Smackover and Barton got acquainted over the last two years when they were rivals in the 6-3A.
Now they meet for the first time as postseason foes.
The Bucks (6-4), the 5-3A’s No. 2 seed, host the Bears (5-5), the 6-3A’s No. 4 seed, in the opening round of the 3A playoffs tonight in Smackover.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
In their two meetings when they were in the 6-3A, the Bucks prevailed, winning 14-12 at Barton in 2020 before winning 22-14 last year.
Both games were thrillers with the Bucks winning a year ago on Brandon Lockhart’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Daylon Curley with two seconds left to break a 14-all tie.
Jarius Burgie’s two-point conversion made the final margin.
Both schools enter tonight’s clash with plenty of momentum.
The Bears picked up a huge road win at Harmony Grove last week while the Bucks were in command from the get-go in a win over Fouke.
On the surface, both teams seem to be mirror images of one another with playmakers all over the field that can turn the momentum of a game in an instant.
“They are very explosive on offense,” Smackover coach David Osborn said. “They have several playmakers they try to get the ball to in space and let them make plays. Overall, I feel like their strength has to be team speed and skill players. But at the same time, their line is underrated and does a good job.
“We are similar in a lot of ways. Even with the amount of players who have to play both ways. It will be the first time in a while where we match up with someone who has the same numbers we do.”
Barton coach Spencer Adams said that playing the Bucks, particularly traveling to Smackover last year, brings some normalcy to a week where there are plenty of unknowns in most playoff matchups.
“More than anything, logistically, it’s nice,” Adams said. “I haven’t been to many places down here. I’m from the northwest part of the state, but we made the trip to Smackover last year. We know that we’ll be familiar with what we’re doing when we get there.
“We’ll be familiar with where we’ll be dressing and things like that, which helps keeps a little bit of normalcy with our kids. It’s also good too that we saw a lot of these kids last year. The kids have a little bit of familiarity with them. That will help too. They’ve already recognized some of the kids on film. Again, we’ve played in that stadium before, so that will be beneficial to us. It’s good that we’ve been there before.”
The Bears enter the playoffs with a .500 record, but in addition to their win at Harmony Grove, Barton led Rison in the fourth quarter of their conference game, and a missed two-point conversion turned out to be the difference in a one-point loss to Fordyce.
Barton also faced DeWitt, who made the 4A playoffs in non-conference play, and they came from behind to top Bald Knob.
“Our conference is tough week in and week out,” Adams said. “The last couple of weeks, we’ve been sick and we’ve been banged up, but our kids have played real hard. They knew it was crunch time. They knew that these last couple of weeks really mattered. They’ve come together. We’ve got guys playing all different positions they haven’t played all year, but they’re working hard.
“We’re trying to get healthy and well. Our team still to this day is still real sick, so we’re not real sure how many guys we’ll have at practice every day. The kids have fought hard. They’ve shown up for work every day. I’ve been proud of their effort the last couple of weeks.”
Speed is a strength for both teams, but for Adams, having a fast team is something he has had to adjust to.
“This is by far the fastest team I’ve ever had,” Adams said. “I’m a guy that all of my career, I’ve been a pro-set guy, tight end, fullback where I could mash it and run power and traps and counters. With these guys, we’ve got a little more of spreading it out trying to get them in space. It’s an awesome weapon to have when you’ve got guys that are fast.
“I’ve never had it before, so it’s been a pleasant surprise. We know that if it comes down to it, we can throw a little quick screen or something and count on those guys to make somebody miss out in space.”
With each team having the ability to make big plays, tackling will be crucial, especially in one-on-one settings.
“It will be huge,” Osborn said. “We have preached it all week that you must secure the tackle. At some point in the game, you know anyone can bust a big play, so it has you on edge the whole time.”
Adams agreed that making and limiting big plays could decide the outcome of the game.
“Absolutely,” Adams said. “Smackover is very dangerous. That Fouke film has kept me up a lot since I got it. They’re very dangerous. A team that obviously knows how to utilize the athletes they have. They do a really good job when they get the ball in their hands.
“It’s a deal where we have got to focus on stopping big plays. We’ve got to focus on getting them into long-yardage situations and trying to keep ourselves out of long-yardage situations because they’re good on both sides of the ball when things like that happen.”
Another area to watch will be the battle in the trenches.
“Smackover is a real good big, physical team,” Adams said. “They play really hard up front. They’re a lot bigger than we are up front, and that’s going to present a problem for us. Their running back is a big, strong kid whose really hard to bring down.
They have a real athletic quarterback, and they like to get the ball out in space. They’re big in the screen game and getting the ball out in the flat to their athletes. That’s something that we’re really going to have to focus on this week during practice is keeping everybody hemmed up.
“Formation-wise, they’re similar to Harmony Grove, who we just played. Athletically, they’re probably one of the more athletic teams we’ve seen this year, and we’ve seen Rison, Fordyce, Clarendon, teams like that that are real athletic, and Smackover is right up there with them.”
Junior quarterback Conner Willis orchestrates Barton’s offense.
“He’s a big kid with a big arm,” Adams said. “He’s 6-3, 225. We like to run with him. He’s a kid that we can roll out in the pocket. He’s got a really, really strong arm. We’re still working on accuracy with him. He’s a young kid who can throw it a mile, but sometimes you don’t really know where it’s going.
“He’s a kid that works real hard, and when it came down to crunch time, we could put the ball in his hands and try to get a couple of yards out of him going forward. He’s a kid that’s really helped our offense this year.”
Ne’Taveus Johnson, also a junior, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He returned two punts for touchdowns against Harmony Grove, although one was called back due to a penalty.
“He’s our fastest player,” Adams said. “We move him around all over the place trying to figure out ways to get him the ball. He’s a kid that has unbelievable speed.”
The Bears also went into their bag of tricks for one of the biggest plays of the game at Harmony Grove last week when Jay Porter went in motion, took a handoff and went to his right before firing a touchdown pass to Antonio Vaughn just before halftime.
“We’ve been practicing that play for about six weeks,” Adams said. “I think there was maybe five or six seconds left before halftime, and I thought that was a good time.
“Our backup quarterback plays slot receiver for us, so we sent him in jet motion and gave it to him. He threw it up in the air to Antonio and he went up and got it, which ended up being huge for us.”
Osborn was impressed with the Bears’ offense.
“They are a spread-based offense,” Osborn said. “We will see a lot of doubles and trips sets. They will just try to create some space and get their guys the ball. Ne’Taveus Johnson is a real threat every time he touches the ball. He has run several punts and kickoffs back this year as well. If he gets the ball in his hands, he can turn a 5-yard pass into a 50-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye.
“Jordan Thomas and Dequincy Wilson do a good job in the backfield. They run hard and are tough to bring down. Conner Willis is a big quarterback. He throws the ball well and does a good job of running when he needs to.”
Smackover’s offense was in high gear last week with RJ Boone scoring three touchdowns and Jarius Burgie adding two scores in the Bucks’ 46-20 win over Fouke.
But it was the passing attack that opened the scoring with D’Kylan Hildreth firing a 28-yard strike to Tanner Mitchell. The Bucks have had success throwing the ball, but against Fouke, they took several shots on long passes down the field, and Osborn said that was by design.
“We have worked on all aspects of our passing game this season,” Osborn said. “Just weekly, we have taken what the defense has decided to give us. A lot of weeks, we see defensive backs back off, so we hit the short passes.
“Last week with Fouke, we found a mismatch that we liked and were able to hit it a few times. Overall, offensively our job is just to find what they give us and try to take advantage of it. Usually those decisions are made during the game based on the opponent.”
Barton’s secondary has a pair of playmakers in junior Dequincy Wilson and Porter, who is a senior.
“He’s a guy that is a great run player and we can also put him in man coverage if we need to,” Adams said of Wilson, who plays at free safety.
Porter plays at cornerback.
“He’s a guy that we’re not afraid to put on an island,” Adams said. “He’s a guy that can tackle well and cover well, which is hard to find in the secondary.”
Up front, Adams said tackles JaKylin Riley and Dillion Green have come a long ways, and they are joined by junior Tarsa Scaife, who may seem out of place with the behemoths that carry a commanding presence, but Adams said Scaife creates many problems for opposing offenses because of his quickness.
“He’s about 170 pounds. He’s a wide receiver that we put at nose guard, but he gives people fits because he’s real quick off the ball,” Adams said. “He’s a guy that we like to slant with and move around to utilize our speed.”
Osborn said the Bucks must be prepared for the pressure the Bears will bring.
“They are based out of an odd front,” Osborn said. “They like to bring a lot of pressure off the edge. They play very hard and are very fundamentally sound. They really want to use their speed to try to cause you issues with your offensive schemes.”
For the Bears to pick up a road victory, Adams said it starts with slowing down Hildreth and Boone.
“Containing the quarterback and getting 22 (Boone) on the ground,” Adams said. “He’s a guy that is a real tough runner. He’s a guy that doesn’t go down easy. He makes a lot of people bounce off of him. We’ve got to be able to contain him. Their quarterback is real athletic. He’s a got a good arm and he can run. He’s a guy that we’ve got to make sure that we can keep in the pocket and try to force to make some mistakes.”
For the Bucks to advance, Osborn said his team must limit mistakes and be sound defensively.
“As always, limit turnovers and play solid defense,” Osborn said. “We need to come out and play with intensity on both sides. Just like seven other weeks this year, we are the underdog, so we need to use that as an incentive to keep proving people wrong.”