El Dorado draws one of the hottest teams in the state Friday in the first round of the 6A Playoffs. The Wildcats travel to meet Little Rock Christian Academy, which rides a five-game winning streak into the postseason.
The Warriors are 8-2 and seeded third out of the tough 6A West. The Wildcats are 5-5 and the five seed from the 6A East.
“They’re a very well-rounded team,” said El Dorado coach Steven Jones. “They’ve played some really good football as of late. In fact, they beat the one seed Greenwood last week by two touchdowns. It’ll be a challenge. We feel like we’re ready to go up there and get after it.”
The Warriors beat Greenwood (49-35) last week and own wins over Greenbrier (44-7), Van Buren (47-14), Siloam Springs (62-7), Mountain Home (45-13), Russellville (42-14), Shiloh Christian (49-14) and Little Rock Central (41-6).
The two losses are to Pulaski Academy (49-26) and Lake Hamilton (34-19).
“We’ve had a tough schedule all year. The 6A West has been a difficult conference. We’ve just tried to week-in and week-out, get better as a football team. That’s something we feel like we’re doing,” said Little Rock Christian coach Eric Cohu.
The Warriors have averaged more than 42 points per game, led by junior quarterback Walker White (133-of-240 passing, 1,859 yards, 24 touchdowns). Running back Ronny Anokye has rushed for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We’re a pro-spread blended offense. We want to be balanced with a running and passing attack. We feel like we can do both,” said Cohu. “We try to adapt to the team we’re playing. Week-in, week-out, we tweak a little bit for the opponent. But we, ideally, are a balanced offense.”
Defensively, the Warriors have lined up in a three-man front.
“Their linebackers are one of the better groups we’ve seen this season,” said Jones. “They are very multiple. They mix coverages. They remind me a lot of Jonesboro last year as far as what they’re trying to do and also how Greenwood attacked us defensively last year.”
“I feel like we’re playing fast on defense,” said Cohu. “We want to be physical. We want to play smart and not give up any blown coverages or missed tackles. I felt like we had a really good first half against Greenwood last week defensively.
“Before them we had a two or three game stretch where we were really solid defensively. We’re hoping to have a lot of momentum in the playoffs.”
El Dorado is coming off a 56-14 win over winless Jacksonville and a competitive showing against unbeaten Little Rock Catholic, despite the deceiving 42-16 final margin.
Freshman Mitchell Polk started at Jacksonville and Jones said he’ll get the start on Friday. Polk has completed 8-of-11 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards.
“Last week he was really sharp against Jacksonville. It’s hard to be as sharp as he was against Jacksonville on air. He handled himself well. He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Jones said.
“I think getting some reps against Catholic got him ready and opened up his eyes about who he’s about to play.”
Polk is the third starting quarterback for the Wildcats this season, not including the games where running back Shadarious Plummer took direct snaps.
“It does make it tougher, especially the latest addition with Polk,” said Cohu. “With him being a freshmen, we just saw him one time last week on film. We’ve got to prepare for all three quarterbacks.
“They’re the defending state champions. That’s always an advantage. They are fast, physical, a lot of phenomenal players - two of the best players in the state in Burns and Plummer. They’ve got some really tough defensive players. Their whole defense is really fast, physical. The defensive linemen get off the ball well. Playing man-to-man all the time, that’s different than what we’ve seen most of the year. We’ll have to make some adjustments with their fronts and their coverages and their style of play.”
The Wildcats tallied 42 points in the first quarter last week. It would be difficult to repeat that performance but Jones is hopeful his team can get out of the gates quickly again.
“We’ve got to start fast. In the games that Little Rock Christian lost, they had slow starts. So, if we can come out and play well offensively, move the football and put together a couple good drives to start the game, anything could happen,” Jones said. “We feel good about where we’re at. We’ve played some of our best football in the past three or four weeks. We’ve still made some mistakes but, overall, we’re happy with where we’re at. You get in the playoffs, you’ve got a chance to win.”
Little Rock Christian moved up to 6A after several outstanding 5A seasons. The Warriors are no strangers to postseason football.
“To me this time of year it’s all about who’s executing. Everybody’s good. El Dorado is the defending state 6A champs. In the playoffs, everybody is good. It’s a matter of who comes out and makes the plays,” said Cohu.
“The key to winning any game, especially a playoff game, the number one stat is turnovers. We have got to win the turnover battle. We can’t turn the ball over. We need good ball security. We’d love to force some turnovers. Winning the turnover battle is the number one statistical indicator of who won the game. That really plays true in the playoffs when all the teams are good.”
That El Dorado might be the underdog was news to Jones. The Wildcats are still the reigning state champions.
“I think our attitude is anybody can beat anybody. The only undefeated team in Class 6A was Catholic and outside of a few plays against them we were right there toe-to-toe with them,” he said. “We know we can compete with anybody that’s left. That’s exactly what we’re going to do. I expect our kids to go out and play hard like they’ve done every week and give us a chance to win.”