In keeping with the theme of our greatest coaches feature we wanted to give you a taste of some of the most exciting match-ups between the coaches on our list over the past decade. Naturally, when a group of coaches enjoyed the level of success as the 15 on our list, they're bound to run into each other from time to time.
Well, as you're about to find out, those meetings accorded a lot more often than just "time to time" and when two of these coaches matched wits against each other the result was almost always pure gridiron drama. The games occurred all around the state, season after season in every classification and in most cases, there was more than just a "W" riding on the outcome.
The Top 10 head to head match-ups between our list of coaches feature some of the most exciting, heart pounding football enjoyed by Arkansas high school football fans over the last decade.
In each match-up featured, it was a win or go home scenario and in some cases it was for all the marbles. Follow along and prepare for a trip down memory lane, for some of you they'll be sweet but for others, it's a reoccurring nightmare.
10. Springdale Har-Ber vs. Cabot (2009) 7A Semi-Finals
Mike Malhan had finally restored the pride back into his Cabot Panthers program after a mid-decade swoon. After winning the title in 2000 against FS Southside, the Panthers combined for a .500 record (21-21) between 2004 and 2007, and did not win a conference championship in that span. Entering their class 7A semi-final match-up against Har-Ber with a 10-1 record and their second consecutive 7A-Central conference title, Malhan and his Panthers felt confident. With his clock eating Dead-T offense and the home crowd behind them, could this be the season they knock off the Wildcats?
Har-Ber entered the game with a dose of confidence all their own. They were 7A-West champs, winners of 11 games on the season and had beaten Cabot the previous two seasons in the play-offs 35-14 and 21-17. As is usually the case in play-off football, this game was tight from start to finish. Cabot struck first, with a 3-yard touchdown run by Matt Bayles late in the opening quarter. It would take the Wildcats almost an entire quarter before they answered with a score of their own. With just 4:00 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Ryan Luther found Jordan Nicholson for a touchdown to cap an impressive 85 yard drive.
The two would stay deadlocked for the remainder of the first half and well into the second. This game was a slug-fest between two determined defenses but it was missed opportunities cost Har-Ber in the 3rd quarter as penalties and poor execution forced them to punt on multiple occasions after driving into Cabot territory.
Malhan and his Panthers finally broke the stalemate with 7:43 to go in the 4th quarter when they drove down and kicked a field goal taking a 10-7 lead.
Now backed into the corner, Chris Wood would help lead the Wildcats on their own time consuming drive, as they marched down the field and into striking distance. Luther would find his favorite target, Nicholson, again for their second score of the night-a perfectly thrown 19-yard dagger with just 34 ticks left on the clock. Last second heroics for Cabot failed as their flea-flicker attempt was fumbled away, ending the Panthers season at 10-2.
Cabot had restored their program to its championship caliber form, but would have to wait for the 2010 season for another chance to reach War Memorial.
Springdale Har-Ber (12-1) advanced to their second championship game in three seasons where they played Ft. Smith Southside for the title, a game they won 27-6. It would be Wood's first title at Har-Ber and second as a head coach (won 2A with Shiloh in 2001).
Final score: Springdale Har-Ber (14) Cabot (10)
9. Shiloh Christian vs. Warren (2005) 2nd Round 3A Play-offs
Josh Floyd was in his second season at Shiloh Christian and had his sights set on returning the Saints to prominence around the Natural State. It had been three seasons since Shiloh Christian had last played for a title, an eternity for a team who played in five straight from 1997-2001. Having already lost 3 games on the season Shiloh looked to be vulnerable and slightly outmatched against the 11-0 Lumberjacks.
Warren was no stranger to success either, as the 'Jacks were looking to get back to the title game after back-to-back championships in '01 and '02.
Bo Hembree, at that point, had lost only two home games in his six seasons at Warren ('03 Nashville, '04 Central Arkansas Christian). The catch; both had come in the play-offs against teams Warren was expected to beat. The recipe was certainly there for Floyd and Shiloh to capitalize on so long as they held their composure against the rowdy Lumberjack faithful, and of course, the hungry Warren team across the field.
In the first quarter, it appeared that the speculations were true, and that Warren was indeed far too strong for Shiloh Christian as the 'Jacks jumped out to an early 12-0 lead in the first quarter. Shiloh's offense was rattled by Warren's defensive front seven and had trouble covering the speedy wide receivers when the 'Jacks were on offense.
Jonathan Cooper was having little trouble finding open receivers and the 'Jacks were also running the ball effectively.
Eventually it turned into a game by halftime, as Floyd and his Saints crawled back to within two, 18-16. It was a tale of two halves however as the Saints executed a flawless game plan in the 3rd quarter. Halftime adjustments gave Matt Simpson the time he needed to dice up a surprisingly weak Lumberjack secondary, exposing them with long passes to Crosby Tuck and Austin Tucker.
Before Hembree knew what was happening his team was down 33-18 and running out of time as the game entered the 4th quarter. Just as it looked as though Shiloh Christian had iced the victory, the Lumberjacks led by their talented group of sophomore wide receivers (Jarius Wright, Basmine Jones and Greg Childs) fought back into the ballgame. Scoring twice in the final four minutes, Warren pulled within one point. A missed extra in the closing seconds cost the 'Jacks a chance at over-time and ultimately a run at another state championship.
Shiloh Christian would lose in the quarter-finals the following week to Ashdown 49-22, but with the win over Warren, Floyd had taken his first step in returning the Saints to where they wanted to be.
Final score: Shiloh Christian (33) Warren (32)
8. Pulaski Academy vs. Wynne (2006) 5A Semi-Finals
The pass happy Bruins made the trip up I-40 for a semi-final showdown with the Delta Swarm on a crisp Friday night in late November. Coach Kelley and Pulaski Academy had moved up to class 5A that season and by all accounts, never skipped a beat. They rolled into Yellowjacket Country with an 11-1 record, having only lost to White Hall in conference play, 50-43.
Stefan Loucks with wide receivers Brian Langford and Cruz Williams had passed their way through the Bruins competition while Broderick Green chose to do his work on the ground.
Speaking of ground games Don Campbell's Wynne team had bulldozed their way to an undefeated conference championship and 10 wins behind the strong legs of thebTerrance's (Boykin and Garrett to be specific). Wynne (#1) and Pulaski Academy (#2) were ranked as the top two teams in class 5A when they lined up to decide who would get to play for the state championship.
Once the game was kicked off, it did not take long for the fireworks to start. The Bruins fumbled the opening kick-off to set Wynne up with excellent field position, but the 'Jackets floundered the opportunity, turning the ball over on downs. Pulaski Academy marched the length of the field to take an early 8-0 lead with 8:15 left in the first quarter. Wynne answered quickly, scoring in just one play on their following possession-an 80 yard dash by Garrett. The 2-point attempt failed leaving Campbell's 'Jackets still trailing 8-6.
The two teams traded two more scores in the 1st quarter, but the Bruins lead continued to increase as they were able to convert another 2-point conversion for a 16-13 advantage. Wynne took it's first lead of the night just 40 seconds into the 2nd quarter as Boykin found pay-dirt and a 20-16 advantage. Pulaski Academy tacked on two more scores to Wynne's one for the remainder of the first half, reclaiming the lead 30-27. Boykin and Garrett both found the end-zone again for the 'Jackets in the third quarter on runs of 19 and 44 yards, but the Bruins kept pace thanks to a 77-yard bomb from Loucks to Langford.
As the game rolled into the 4th quarter, Pulaski Academy faced its largest deficit of the night-trailing 42-36 thanks to a nifty 2-point conversion by Wynne following their last score with 1:44 left in the third. Not even two minutes into the 4th quarter, the Bruins found themselves inside Wynne's five yard line. The pass from Loucks to Williams and the subsequent extra point gave Pulaski Academy a 43-42 lead with 10:12 left in the game.
Wynne managed to drive into Bruin territory before punting with just over six minutes left but they wouldn't see the ball again as the Bruins ate all but one second off the clock with a well orchestrated drive. Kelley and Pulaski Academy advanced to the state championship game for the first time since 2003 but fell to Greenwood in another shoot-out, 56-55.
Campbell retired following the loss and Wynne has yet to fully recover from his departure.
Final score: Pulaski Academy (43) Wynne (42)
7. Springdale vs. Fort Smith Southside (2002) 5A State Championship
Fort Smith Southside had been here before, in fact, they had just made the trip to War Memorial two seasons prior. That trip however did not end the way Barry Lunney Sr. had intended as his Rebels fell to Cabot in a hard fought slug fest as the Panthers punishing ground game and stingy defense controlled the pace of the football game from start to finish.
Even before their loss in the 2000 title game, Fort Smith Southside was a staple in Little Rock that first weekend in December. The Rebels won three state titles during the 90s ('91, '92 and '97) and two others during the 80s. The loss to Cabot had been Lunney's only loss in a state championship game and he did not want to fall to 0-2 in the new millennium.
The task would not be easy though, as the Rebels had already lost once to Springdale to open conference play 21-15. Speaking of Springdale, Gus Malzahn was quite a head as the Bulldogs new head coach after jumping area schools just a year prior.
After an amazing career at Shiloh Christian, Malzahn made the move to the bigger and better 5A-West cornerstone program bringing with him his fast paced, no huddle offensive attack. Springdale took lumps in his first season but by year two, Malzahn had them rolling into the title game with an 11-1 record and winners of seven straight. Everything was in place for the showdown as fans poured into Little Rock from Northwest Arkansas, anxious to see the rematch between 5A's best.
The weather however, on that first Saturday of December did not get the memo as the afternoon was cold and rainy.
For a Gus Malzahn offense, those conditions usually spell trouble and for a team that had averaged 28.9 points per game over the first 13 games of the season the weather would certainly play a factor in this one-but so would the Rebel defense. It would be that exact Rebel defense that put Fort Smith Southside on the board first as linebacker Clifton Calvert stepped in front of Brandon Martinez's very first pass attempt of the game and took it the other way for the 56-yard touchdown return.
The interception came on Springdale's first offensive drive of the game and served as a precursor for the afternoon that awaited them. The Bulldogs would manage to get points onto the score board, cutting into FS Southside's seven point lead with a Terry Anderson 22-yard field goal towards the end of the first quarter.
As the game transitioned into the second quarter, Springdale had yet to find any rhythm offensively still trailing 7-3. The deficit grew larger just minutes into the quarter when Rebel quarterback John Thomas recorded one of his eight completed passes on the day, this one to Slick Shelly for a 34-yard touchdown .
As if matters couldn't get any worse at that point, Bulldog quarterback Martinez was knocked out of the game with five minutes left in the first half after having his shoulder banged up on a quarterback draw. Dusty Johnson entered the game and went from 2nd back-up to hero as he orchestrated Springdale's only scoring drive of the afternoon. Penalties by the Rebel defense set the Bulldogs up inside the Rebel 15-yard line and from there Johnson would find Ben Boyd all alone for the 13-yard score with only 2:01 left before halftime.
Down 14-10, Springdale threatened to pull within one point at halftime but Anderson's 41-yard field goal attempt would not find its mark in the closing seconds of the half. Scott Eady, title game MVP, would rumble for 44 of his 107 yards in the Rebel's first drive to open the second half leading to a 43-yard field goal by Jeremy Davis. The FS Southside field goal would serve as the only points of the second half for either team as both offenses sputtered again each team's respective defensive units.
In a typical 5A-West match-up, this game was determined by defense and the kicking game. Barry Lunney Sr. won his 4th state title in 12 years, Southside its 6th over the past two decades. Gus Malzahn left Little Rock for the second straight time with no championship after losing to Rison in 2000 while coaching Shiloh Christian.
Springdale and Malzahn would return three seasons later (2005) and claim what they couldn't on this day.
Final Score: Springdale (10) Fort Smith Southside (17)
Be sure to check back with ArkansasVarsity.com for the remainder of the list which will be released later this week!