition, where eventual state champions are predicted with the help of the Magic 8 ball.
Anyone who was at Tiger Stadium Friday is likely still buzzing about Bentonville’s 37-28 victory over Benton-ville West to win the 7A-West Conference championship. Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Chip Souza likened the atmosphere to a Texas High School football game and Bentonville defensive coordinator Tony Cherico, a former all-conference player at Arkansas, said it was one of the best games he’s been involved.
“This is the type of atmosphere and the kind of game you want on a Friday night,” Cherico said. “The kids were just living for it. It’s something you don’t see very often around here. When we got off the bus and made our entrance into the stadium, we had goosebumps and the hairs on the back of our necks went up. Just a tremendous night with two titans going at it.”
Luckily, Bentonville and Bentonville West will have time to recover before beginning the state playoffs. Both teams received first-round byes, which is welcomed under the current format after playing such an emotionally filled game.
I’ve seen it on occasion where a team coming off a big win to end the regular season falls flat in the playoffs. In 1995, Fort Smith Southside defeated rival Fort Smith Northside to claim second place in the AAAA-West Conference. A first-round home game against Jonesboro was supposed to be a breeze but the Rebels were eliminated, 7-3, by a team that finished 5-5 in the regular season. It is a reminder that rankings and records mean nothing once the playoffs begin.
So, who to pick?
No. 1 North Little Rock is undefeated and defending state champion Fayetteville has won five consecutive after losing four in a row earlier this season. Bentonville increased its winning streak to seven consecutive Friday after being written off by many following a 1-2 start.
I like undefeated teams and teams on a hot streak. But mostly, I like teams who are motivated after being shunned and that is Bentonville, champions of the 7A-West.
RICK’S PICK Benton-ville
This is where Arkansas’ bloated playoff system really looks ridiculous.
Greenwood is easily the best football program in Class 6A and the Bulldogs could beat most of the playoff teams in Class 7A this year.
RICK’S PICK Greenwood
Pulaski Academy has replaced Shiloh Christian as the private school teams that public schools love to hate.
The Bruins just win, win, win and they do so without sending the punt team onto the field. Pulaski Academy made Arkansas high school football look good when the Bruins went 3-0 against teams from Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Louisiana in nonconference play.
RICK’S PICK Pulaski Academy
The 4A-1 Conference surprised everyone by placing three teams — Pea Ridge, Shiloh Christian, and Prairie Grove — in the semifinals a year ago.
Those three could challenge again but Warren has too much size and speed especially with receiver Treylon Burks, who will be the next great Division 1 prospect to emerge from the piney woods of south Arkansas.
The Razorbacks are among the SEC schools who’ve already offered the 6-foot-3, 205 pound junior.
RICK’S PICK Warren
One bad half of football at War Memorial Stadium last year against Prescott was all that separated Charleston from another championship trophy.
The Tigers are certainly capable this year but I like Mayflower, that tiny dot on the map between Conway and Little Rock. The Eagles are a bad bald bunch with consecutive wins of 50-0 and 70-0 to end the regular season.
RICK’S PICK Mayflower
Is Danville good enough to win a state championship, like in 1980 when Brad Taylor was flinging touchdown passes for the Little Johns?
Rison’s only loss came against Camden Harmony Grove when the Wildcats allowed 28 points in the third quarter of a 42-30 loss. That’s an easy fix for Rison, which benefits by playing in the tough 8-2A Conference.
RICK’S PICK Rison
Rick Fires can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@NWARick.