PEA RIDGE -- When Samuel Beard found out he was moving from defense to offense during the offseason, he pictured himself at a wide receiver position because of his height.
Pea Ridge football coach Stephen Neal had other ideas. Instead, he moved the 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior to tailback.
"We wanted to put him a better position to be successful," Neal said. "With his work ethic and the things he's able to do, I think that has happened. He's in a position now where he's a lot more successful and he has a better way to use his athletic talents.
"Because of graduation losses and depth issues, tailback was a natural fit for him. He had played the position in junior high and did a good job there."
Beard, an outside linebacker last year, said he was caught off-guard with the move when it was announced during the summer. He played only sparingly last season and admitted he didn't expect to play much at all this season, barring an injury to one of his Blackhawk teammates.
He quickly began preparing himself for the new role, which meant adjusting from the person making the tackles to the player who avoids being tackled. It was something he did throughout the offseason, including those times when Pea Ridge participated in team camps.
"Mentally, it was tough," Beard said. "But they gave me an opportunity, and I just did my best. I worked as hard as I could.
"I never really thought I would be playing tailback in high school. I wasn't used to being hit by a lot of guys. I took a lot of weightlifting and trained a lot."
A look into the past didn't hurt, either. Beard also spent time watching his team's game film from last year and studied Drew Winn, who ran for almost 2,300 yards.
Still, it took time for Beard to get comfortable in his new role. In his first game at tailback, he ran 13 times for 78 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Harrison, and he followed that with an 8-carry, 37-yard outing against Maumelle.
"We threw the ball a little more to start the season, so it was a little difficult," Beard said. "I didn't feel I was making a huge impact, but as the season went on and I worked more in practice, I found myself with a bigger role."
Even though Beard had 100-yard rushing games against Farmington and Gentry, it wasn't until the Oct. 12 game against Prairie Grove when everything fell in place. He finished that game with a season-high 213 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries as he helped Pea Ridge to a 38-29 victory that night.
It helped him to accumulate 999 yards and nine touchdowns heading into this week's first-round playoff game at home against Helena-West Helena Central.
"He had a monster game that night," Neal said. "It was one of those games where you say 'OK, I think he's got it. He finally figured it out and he's going to run with this' and he did.
"He's done an extremely good job for us, and I'm looking forward to him to continue that during our playoff run and going into his senior season. We're excited about it. I think he'll be right there in a long line of Pea Ridge running backs."
Saints hoping for deep run
After achieving its preseason goal of winning a conference championship, its first since 2010, Shiloh Christian's new collective mindset is to make a deep run in the playoffs. The No. 1 seed Saints (9-1) will start with home matchup against Star City to open their postseason play.
"What we see and what we've learned over the weekend is that they're a very physical football team," said coach Jeff Conaway. "They do some really good things on both side of the football that really puts us in a situation where we're gonna have to play really well."
The Bulldogs (4-6) followed a four-game losing streak by winning their final two games, including a 15-6 victory over Crossett to finish their regular season. The Saints' high-powered offense will be tested by a defense that held eight of its 10 opponents to 13 or fewer points.
"Seven of their opponents this year scored the least amount of points against them than they did against anyone else," Conaway said. "I don't think they've won as many games as they wanted to win, but as the stats show, they're a very good defensive team."
Conaway said the Saints' home-field advantage could play a big factor in the game, as the Bulldogs must travel at least four hours by bus to get to Shiloh's stadium in Springdale.
"That's one of the perks to getting the one seed is you get to stay at home, and you don't have to play on the road," Conaway said. "We're very thankful for that. We've been on the other end of that, as well, like last year when we had to travel to Stuttgart."
-- Andrew Epperson • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette
Surprising Elks head to 'Titletown'
Not many people thought Elkins (7-3) would excel in its first year in Class 4A, but seven wins and a playoff appearance later, the Elks keep surprising.
"These kids have played well hard," Elkins first-year coach Bryan Hutson said.
But that's how Hutson would have it ahead of Elkins' first-round matchup against the Nashville Scrappers (8-2).
Elkins lost back-to-back games against Dardanelle and Ozark to end the season, but Hutson is not concerned about the team's recent losing streak affecting his players headed into the game.
"These guys haven't been intimidated by anybody all season," Hutson said.
He's banking on quarterback Quinn McClain to continue his regular-season dominance against the Scrappers. The junior threw for just under 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns while adding 15 rushing touchdowns.
"We're hoping that Nashville hasn't seen a passing attack like us this season," Hutson said.
Nashville will be looking to avenge an early exit from the playoffs last year, which was the second consecutive season the Scrappers have lost in the second round.
-- Alex Nicoll • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette
Hillbillies welcome bye week
Winning the 4A-4 Conference was huge for Ozark for a couple of reasons, but the biggest was the first-round bye this week.
Ozark coach Jeremie Burns said he will use this week to let players overcome the 10-week grind of bumps and bruises before the Hillbillies (8-2) open the playoffs next week against either Lonoke or Prairie Grove.
"We need this week off like most teams do," Burns said. "Hopefully we'll get some guys healed up, but we've got some that we don't think we'll get back."
Ozark lost a starting offensive lineman last week in the 28-12 win at Elkins, Burns said.
"We brought up some younger players and they played really well, so we're using this week and next week to get them ready to go," he said.
The Hillbillies have suffered a number of injuries to key players this season, including their entire projected starting backfield. Leading returning rusher Daniel Woolsey has missed basically the entire season with a quad injury. In the opening season scrimmage against Farmington, both Eli Munnerlyn and Eddie Graham went down with injuries and have played just sparingly this season, combining for just 26 carries. Sophomore Tyler Sanders stepped up to fill that role and has rushed for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"He has really been a key player for us, but we've had a lot of younger kids step up when we've asked them to," Burns said. "We didn't plan on the younger players having to take on such key roles, but they have responded and it's made us a lot deeper team."
-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip
Wolves gassed up and ready to go
The playoffs means travel time and few teams have a more difficult trip than Lincoln for a first-round game.
Lincoln (8-2) will load up Friday and travel diagonally more than 300 miles across the state to Hamburg (7-3), which is located about 30 miles north of the Louisiana border in southeast Arkansas.
The competition will be tough, as well. Hamburg had won five consecutive before losing its final two conference games to Warren and Dumas, which tied for the conference championship in the 4A-8 Conference. The Lions are led by quarterback Jonathan Kelley and Jared Laughlin (6-foot-5, 310 pounds), who has received scholarship offers from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and a handful of Division II schools in Arkansas.
"They're bigger than us, that's been the norm for us all season," Lincoln coach Don Harrison said. "They're a team that capitalizes on team's mistakes, so we've got to be able to execute."
Friday's game will mark Lincoln's first playoff appearance since 2013, when the Wolves advanced to the third round before being eliminated by Booneville.
"No one predicted us to be 8-2 at the start of the year," Lincoln coach Don Harrison said. "That's a testament to our players, who've shown resiliency and kept a great attitude all season long."
Lincoln will carry plenty of momentum into the game after defeating Prairie Grove 59-48 in a high-scoring game. Senior quarterback Caleb Lloyd fired four touchdown passes, including three to senior Sterling Morphis, who also had an interception in the game.
Lloyd enters the playoffs with 1,727 yards passing with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Morphis leads the Wolves with 42 catches for 619 yards and 12 touchdowns and he's also intercepted five passes from his position in the secondary.
The Wolves add balance in the backfield with Christian Sellers and Chris Crittendon, who've each rushed for over 400 yards this year.
-- Rick Fires • @NWARick
Tigers face tough test on road
Prairie Grove faces an uphill challenge in the playoffs after finishing fourth in the 4A-1 Conference.
The Tigers open postseason play at Lonoke Friday with the winner advancing to a second-round game at Ozark, the champions of the 4A-4 Conference.
Prairie Grove (5-5) should be eager to get back onto the field after losing 59-48 to Lincoln in a game that decided the third-place seed in the 4A-1 Conference. The loss was the first for the Tigers against Lincoln in 22 years.
The Tigers hope for a better defensive performance, especially in the passing game after getting burned for four touchdowns last week by quarterback Caleb Lloyd and receiver Sterling Morphis.
"We couldn't cover Morphis and we couldn't stop Caleb Lloyd running or throwing the football," Prairie Grove coach Danny Abshier said. "He was spot-on with his passes. We also made more mistakes than Lincoln and they were able to capitalize on them."
Lonoke (5-5) is in the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Jackrabbits are a run-oriented team with three players who gained between 767 and 589 yards on the season. Junior Davonta Adams leads the team with 767 yards and seven touchdowns.
Lonoke earned a home playoff game last week with a 33-8 victory over Riverview.
"Lonoke is athletic and they have decent size," Abshier said. "They run, mostly, but they'll also throw it and we have to be ready."
Prairie Grove will rely offensively on senior Garrett Heltemes, who scored four touchdowns against Lincoln and has over 1,200 yards rushing this season.
-- Rick Fires • @NWARick
Pioneers coach knows Mena counterpart
Gentry coach Paul Ernest said he wasn't too surprised when he found out his team would travel to Mena -- a team the Pioneers haven't played since 2001 -- for its first-round playoff game this week.
The Pioneers (3-7) appeared to be headed to another game with Dardanelle, a team Gentry played to open the season. Mena (7-3) changed that last week when the Bearcats knocked off Dardanelle, 28-14, and took the No. 2 seed out of the 4A-4 Conference.
"I knew we could be considered an underdog, whoever we were going to play," Ernest said. "I know (Mena coach) Tim Harper well. He and I go back to the early 2000s, when both of us were coaching Class 2A schools.
"Mena has a young team, but they have won five straight games now. It was a little surprising that Mena played Dardanelle, but Mena played a heck of a game. What Mena does, both on offense and defense, can cause teams some trouble."
At least the travel won't be as bad for Gentry this time around. The trip to Mena is about 160 miles and can be done in less than 3 hours, unlike last year's playoff game when Gentry had to travel around 4 1/2 miles to play Batesville Southside.
"The distance will be much better," Ernest said. "This time, we won't have to charter a bus to go there. We also had a pretty good following at last year's game, and we're hoping our fans will make the trip to watch.
"This year, we're going to try to get the kids more relaxed and let them realize there are a lot of good teams in the playoffs. We don't want to press them too much and just let the chips fall where they may."
-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
Preps Sports on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: CLASS 4A FOOTBALL Beard adjusts to bigger role in Pea Ridge's backfield