Strong to open season against Louisiana foe

The last Union County school to take the field to begin the 2023 season will do so on Friday.

Strong begins its third year of playing eight-man football with a rare occasion for the program.

The Bulldogs will be facing their first out-of-state opponent since going to the eight-man format when they host Prairie View Academy out of Bastrop, La.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Jerry Burson Field.

The last time Strong faced an opponent outside of Arkansas was back in 2019 when the Bulldogs were downed 28-0 by Beekman Charter.

The Spartans (1-2) enter off of a 32-14 loss at home to Woodlawn, a 2A South rival of Strong’s.

“They like to start out in the classic I formation and run isolation stuff, fullback dive,” Strong coach Jason Porter said. “They will go to the spread if they don’t have success with that. Their quarterback is small, but very quick. Their receivers catch the ball well. We will need to tackle in space.”

When the Bulldogs have the ball, Porter said his team will see a variety of looks.

“They will be multiple based on how we set up,” Porter said. “Their defensive ends are big and look to control the edges.”

The game is something of a homecoming for Prairie View Academy coach Jared Smelser, who was born in Little Rock, but grew up in Magnolia.

“It’s always good to go against teams you don’t normally face,” Smelser said. “I’m from Arkansas, so it’s nice to go back. We need to go out there and compete.”

While the Bulldogs will take the field for the first time on Friday, the Spartans, a member of the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools, have been practicing since July 24 and will be playing their fourth game of the season.

The Spartans won their opener against Tensas Academy (La.), but have dropped two straight.

Smelser, who is in his first year at Prairie View Academy, said he has a very young roster with only one senior on the squad.

And while the Spartans already have several games under their belt, the Bulldogs have had extra time to prepare for the season due to their late start, and Porter said he has been pleased with the practices leading up to their opener.

“We have had very good practices,” Porter said. “You always worry about conditioning with eight-man football because of the roster size. With it being the first game, there will be mistakes. We just need to limit them.”

Porter said the extra time has also allowed the Bulldogs to polish their schemes.

“I feel like we have been able to sharpen up some of our core plays,” Porter said. “Repetition and conditioning have been the two main points of the last few weeks.”

Porter added that the team is ready to get the season started. 

“We seem to be the last team to get going since we didn’t reschedule Genoa (Central) from last year,” Porter said. “The kids are really looking forward to Friday night.”

If the Bulldogs are to start their season with a win, Porter said creating mismatches would play a key role.

“I think we need to get our playmakers in one-on-one situations in space,” Porter said. “With our speed, that’s what we are going to try to do.”

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