After a month of preparation and dress rehearsals, the race for the 5-3A crown formally begins tonight.
For Junction City, that means welcoming Fouke to David Carpenter Stadium for their first meeting in nearly five years. In October 2017, the Dragons picked up a 50-0 win.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
The Dragons (1-2) had a challenging non-conference slate with their losses coming to Harmony Grove and Haynesville (La.). Their lone win came three weeks ago at Lafayette County.
The Panthers (2-2) have alternated wins and losses, topping Mineral Springs and Foreman while falling to Dierks and Waldron.
The Dragons fell 41-13 in their showdown with the Golden Tornado last week, and Junction City coach David Carpenter said the Dragons are eager to get back on the field.
“We’re ready to get out there and play,” Carpenter said. “We want to redeem ourselves from last week. The guys are ready. Yesterday (Monday) was a good practice.
“They got out and worked hard getting ready for the ballgame. That’s the thing about them. We had something bad happen to us Friday night, and they’re ready to get back out there and go and correct what we did wrong. That’s always a good sign about getting ready for the ballgame.”
The Panthers have had no issues in putting points on the scoreboard, tallying 147 in four games.
Senior quarterback Dylan Thornton threw for three scores and ran for another in Fouke’s 33-27 win over Mineral Springs.
Kirby Whiseant, also a senior, caught two of those scores, including the game-winner in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Senior Ethan Thornton also had a touchdown catch in the game.
“They’re like us and over half the people in the nation that’s running a little spread offense,” Carpenter said of the Panthers’ offense. “They have several receivers that are pretty good. They can go. The quarterback delivers a good ball.
“If you let him stand back there and throw, he’s going to pick you apart, so it’s important that our defensive front gets in there and disrupts a guy where he doesn’t have a chance just to stand and throw the football.”
Fouke’s defense also came up with two key interceptions against Mineral Springs, and Carpenter said the Dragons would be looking at an even front from the Panthers.
With non-conference play on the sideline for now, Carpenter’s message to the Dragons about starting conference play on the right foot was simple.
“We told them, ‘Take all of that other that has gone on and get rid of it, because you’re getting into conference play,’” Carpenter said.
“You’re trying to win all of these that you can so you can get into the playoffs and get a good seed. You tell them that and then you go on and worry about this week’s opponent. It’s just one of those good things you tell them in passing.”
Although the Dragons fell to Haynesville, Carpenter said that game will be very beneficial to his team in the long run.
“When you play a good program, win or lose, you come out of it a better team because of going against someone that does things correctly,” Carpenter said. “Coach (David) Franklin has been down there with that bunch forever and they do an outstanding job. That definitely helped us.”
Junction City may be entering conference play with a 1-2 record, but Carpenter said he has been pleased with the growth of his team over the last month.
“That’s the good thing about it,” Carpenter said. “It doesn’t show up on the score right now, but the things that we are doing, playing the game, getting back, watching the film and then getting ready to go out and play your next opponent, then you see what the heck you did going against somebody who does things right.
“That helps you out. It helps you out with the reads and the calls that you have to make. The improvement that we’ve made from back then to now is big time, and we’re just hoping that every week we can just continue to improve on what we’re trying to do. I think we will.”
For the Dragons to start conference play with a win, Carpenter said execution on offense will be crucial.
“We’ve just got to continue to improve on what we’re doing every day,” Carpenter said. “Our receivers, I’ve said this numerous times, but we’ve got to catch it. If we can do that, it opens up a whole new avenue for us where we can take care of what we’re trying to do. That’s what we have to do. Our blocking has got to continue to improve and get better. All of those things are truly keys to victory for us.”