By DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Izard Country will try to repeat as Arkansas’ 8-man high school football state champions starting Friday, but seven other teams are vying to keep that from happening.
That includes 2022 runner up and North top seed Rector (7-0) along with fellow unbeaten and 2021 titlest Strong (8-0), who captured the South division championship.
Rector (7-0), who lost to first-year program ICC 36-26 in the title game last season, is hosting Woodlawn (4-3) in opening round action.
The Cougars, one of 13 sanctioned 8-man teams this season, are hoping to keep their unbeaten season going per Rector head coach Dave Hendrix.
“It’s been fun and a little stressful at times, but we are just trying to go one at a time here and try to put ourselves in a position to play for it (the championship),” Hendrix said. “Its going to be tough because when you get here everybody is tough.”
It does help that Hendrix, whose team was 7-3 last season, has a senior-dominated squad in what in the school’s fourth year as an eight-man football program.
“These guys, I have got nine seniors that have played together since they very young and they are most of our team,” Hendrix said.
Other first-round match ups have Augusta (2-3) traveling to face 2021 champion Strong (8-0), Spring Hill (6-3) on the road at Brinkley (5-3) and Izard County (5-4) beginning its quest to repeat with a trip to Mountain Pine (5-2).
Woodlawn is a challenging foe per Hendrix.
“They are well coached and they have speed and they have speed in several different places,” Hendrix said. “We’ll just have to see if we can stay with them and maybe at the end have a chance.”
Rector, who split two regular season games with ICC last year, needed to have player step up in the secondary this season.
“Our offense line is probably our strength and our defensive line,” Hendrix said. “Sometimes we struggle defending the pass a little bit and I think we have gotten better as the season went.
Hendrix noted that the differences in 8-man and 11-man football are not vast ones.
“I think especially that first year we were learning and since then we have kind of modified our system to fit eight-man,” Hendrix said. “Once you make a couple of adaptions, it is really no different except it is faster.”
Rector will likely stay an 8-man program in the future.
“I think the numbers will probably keep us in eight man,” Hendrix said. “It’s one of those things where we might have a year when we have 18 kids, but the next year we might have 12 or just 11.
“The kids that we need to be playing football are playing, it’s just at a smaller school.”
ICC had a dream run to the title last season in the first year of its football program.
“It helps the smaller schools and if somebody was wanting to start football, it is a good thing for a small school that has never had the option to – because of numbers – had the chance to play before,” Hendrix said.
“We played a very good ICC team that had several good players, one (MVP Malachi Cruz) that was especially good and went on to play in the All-Star game and showed out.
“We played well. They were just a little better than us.”
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Mountain View downed Corning 28-18 last Friday to make it back-to-back Arkansas’ 8-man club championships.
There were 10 club teams in the state this season.