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El Dorado, Lake Hamilton set to collide

by Tony Burns | November 19, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

It’ll seem like deja vu on Friday when El Dorado takes on Lake Hamilton in the second round of the 6A playoffs. Well … almost.

The Wildcats lost at Pearcy 50-14 in last year’s playoff meeting. This year’s match-up will be played at Memorial Stadium. El Dorado hopes that won’t be the only difference.

The 9-2 Wolves opened the playoffs with a 41-6 win over West Memphis last week. El Dorado (8-2) had a first-round bye. The Wildcats’ last game was a 63-23 triumph over the same West Memphis team two weeks ago.

“Man, they’re a good football team,” said Lake Hamilton coach Tommy Gilleran. “Offensively, they’re probably the fastest team we’ll play this year. Athletically, they’ve got kids who can all run. Of course, the quarterback can run, too. I mean, all of them. They’re deadly on offense.

“Defensively, they’re fast. They move around and really make a lot of plays defensively, too. For us to have a chance, we’re going to have to play a perfect football game to even have a chance to beat these guys.”

The Wolves averaged 37.5 points per game this season with a ground-oriented offensive attack. Last week, they unveiled a more balanced offense, keyed by a new quarterback, sophomore Easton Hurley. Hurley completed 6-of-9 passes for 218 yards.

El Dorado coach Steven Jones expects Lake Hamilton to go back to its bread-and-butter.

“They base out of the Wing-T. You’re going to see a lot of tight ends and fullbacks on the field. More tight end and fullback bodies than we’ll see at any other time in the season,” he said. “I think they’re one of the only teams in Class 6A that runs that style of offense. They’re very good at what they do. They have some big offensive linemen. Hooten’s Arkansas Football said they average about 279 across the front. They haven’t lost a lot from the team we played last season. They look, offensively, the same as they looked last year. We’ve got to do a good job on the interior on defense and load up and stop the run. Make them get into those third-and-long situations. They’re not really geared for that.”

Justin Crutchmer had three receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns last week along with rushing for 60 yards on six attempts.

“(Crutchmer), I would say he’s more of a complete back as far as speed and the ability to make you miss but also a strong kid. He’s a state champion wrestler and does a good job,” Jones said. “The other back is a big bruiser type. You’ve kind of got thunder and lightning in the backfield with those two bodies.”

Of the Wolves’ rushing attack, Jones explained, “They’ve done a good job of mixing it up, hitting you in different spots as far as their scheme goes. They’re very good at getting out on the edge when they run their sweeps. They’ll run some inside traps. They’ve had some big gains with that. We’ll have our hands full.”

Jones said the Wolves have shown multiple defensive formations. Lake Hamilton’s best defense, however, could be its offense.

“Offensively, we’ve got to keep them off the field,” said Gilleran. “When we get the ball, we’ve got to score because I feel like with the athleticism they have on offense, they’re going to score just because of how fast they are.

“It’s going to be hard to contain those kids.”

The Wildcats aren’t sure what to expect from the Wolves’ defense.

“They’ve shown multiple things this year. We looked at the games that we feel like, schematically we do the same things. Against Greenwood and Benton, they played two totally different defenses,” he said. “They could come out in an even front. They could come out in an odd front. We really don’t know. We have a good feeling about what they’re doing on that side of the ball as far as their coverages go. But as far as the front, we’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.

“The key for us, I think, would be to use some tempo. They’ve got a bunch of two-way players so we’re going to try to play as fast as humanly possible to try to wear them down.”

Jones said it could be the classic confrontation of size versus speed.

“We have a great advantage in speed and they have a great advantage in size,” said Jones, who said Lake Hamilton will be the biggest team El Dorado has played.

“There’s no doubt about it. Camden’s defensive line is probably comparable. But as far as an (offensive) line, this is the biggest team we’ve seen.”

The Wildcats earned the bye as the No. 2 seed from the East. The Wolves played last week but the game was virtually over by halftime.

“We played really well. Our kids played really good. We had a little letdown at Greenwood. But I think we’ve played better. Last week, we got some things back,” Gilleran said. “We got some kids off injuries and other things. I think we’re back to where we need to be. We need to be there because if we’re not, we don’t have a chance to beat a team like El Dorado.”

As for the Wildcats’ open week?

“A week off is good and bad,” said Gilleran. “If you’ve got kids hurt, it gives them a chance to get well. Sometimes it messes with people if they don’t play every Friday. It just depends on the team and the experience. El Dorado has a lot of kids that played last year that are back so they probably have enough experience that a week off is not a big deal for them.”“I think it’s an advantage,” said Jones. “We had a good feeling we’d play Lake Hamilton so we spent two weeks preparing for them. We had a lot of opportunity to look at more film than we would normally have time to look at. All of their games we were able to break down. I think from a preparation standpoint, it’s a good thing to have that week off.

“Also, from a health standpoint, I think we’re in great shape. We are as healthy of a team that I’ve taken into a second round playoff game. We’re a hundred percent, don’t have anybody that’s out. We are 100 percent healthy. We’re excited about that.” 

With two potent offenses, the winner might be the first team to score 50 points. Or, the first defense to get a stop.

“We’ve got to move the ball offensively to keep them off the field,” said Gilleran. “Defensively, we have to get a couple stops here and there. And, I feel like kicking game will be a big deal as far as field position or on kickoffs. If we kick it into the end zone and make them start at the 20. So, kicking game has to be good, too.”

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