A week ago, Smackover picked up its first postseason win in four years.
That was also the last time the Bucks reached the state quarterfinals.
Tonight, Smackover will try to advance to the third round of the 3A playoffs, but standing in their way is one of the state’s most successful programs regardless of class, as the Bucks host Booneville in the second round of the 3A playoffs.
The Bucks (7-4), the 6-3A’s No. 2 seed, advanced with a 46-28 win over Barton, while the Bearcats (9-2), the 1-3A’s No. 2 seed, downed Junction City 42-14 to move on.
Friday’s game is believed to be the first meeting between the schools, and is also the first for the Bucks against a current 1-3A foe since 2016 when Smackover was downed at Charleston 9-0 in the second round of the playoffs.
A win for the Bearcats would give them their third straight season of reaching 10 victories and mark the fifth time in the last six years they have accomplished the feat.
“They are very physical and play aggressive on both sides of the ball,” Smackover coach David Osborn said of the Bearcats. “They have a very established program and the players have been in the system for years. They do things well and are very fundamental.”
With a wealth of conference titles and three state championships since 2000, Booneville’s success speaks for itself, and coach Doc Crowley credited the teams of the past for paving the way for the Bearcats’ current success.
“It means everything,” Crowley said. “Football is a huge thing in this town as I’m sure it is in a lot of small towns. A lot of good teams have come through here and paved the way for these kids today and laid that foundation of tradition out there for us to be able to enjoy today and be able to come and not only play for the kids that are on our teams in the present, but play for those guys that have been here before.
“Most of those people are in the stands on Friday night. It’s everything to Booneville. The longer you play, the more excited everybody gets, so hopefully we can continue to play well.”
In their win over the Dragons, Booneville scored 35 unanswered points in the first half after the game was tied at 7-7 to move on.
“We knew they would make some big plays just with the athletes they had on the field,” Crowley said. “When we scored, they came back and scored. Our defensive back was in great position and the kid from Junction City just made a great catch and took it into the end zone. From there, our defense rose to the occasion. We got after it. We played hard and physical. They were flying around. It was good to see. I sometimes think some of those kids wait until playoff time to hit the extra gear, and they sure hit it on Friday night.”
Trace Hall had 185 yards and two touchdowns on six carries for Booneville, who had four touchdown runs of 30-plus yards in the win.
Dax Goff racked up 120 yards on nine carries with a touchdown and Cody Elliott scored twice in the win. Quarterback Peyton Tatum also scored on a 19-yard run for Booneville, who had 450 yards of total offense.
“Our offensive line played a really good game,” Crowley said of his team’s big plays last week. “When their number was called, our backs did what they needed to do. They love the weather. Any time it rains around here, our kids get excited. They feel like it benefits us and Friday night it did. Our offensive line played really good and blocked it up when we needed to.”
Osborn said his defense faces a tough challenge this week.
“They are a flexbone team,” Osborn said. “They run a lot of option and counter trap. They use a lot of motion to get guys in position and try to get numbers on you. Goff is an outstanding running back. He is big and fast. There are multiple games that I’ve seen him drag defenders or just run through tackles for long runs.
“The fullback (Elliott) does a good job of hitting the hole fast and downhill. Tatum is very smart and runs the system well. Hall can fly. He has good speed and can bust a long run at any time. The entire offensive line is solid. They are big, strong and can move.”
Booneville could have three players top the 1,000-yard mark with Hall and Goff already there and Elliott needing 44 yards to reach that plateau.
Elliott’s production was a bit of a surprise for the Booneville coaching staff after he was thrust into the fullback role when starter Rylen Ray was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the first half of the opener against Pine Bluff Dollarway.
“He’s just a little bitty dude, but he’s tough as nails,” Crowley said of Elliott. “He gets lost in there up front. He’s hard to find in there and hard to tackle. We knew Cody would do a good job. We didn’t know he would do as good as he has. He’s what people call just an old Booneville kid, just undersized, plays as hard as he can, just extremely tough.”
Hall and Goff have combined for nearly 2,900 yards between them this season.
“Trace Hall, our right halfback, he’s just really shifty. Once he gets going, he’s hard to catch. He’s hard to tackle,” Crowley said.
“Dax Goff is more of a physical-style runner, more of an old-school halfback in the I or power-I offense. Really good in between the tackles. Just a tough runner.”
And while Booneville does the bulk of its work on the ground, Smackover has used a steady short passing game along with RJ Boone and Jarius Burgie shouldering the load in the backfield for an offense that has scored 46 points in each of the last two games.
“They’re a very athletic team. They’ve got several guys that can score any time they touch the football,” Crowley said. “Not only are they quick, they’ve got some good size to them as well. They have quite a few seniors, some guys that have been there before. I expect a battle on Friday night.
“The quarterback (D’Kylan Hildreth) is a big kid. Very athletic and he throws it well. He’s got a couple of guys out there. I think the (Tanner) Mitchell kid is very electric with the ball in his hands. Good player. The (Daylon) Curley kid as well. It helps to have those two guys to throw it to.
“I think what helps their passing game is they have a couple of running backs back there that can tote it. He throws it well, but he’s got some receivers out there that will go out and make some plays for him as well.”
When the Bucks have the ball, Osborn said his offense will see a variety of looks from Booneville.
“They run multiple defenses,” Osborn said. “We expect to see a mixture of different fronts and coverages. I think it starts with Goff. He is a very good linebacker. He plays downhill and tackles well. On defense they are very good across the board.”
Against Barton, the Bucks got out of the gates quickly, scoring the first 22 points of the game with D’Kylan Hildreth throwing a touchdown pass to Tanner Mitchell along with Boone scoring on a pair of touchdown runs.
The Bucks also got off to fast start in their win over Fouke to cap the regular season, and Osborn said that trend stems from confidence.
“The players have been playing with some confidence lately,” Osborn said. “When they are playing that way, it makes it easy for us as play-callers to get into a rhythm.”
Smackover’s special teams also had great success in recovering several onside kicks against Barton, and Osborn said that option became a reality for two reasons.
“We had just watched several films on Barton and saw where they had trouble with onside,” Osborn said. “For Barton, we had seen Ne’Taveus Johnson return multiple kicks back for touchdowns past the 50-yard line, so we decided we wanted to just take the ball out of his hands and he wouldn’t get that opportunity.
“At times, we hear kick it deep, but as a staff, we would much rather kick it short and take away a return opportunity for the big play. With our sky kick or onside kick, analytically it has given us a chance for a big play and takes away that from them.”
Although Booneville’s trip is a long one, Crowley said he is looking to forward to visiting a place he doesn’t get to see often.
“Don’t get me wrong, I would love to play every game at home given the opportunity, but I enjoy, and I know our kids enjoy going to different places and seeing different places, especially places like Smackover where they’ve had success and have nice tradition going there as well,” Crowley said.
“It’s good to go see those places, another small town school that loves football, just to see different places, it’s always fun. It’s something that makes small school football special.”
For Booneville to advance, Crowley said his defense must limit big plays by the Bucks and his offense needs to avoid turnovers.
“The same thing as always,” Crowley said. “Limit those big plays that they have on offense, take care of the football and try to keep it out of their hands. Just play our game and know that they’re probably going to have some big plays. We’ve just got to limit them as much as we can.”
For the Bucks, Osborn said his team must avoid miscues.
“As always limit mistakes,” Osborn said. “We have told our kids this week at this point everyone is good or you wouldn’t be here. We expect some ups and downs in the game, and it will be how we respond as to how the game goes.
“We have to have good play on both offensive and defensive lines, but above all, we need to go play our game and have fun. No one has expected us to be here.
“For eight of the 11 games we have played, we have been picked to lose, so we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is just another good opportunity to prove people wrong.”