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Terrance Armstard/News-Times Parkers Chapel's Canon Morgan (4) tries to elude Bearden's Robert Miller (5) and Tyler Berry (3) during their 8-2A contest earlier this season. Tonight, the Trojans open the 2A playoffs by traveling to Hazen for a clash with the 6-2A champions. Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Terrance Armstard/News-Times Parkers Chapel's Canon Morgan (4) tries to elude Bearden's Robert Miller (5) and Tyler Berry (3) during their 8-2A contest earlier this season. Tonight, the Trojans open the 2A playoffs by traveling to Hazen for a clash with the 6-2A champions. Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Parkers Chapel, Hazen set to collide

This article was published November 10, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

By Jason Avery

News-Times Staff

If you're looking for two teams that exceeded the expectations of most pundits and experts, look no further than Parkers Chapel and Hazen.

The Trojans were picked to miss the playoffs and the Hornets were picked to finish fourth in their conference by Hootens.com, but the schools will collide for the first time in the opening round of the 2A playoffs tonight.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Hazen.

The Hornets (7-2), owners of a six-game winning streak, enter as the 6-2A’s No. 1 seed after winning the league title, while the Trojans (6-4) are the 8-2A’s No. 5 seed.

Outside of last year’s 4-7 record, Hazen has been one of 2A’s most consistent programs, posting seven or more wins in 10 of the last 11 years.

But with only five seniors on the roster, the last thing most were expecting was a dominant run through the 6-2A.

“We weren’t expecting to do this well,” said Hazen coach Joe Besancon. “I think we were picked fourth in our conference, but from the second quarter on against McCrory, it was like a light switch came on to the guys. Some of them matured a little bit more, and we’ve been able to go since then. We’ve exceeded expectations.”

The Hornets’ lone blemishes came against 3A rivals Piggott and Barton, who are a combined 16-4 and are in the playoffs.

In conference play, the Hornets won at McCrory 36-28 in double overtime back in Week 4, and haven’t been tested since.

Over their last five games, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by a whopping margin of 270-12.

So what has been the key to their success? Besancon said it was a combination of several things.

“At the 2A level, one of the big things is staying healthy, and we’ve been blessed. We’ve stayed healthy,” Besancon said.

“We haven’t suffered any key injuries. We play a lot of young kids, and they’ve done a good job of getting a little bit better each week.

"We’ve done a good job of not doing things to hurt ourselves like unnecessary turnovers or committing careless penalties.”

But heading into their showdown with the Trojans, Besancon said he was concerned about not having faced a serious challenge in some time.

“It does,” Besancon said. “We took care of Des Arc and Carlisle, and those are usually two big rivalry games for us, but they’re a little down and a little banged up.

"We were healthy and playing at a different level than I expected to us to be playing, but it does concern me because Parkers Chapel isn’t your typical five seed.

“They beat Magnet Cove, who tied for a conference championship. I feel that if Parkers Chapel was in a lot of other different conferences, they would probably be one of the top teams.

"We’re young. We’ve been lucky so far. The youth showed up a lot early in the year, but it’s kind of disappeared here lately.”

Parkers Chapel coach Jacob Midyett was impressed with Hazen’s defense.

“They’re very good on defense,” Midyett said. “They had a couple of bad games against Barton and Piggott, but against all of their 2A opponents, they’ve played really well defensively.

"They’re a big team. I don’t know how fast they are because we don’t see opponents from up there very often, but they look to move pretty well, especially for how big they are.

"Their size and strength seem to be their keys.”

Trying to combat the Hornets’ size will be a tough task for the Trojans.

“We’ve got to be able to spread them out, and get them into advantageous looks,” Midyett said.

“We’ve got to be able to dictate the speed of the game, whether it be with our rollouts or sweeps, we’ve really got to be able to stretch them thin, so that when we are ready to run up the middle, we’re not running against an eight-man or nine-man box.

"Hopefully, we’re spread out and getting some numbers to our advantages.”

Two of Hazen’s biggest players will be closely watched by the Trojans on both sides of the ball.

Junior defensive end Kade Perry (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds) leads the Hornets in tackles with 112 in nine games, and senior linebacker Luke VanHouten has been a three-year starter and ranks in second in tackles.

Offensively, the Hornets have a terrific tandem of sophomore running backs in Ay’Jon Green and Tarrall Penn, but the offense is guided by sophomore Blayne Toll, who Besancon listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds.

It’s not often a quarterback battles in the trenches, but Toll does just that as a defensive end, and while he is younger than most sophomores having skipped a grade, Besancon said he’s done a solid job.

“He does a good job, and I try not to put him in difficult situations where he’s got to do a lot of reads in the passing game,” Besancon said.

“We try to keep it simple. He does a good job. He still makes the typical mistakes like throwing the ball when he doesn’t need to throw it instead of putting it underneath his arm and just using his size and getting us a chance to go another down, but he does a real good job.”

But while the Trojans will have contend with Hazen’s size, the Hornets will face one of the 8-2A’s most dynamic performers in sophomore quarterback Caleb Jacobs, who had 338 yards combined rushing and passing with five total touchdowns in the Trojans’ playoff-clinching win over Strong two weeks ago.

“They’re a good looking bunch,” Besancon said. “They’ve got a lot of good speed and good size. I’m really impressed with their quarterback.

"He does a real good job of keeping plays alive and keeping his head up. His receivers do a good job of coming back to the football. That’s one of the big things that I’ve really been impressed with.”

Besancon added the Trojans’ passing attack is something his team has worked diligently on trying to slow down.

“We don’t see a lot of that over here in our conference,” Besancon said. “We’ve got some teams that spread it out, but a lot of times they spread it out just to run it.

"They do a lot of things that we’re not used to, so we’re having to work on a lot of things that we usually don’t have to spend a lot of time on in practice.”

With their win over Strong two weeks ago, the Trojans clinched a spot in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

However, the Trojans have won only one playoff game in school history, which came back in 2010 at Walnut Ridge, and Midyett is hoping this group will be the one that takes the next step.

“We’ve been talking about that from the beginning of the year,” Midyett said. “It’s one thing to get there. It’s another thing to get there and make some noise, and that’s definitely our goal.

"We’ve reached the first part of it, now we’ve got to move forward and it can’t be good enough that we’re there. It can’t be good enough that we get a day out of school.

"We’ve got to go, and we’ve got a job to do. That’s what we’ve got to prepare for.”

Although having to play a conference champion on the road can be rather daunting, the Trojans own a road win over Magnet Cove, who shared the 5-2A title, and Midyett said that win should give his team plenty of confidence going in.

“Magnet Cove was a co-champion with Hector and Conway Christian, and we know Bearden beat Hector, who I think is the one seed and we were 8-6 with them,” Midyett said.

“You can look at five plays and see how those five plays led to us losing against Hampton.

"We played well against Strong. We played well with Rison for a little bit, so I don’t think confidence will be an issue.”

Getting off to a good start is another key for the Trojans.

“It’s huge,” Midyett said. “When we start well, we play well. If we don’t start well, kind of like last week, things kind of get bad. I think it’s the same mentality.

"If we get off to a good start, we get a little confidence and get going. When we don’t, we’ve really go to fight and we’re kind of behind the eight ball, so we’ve really got to get started early.”

If the Hornets are stop the Trojans and move on, Besancon said his team must take care of the ball and find a way to slow down Jacobs.

“We can’t make those careless mistakes,” Besancon said. “We’ve got to stay in front of the chains and not make the careless mistakes or unnecessary penalties or turnovers. Defensively, the big thing is we have to do a good job with the quarterback. I feel like he really is what makes them go.

"He’s a very impressive kid. He may be the best quarterback we’ve seen all year, just with his athletic ability and being able to keep plays alive, so we’re going to have to do a real good job of containing him.”

For the Trojans, Midyett said they must match the Hornets’ physicality.

“We’ve got to play really well on the edges,” Midyett said. “I think they’re going to try and power us. They’re going to try to down, down, kickout, and we’ve got to really do a good job at outside linebacker of taking on lead blockers and being really physical with them because they’re going to be really physical. We’ve got to match their intensity and up it a level.

"Offensively, we’ve got to be able to keep the edges and get outside. We need to control the tempo and be able to spread them out and make them do things they haven’t had to do all year.”

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