In the first two weeks of the season, Smackover has won a pair of thrillers in come-from-behind fashion.
Tonight, the Bucks could be involved in another nip-and-tuck affair when they travel to Mineral Springs for their third non-conference tilt.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
The meeting is the first for the schools since they met in the 2A playoffs back in 2008 with the Bucks coming away with a 40-18 road victory.
Mineral Springs has won three of the five meetings overall dating back to 2002, but the Bucks have won the last two that includes an 18-7 win in 2005 in addition to the playoff win in 2008.
The Hornets (1-1) opened the season with a 45-30 win over Jessieville, but fell to Fouke 33-27 last week.
The Bucks (2-0) rallied past Mayflower 24-21 two weeks ago before upending Little Rock Episcopal 8-6 last week on D’Kylan Hildreth’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Burgie with 50 seconds left in the game.
For Smackover coach David Osborn, there is one attribute the Hornets have an abundance of that they must find a way to contain.
“Speed, speed and more speed,” Osborn said. “They have athletes everywhere on the field. They do a good job of getting their athletes the ball. They have been playing with confidence and look solid on both sides of the ball.”
Osborn said the Bucks’ defense has a tall order in front of them.
“They are a spread-based offense,” Osborn said. “They are run-heavy out of those sets. They will throw it around some, usually looking to hit you with a deep ball.”
Osborn added that the Hornets have several playmakers, but Javeon Fricks, Katrevion Thomas and KJ Hayes, who transferred from Lafayette County after earning All-State honors last year, were three they must account for on every play.
“They are loaded with skill guys,” Osborn said. “The crazy thing is I could just keep naming players. They have so many that you can’t just focus on one player.”
When the Bucks have the ball, Osborn said his team will see a variety of looks from the Hornets.
“They run a mixture of fronts,” Osborn said. “We will see anything from a four to a five front. I expect to see them load the box more against us with our run sets. They like to play man and bring pressure. Our guys on the front have a big task ahead of them this week.”
Osborn said the Bucks must be aware of Jace Amerson on every offensive snap.
“He has impressed us more than anyone we have seen this season,” Osborn said. “He comes off the ball extremely hard and will disrupt the opposing offense.”
In last week’s win against Little Rock Episcopal, the Bucks again responded down the stretch, and Osborn said he was very pleased with his team’s resolve.
“It was a huge win for our guys,” Osborn said. “They are starting to learn how to win, as in it’s not over till it’s over. They have responded very well the last two weeks in come-from-behind wins. I'm very proud of how the guys have learned to fight to the end. Not only has it helped us in football, but it will help them in all aspects of life.”
The Wildcats were pinned deep on their own end of the field with two minutes left trying to protect a 6-0 lead, but a safety got the Bucks on the scoreboard.
Then a big return by Tanner Mitchell on the ensuing kick set up the aforementioned heroics by Hildreth and Burgie.
“Our guys kept believing in the plan,” Osborn said. “It had been rocky at times and Episcopal did a good job against us. But in the last couple of minutes, the kids stayed calm and just trusted in what we were doing.”
On the touchdown pass, Osborn said he wanted to get the first down to keep the drive going, but it turned out to be much more.
“It was a great throw from Hildreth, and once Burgie made the catch, you knew he was going to score,” Osborn said. “It was designed to run everyone off and hit Burgie streaking across the field. My thoughts were, ‘It’s fourth-and-10 and everyone is bailing. Lets hit a 10-yard pass and get the first and who knows he may score.’ The worse case is we spike it really quick and kill the clock for a few more chances. But once we completed the pass, it just went crazy in the stadium.”
Smackover’s defense came up big, registering three interceptions with Devan Lofton’s ending the Wildcats’ hopes and the other two stopping drives in the red zone.
“The kids have played hard and have been able to pick up the schematic changes that coach (David) Preston has made,” Osborn said. “They have understood that it’s bend but don't break while at the same time we are going to bring some pressure to try and create issues for our opponents.”
If the Bucks are to start 3-0, Osborn said his team’s health must recover with several players missing practice time due to being out with illnesses.
“Our big key this week will be to get healthy,” Osborn said. “We have been hit hard by the stomach bug this week and have had several players in and out. It’s made it rough to get fully prepared as we are low in numbers to begin with.
“It’s like I told the guys, ‘It wouldn’t be a normal week for us without something going on during the week or having to come from behind.’ We are just going to have to continue to rally together and play as a team.”