There were a lot of mixed feelings surrounding the Little Rock Hall football program when the Warriors were forced to drop down to eight-man football for the 2021 season.
Plenty of doubt, a great deal of optimism, scores of apprehension and a lot of consolation -- all of which was justified, considering the depths the Warriors had plummeted on the field.
Before the the move, Hall hasn't had a winning season in the last 27 years, has won at least four games just once since 2001 and endured a stretch from 2012-15 where it didn't win at all.
Throw in the fact that in January 2020, the tradition-rich school had changed to a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) Magnet institution where the curriculum and direction were different than in years past.
But according to Hall Coach Jim Withrow, the team has found ways to persevere. With multiple state championships in their back pocket and a noteworthy alumni roster that could rival any other in the state, the Warriors didn't view their switch to eight-man as an unfortunate demotion. Hall, instead, saw the move as an opportunity, not only for the school in general, but also for the kids in the program.
"When it first happened, I think everybody was kind of skeptical," said Withrow, who took over in February 2020 after spending the previous 13 seasons at Sylvan Hills. "Moving to eight-man was kind of new for everybody. We had 800 students and then when we flipped to a magnet school, that number went down. We didn't have a ninth-grade last year either. So from 10th grade through 12th, we only have 200 students.
"That made our football numbers even lower. So naturally, they were skeptical. We lost a couple of kids, too, but in all honestly, the ones that worked hard in the offseason and did everything we asked them to do, those 10 stayed with. And then we added a couple of guys. Things are looking up."
There are currently 21 teams playing eight-man football, which was sanctioned as a new division over the summer by the Arkansas Activities Association. Sixteen of those are either Class 1A or 2A teams that are divided into two eight-team conferences. The other five schools (Hall, Episcopal Collegiate, Subiaco Academy, Marshall and Glen Rose) are Class 3A or above.
Thus far, the transition has been a successful one for the Warriors. With only 15 players, Hall (3-0) has outscored its first three opponents (Cedar Ridge, Cutter-Morning Star and Hermitage) 152-8. Over the past two games, seven different players have scored touchdowns, with Cameron Lytle leading the way with five.
"We had to modify our offense," Withrow explained. "We just tinkered and tinkered with it, and the kids just hung with it. It was also a deal where if some of our kids had of gone to another school, they may not have gotten the opportunity to play at all. So they've stayed with us.
"We're familiar with them so we know what they can and they can't do. It's truly been a good deal, and they're a great group of kids to work with. At one point at the end of spring practice, we took them all to the lake, we've gone bowling and done some other things. It's just been really great overall."
The Warriors may not be playing the likes of cross-town rivals Parkview or Mills any longer, but that doesn't mean they're devoid of big games in their eight-man debut season. Hall is off this week but will host defending champion Episcopal Collegiate on Sept. 24. The Warriors will also face last year's runner-up, Subiaco Academy, on Oct. 8. Those two opponents have combined to win all five of their games this year by at least 26 points.
"Those schools are well-coached," Withrow said. "In all honesty, it comes down to your depth. That was the one thing we really harped on, which is why at the team camps we went to, we made sure everybody we had played. So it'll be interesting to see how things play out."
Bruins' streak ends
Pulaski Academy's lengthy winning streak came to a crushing end Friday night at the hands of Lipscomb (Tenn.) Academy.
The Bruins had their 24-game run snapped after the Mustangs scored 33 consecutive points in the first half en route to a 64-28 victory in Nashville, Tenn.
Lipscomb Academy (4-0), which came in averaging 69 points, trailed 14-3 early in the first quarter after a 2-yard touchdown run from Pulaski Academy running back Joe Himon. But a Luther Richesson touchdown pass to Maureice Sherrill started the Mustangs' decisive run. Lipscomb Academy eventually led 36-22 at halftime before outscoring the Bruins 21-0 in the third to hold a commanding 35-point advantage.
Richesson finished with 265 yards passing and eight touchdowns for Lipscomb, which forced five turnovers and recovered all but one of Pulaski Academy's onside-kick attempts. Sherill had 9 catches for 171 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Mustangs.
Charlie Fiser had two touchdown passes to Jaylin McKinney for Pulaski Academy (2-1), which lost for the first time since suffering a 63-61 setback to Little Rock Christian on Oct. 4, 2019. Himon also added a 12-yard touchdown run.
Van Buren junior Malachi Henry moved into a third-place tie for the most receiving touchdowns in school history after hauling in three scores Friday night against Rogers Heritage.
Those three touchdown catches give Henry 16 for his career. The guy he shares that No. 3 spot with is his older brother Jaiden, a freshman at Oklahoma Baptist. Malachi Henry's next touchdown reception will put him in a tie for second with Brooks White and have him seven away from all-time leader Drew White (24).
Malachi Henry has 16 catches for 489 yards on the season for the Pointers (3-0).
Another run over
Like Pulaski Academy, Greenwood had its winning streak stopped emphatically on the road.
The Bulldogs had won 16 games in a row before Fort Smith Northside (2-0) pounded them on the ground to take a 29-20 victory. The last time Greenwood (2-1) had lost a game was to Searcy, 50-38, in the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs on Nov. 29, 2019.
The Grizzlies held Greenwood quarterback Hunter Houston to 258 yards passing – 84 yards below his season average. Houston did throw a pair of touchdowns to Aiden Kennon and Tanner McKusker to up his season total to six, but Jack Green returned an interception 64 yards for a score with 37 seconds left in the game to end a Bulldog rally and seal it for Northside.
It's been a while since Mills won its first three games of a season, but the Comets changed all that Friday.
The Comets rolled past Forrest City 40-6 to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2013. That season, Mills finished 9-3 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs. With the way head coach Cortez Lee has his team playing, another deep postseason run could be in the works.
After losing 63-18 to Joe T. Robinson in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs last year, Mills has outscored Hope, Jacksonville and Forrest City 132-64. The Comets put up 56 points in their opener against Hope – their highest point total in a regular-season game since scoring 70 in a 34-point victory over Little Rock Fair in 2017 – behind a monster game from Jabrae Shaw. The sophomore, who holds offers from schools such as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Memphis, had 164 yards on 8 carries with 2 touchdowns and caught 4 passes for 108 yards and another score.
Roller coaster ride
After starting its season with a shutout loss, Texarkana picked up its first victory of the year with a shutout victory.
The Razorbacks bulldozed their way to a 35-0 rout of Dollarway on Friday. That blowout was a welcomed feeling for Texarkana (1-1), which had last week's rival game against Texas High canceled and lost its opening wee game to Paris (Texas) 55-0. But against Dollarway, the Razorbacks were in tune at the beginning.
Kyron Young ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns, while the Texarkana defense gave up just 102 yards rushing. The Razorbacks also limited Dollarway quarterback Briveon Sample to 3-of-10 passing for 7 yards.