No one need remind El Dorado coach Steven Jones that the Wildcats have never lost to Sheridan on the football field. He said he’s heard that a lot this week.
The first-year coach at El Dorado is hoping he’s still hearing it next week, too.
The Wildcats travel to Sheridan tonight for an important 5A-West matchup. The Yellowjackets are 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in conference after beating Russellville 42-20 last week.
Sheridan, which had non-conference wins over Mountain Home (33-7) and White Hall (21-14), lost to Siloam Springs (28-27) in the league opener. The other loss was to Searcy in Week 2, 39-7.
“They’re very multiple offensively. They line up in a lot of formations. They have different looks that they give you,” Jones said of the Yellowjackets.
“They mix it up and do a good job of trying to keep you off-balanced. But they want to run the football. They have a pretty solid offensive line. You can see a low pad level when you watch the tape.
“I know they’re well coached. We know we’ve got a Sheridan team that’s going to be a tall task for us. We’ll be ready to play.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 52-24 loss at top-ranked Greenwood and are 1-4, 0-2 with a three-game losing skid.
But El Dorado’s roster could be as healthy as it’s been since the season opener. Senior tailback Alex Hicks saw limited action last week and could resume his role as the offense’s focal point tonight.
“We wanted to see him back on the field. Against Greenwood, he got a few carries. We just wanted to make sure he’s back to a hundred percent. We really feel like he is. We’re going to go into this game with our entire roster healthy,” said Jones.
How healthy is Hicks, who was limited with a high ankle sprain?
“Hicks is a hundred percent,” answered Jones.
El Dorado went to a five-wide offense and passed for 308 yards last week but only rushed for 50. A healthy Hicks could change that equation.
“Our pass game has improved each week and we’ll continue to build on that,” said Jones. “A.J. is back healthy so that pass game opens up more when it’s less straight drop back and more play action, misdirection stuff.”
Sheridan’s defense has given up 21.6 points per game, mostly against pedestrian offenses.
“Defensively, they’re very multiple, kind of mirrors their offensive philosophy. They will vary their front. They’ll mix in some blitz and they’ll play some split field coverage. They’ll move guys around and just try to create confusion,” Jones said.
“They’re very sound, philosophy-wise, a lot like Greenwood and Cabot. They’re going to do some confusing stuff but they’re not really aggressive. They’re going to sit back and see if you can put a drive together. They’re going to play a quarters look in the secondary, cover four and try to keep everything in front.”
Thus far, Sheridan has been diverse on offense, both in scheme and personnel.
“They do most of their stuff from the gun. But you’ll see sets where they have two fullbacks in the game. The quarterback will go in motion and be a third lead blocker and they’ll snap it to the tailback. They do a lot of different stuff that’s kind of unconventional. At the end of the day, they get off the football and try to move bodies,” said Jones.
“They’ve played four quarterbacks so it’s hard to tell who they want back there when it’s time to throw it. They can catch and throw a little bit. They do a good job of moving the football and they don’t get behind the sticks. They don’t do stupid stuff. They don’t self-implode. I haven’t seen a lot of penalties or unclean play from them. They play hard. They play sound and they’re a good team.”
Jones wouldn’t call tonight’s game a must-win for the Wildcats, who have struggled against a top-loaded schedule. This will be the first time El Dorado won’t be facing an undefeated team. But a strong finish to the season has to start somewhere. What better time than against a team the program is 18-0 against?
“Offensively, we have to take care of the football, no turnovers. And defensively, get them in third-and-long situations. We can’t let them have success running the ball early on first down,” Jones answered when asked for the keys to victory.
As for El Dorado’s dominance over Sheridan?
“That’s something I’ve heard a few times this week. We’re just focused on playing our best football. We’re focused on getting out there and putting together the best product we can. When we do that, we have confidence we’ll keep that streak alive.”