Posted 9/3/2007 12:00 am
Cars were stacked along Markham Street in Little Rock, and fans were piling into War Memorial Stadium to get a final glimpse of one of the greatest teams in Arkansas high school football history.
Even before they were all seated, Springdale scored three touchdowns in the opening six minutes of what turned out to be another easy win for the Bulldogs.
Springdale rolled on to a 54-20 win over West Memphis in the 2005 Class 5A state championship game to culminate a 14-0 season that was as dominating as it was predictable.
In addition to winning the state title, Springdale also finished No. 2 nationally in the Student Sports Magazine ranking behind Southlake, Texas, Carroll. The Bulldogs were No. 4 in the nation in the final USA Today newspaper ranking. Even discussions for a postseason mythical national championship game between Springdale and Lakeland, Fla., which was No. 1 in the final USA Today ranking, surfaced.
So went the 2005 season in Arkansas. Talk of greatness surrounded the Bulldogs everywhere they went, as did talk of where that Springdale team stacked up against the great teams of the past.
The last national championship high school football team from Arkansas, mythically speaking, of course, was Wilson Matthews' final Little Rock Central team in 1957. It was a time in not only the state's history but the nation's history as well when all eyes were on Central High and how it handled the social dilemma called desegregation.
With that team as a starting point, these are the top 10 teams to grace the high school fields across Arkansas during the past half-century. The list is in reverse chronological order. It's up to much debate what team should be No. 2 behind the Bulldogs of 2005.
Head coach: Gus Malzahn; Record: 14-0
Any talk of greatness to anyone under the age of 50 must begin and end with the Bulldogs of 2005. The nicknames for the team's season were numerous, like Mustainmania, the Springdale Five, Once-In-A-Lifetime Team. Division 1-A signees Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams, Andrew Norman, Ben Cleveland and Bartley Webb were the center of attention along with Malzahn, who even literally wrote the book on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
The team was a statistician's dream, and the mere numbers were staggering.
Springdale mercy-ruled 12 teams, leading by 35 or more points in the second half to evoke the sportsmanship rule enacted by the Arkansas Activities Association that kept the clock running continuously in an attempt to keep down slaughters. The only teams that the Bulldogs did not mercy-rule were Shreveport Evangel in the season opener and in the state championship game against West Memphis. Against Shreveport, the Bulldogs actually led 35-0 in the fourth quarter, but Louisiana does not have a sportsmanship rule. Against West Memphis, the Bulldogs led 34-0 before missing an extra point that would have evoked it then.
Springdale scored 664 points during the season and 89 offensive touchdowns on only 630 plays.
The team's season spawned a book and a whirlwind recruiting season for the much-ballyhooed players along with Malzahn's eventual leaving to become an assistant at the University of Arkansas.
LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL 2003
Head coach: Bernie Cox; Record: 14-0
Just win, baby. Led by a dominating defense, the Tigers won their 31st state championship but recorded the first 14-0 season in the storied history of the school's football program. It may even be argued that Central didn't beat anybody in 2003, but the Tigers beat everyone they played. Central began the season tied for ninth in the Associated Press statewide poll of sportscasters and sports writers. What do they know? Central beat preseason No. 1 Springdale in the second round of the playoffs, but by the time the regular season was over the Bulldogs were the third seed from the 5A-West. Central then beat Pine Bluff in the semifinals, but the Zebras were merely the fourth seed from the 5A-South. Even in the finals, Central was matched against a third-seeded team from the 5A-East in West Memphis. Central held 10 of 14 opponents to a touchdown or less. After the nonconference schedule, the Tigers didn't score less than three touchdowns in a game.
Head coach: Mike Malham Jr.; Record: 14-0
In an age when footballs began flying all over the ballpark on Friday nights with the hurry-up, no-huddle offenses that started taking hold, the Cabot Panthers were a throwback to yesteryear. Cabot used the Dead-T offense to roll up 3,758 yards on the ground and a perfect 14-0 slate. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for the Y2K Panthers was a three-week winning streak against the mighty West with wins over Fort Smith Northside, Springdale and Fort Smith Southside in the final three weeks of the playoffs.
"What we did going through Northside, Springdale and Southside is bigger than win-ning the state championship," Malham said.
The championship was also retribution for the Panthers, who lost in the championship games in 1998 and 1997 by a combined 79-10 score to Little Rock Fair and Southside, respectively.
LITTLE ROCK FAIR 1998
Head coach: Glenn Eskola; Record: 14-0
Cedric Cobbs and Tye Forte led an offense that scored 475 points, which was the most for a team in the state's largest classification since Little Rock High scored 578 points in 1946. Cobbs, who went on to greatness as an Arkansas Razorback, was named a Parade All-American in leading Fair's offense that scored 40 or more points six times. One of those times was in the championship game against Cabot, winning 41-0. Fair scored on all four offensive possessions in the first half and added a defensive touchdown for a 31-0 halftime lead. Fair's title was the first for a Little Rock school since Central in 1986.
PINE BLUFF 1993
Head coach: Marion Glover; Record: 14-0
Wire to wire. In an unprecedented display of dominance, the Zebras became the first team to begin the season No. 1, stay No. 1 throughout and finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Pine Bluff was No. 15 in the final USA Today newspaper ranking, the highest for an Arkansas team since the ranking debuted in 1982. Pine Bluff's defense, led by Associated Press Super Teamers Marcus Jefferson and Archie McCoy, pitched nine shutouts and allowed three other opponents just one touchdown. The offense wasn't shabby either. The Zebras scored 451 points, the most for a team playing in the state's largest classification since Little Rock High in 1946. Pine Bluff's wishbone attack chewed up 4,754 yards of real estate in methodical fashion.
PINE BLUFF DOLLARWAY 1990
Head coach: Lee Hardman; Record: 14-0
The Cardinals led the Cotton Belt Sweep of ‘90 as Pine Bluff, Fordyce and Rison joined Dollarway from the Delta region of the state to win state championships. While Basil Shabazz stole the show in leading the Pine Bluff Zebras to the state title with a five-touchdown performance in the state championship game, the Dollarway Cardinals were the best team in the state in 1990. Carl Johnson, Deotis Gardner, Jessie Miller and Eric Hobbs were all named to the prestigious Associated Press Super Team. Having four players named from a team not in the state's largest classification is unheard of and speaks volumes of the respect for the Cardinals in ‘90. Dollarway gave up just 45 points in 14 games, recording eight shutouts and allowing no more than 12 points in any game.
"We had a lot of three-year starters that had confidence, had skill and had ability," Hardman said. "We had a combination of outstanding talent, discipline and the will to be the very best."
The senior class, which boasted 34 players on the roster, finished a three-year run that included three state titles and a 40-2 record.
LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL 1975
Head coach: Bernie Cox; Record: 12-0
One of the great Tiger teams of all time interrupted Little Rock Parkview's dynasty of the 1970s. Led by quarterback Houston Nutt and receiver Robert Farrell, Central went undefeated but not without controversy. In the second game of the year, the conference and state championship in the big-school conference was decided. In a 20-14 win, Central's win was preserved when the Zebras were stopped less than inches from the goal line as time expired. Pine Bluff had the ball first and goal from the 2 with 26 seconds left. Central claims a goal-line stand for the ages while the Zebras claims victory taken away. Pine Bluff finished with just the one loss. Central finished undefeated and was unapproachable the last eight games of the season, giving up just nine touchdowns all season.
LITTLE ROCK PARKVIEW 1974
Head coach: Sam Goodwin; Record: 11-0
Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame coach Sam Goodwin built a dynasty at Parkview in the ‘70s when the Patriots won three outright state titles, shared two state titles and compiled a 47-4-2 record during a six-year stretch.
"I think the thing we did better than most teams was block," Goodwin said. "We took a lot of pride in our offensive line."
The ‘74 team featured tight end Charles Clay, tackle Jim Kissire and guard Jerry Sullivan, all of whom went on to play for the Razorbacks, and center Brooks Hollingsworth, who was named to the Associated Press Super Team. Behind them, Parkview had tailback Gerald Jones, who rushed for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns, quarterback Jerry Barnett, who rushed for 1,040 yards and 14 scores, and fullback John Barron, who added 964 yards and nine touchdowns.
The ‘74 Patriots also were involved in one of the most anticipated games in the state's history when Parkview and Central met on a Thursday night late in the season to decide the big-school title when both were undefeated. Parkview prevailed 31-21 in a game between the Patriots' vaunted running game and Central's potent passing game.
Head coach: Robert "Swede" Lee; Record: 13-0
Swede Lee returned to Texarkana and immediately led the Razorbacks out of racial difficulties and to the state championship, recording the first perfect season in Texarkana history. Ironically, Lee played for crosstown rival Texas High and played under Darrell Royal at the University of Texas. It was Lee's second coaching stint at Texarkana, returning to the school as the highest paid coach in the state at $20,000 per year. It was certainly a worthwhile investment as the Razorbacks won three straight state champion-ships and dominated the second-largest classification during that time. The ‘73 team was led by a quartet of Associated Press Super Teamers: Graylon Wyatt, Robert Williams, Mike Trammell and Earnest Cheatham.
FORT SMITH NORTHSIDE 1967
Head coach: Bill Stancil; Record: 12-0
The Grizzlies and Little Rock Hall duked it out for supremacy in the ‘60s, but the greatest of them all was the Northside team of 1967. Including the traditional season-opening game against rival Van Buren, Northside faced eight opponents that were undefeated entering its game with the Grizzlies. Maybe no greater schedule was played by a team during the past 50 years. Those were the days before the modern playoff era, but the Grizzlies still went 12-0 in a schedule that included the regular big-school diet of Hall, Central, El Dorado, Pine Bluff and North Little Rock. The Grizzlies handed Hall and Springdale their only losses of the season. In all, Northside gave up 68 points and allowed no team over 200 yards of offense.
(Leland Barclay is the author of the "Almanac of Arkansas High School Football.")