[Go to bottom of post for more on Malzahn’s 2005 Springdale team]
None of Pulaski Academy’s 14 wins this season came down to the wire. Votes for season-ending rankings, however, proved a different matter altogether. As expected, there is a severe rift in public opinion concerning Arkansas’ best overall high school football team this season.
On one hand, the state’s largest newspaper deemed P.A. the best team, followed by Fayetteville, then Bentonville. Central Arkansas-based sportswriter Robert Yates constructed these Democrat-Gazette’s rankings. Rivals.com’s national prep sportswriter Dallas Jackson also deemed P.A. as the state’s best, again followed by Fayetteville and Bentonville.
The Arkansas arm of national prep sports outlet VYPE, meanwhile, conducted a poll with Arkansas prep football coaches. Fayetteville won this poll, with P.A. and Bentonville trailing. Finally, about a dozen Associated Press members released their poll Monday. Their rankings mirror VYPE’s.
That the 4A Bruins didn’t top the Associated Press poll isn’t a surprise. In fact, no team of a similar classification (4th-largest) has ever finished first in the state’s final A.P. poll. Only two teams – 1964 Conway and 1987 Arkadelphia – have finished atop that final poll. Both teams were in the second-largest classification at the time.
This is according to the Almanac of Arkansas High School Football, by longtime Arkansas sportswriter Leland Barclay. Barclay, conveniently enough, also happens to be one of the Associated Press members whose votes comprise the poll. For Barclay, 7A teams – even those with multiple losses – are nearly always better than lower classification teams:
“Schools from the state’s largest classification will always get the nod as the overall final No. 1 team in the state because as the state champion that team had to compete and excel against the best teams in the state over an 11-week stretch. Schools from the other classifications don’t do that…”
Granted, most of Pulaski Academy’s opponents didn’t match Bentonville’s or Fayetteville’s – nowhere near, really. But P.A. impressed when it did get early-season shot vs. higher classifications. Yes, 7A Cabot had a down year, finishing 3-7. But do you honestly expect to ever again see a 4A or 5A team ring up 29 consecutive points on Cabot before the Panthers can even possess the ball, as P.A. did Sept.9th?
A week later, P.A. took out 6A’s defending state champion, Lake Hamilton 38-28. Lake Hamilton (12-2) ended up as the second-best team in the state’s second-highest classification, losing to El Dorado 24-20.
And, of course, there is that scrimmage, the one that may go down as the most debated preseason competition in state history. In August, Pulaski Academy visited northwest Arkansas, where it outscored Fayetteville, ringing up 56 points in three quarters.
That scrimmage is significant because it somewhat grounds the argument of the state’s hypothetical best overall team in reality. Before Fayettevillle pulled off the shocker of the season by upending undefeated Bentonville, till then ranked #3 in the nation, I planned to write about what would happen if P.A. played Bentonville. Most people I spoke to, even diehard P.A. supporters, believed if would be competitive but Bentonville would win because they would simply wear P.A. down with bigger, and more, players.
Yet in the season finale Fayetteville proved that talent (with standouts like Austin Allen and Brooks Ellis, Fayetteville could have more future high D1 signees than Bentonville) and shrewd strategy could topple the mighty Tigers.
Pulaski Academy has plenty of both. For starters, the Bruins likely outpace all other in-state programs with around seven future D1 players. * And as tricky strategies go, it’s doubtful anybody in the nation can match the relentlessness with which Kevin Kelley unleashes his unorthodox principles.
My suspicion is that even if P.A. did play Fayetteville or Bentonville in an overall state championship game – and won – that win wouldn’t change many minds. There would still be a desire to see the series played out over five or ten games, because it’s assumed that eventually the 7A’s superior size and roster depth should take its toll.
In the end, all we have are numbers. And those numbers say P.A. is worthy of serious consideration for not only best team this season – but most devastating offense of the last 20 years:
Final stats for 2011 Pulaski Academy Bruins
Score by quarters (14 games)
– For the season, P.A. averaged 51.5 points and 536.5 yards a game. Opponents averaged 21.7 points and 211.7 yards.
– Bruins starters played in fourth quarter just twice
– In approximately the last 10 games of the season, P.A. scored touchdowns on 63 of 69 possessions
– numbers according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Here are other candidates:
1) Carlisle Bison, 1993 – Forget, if you will, the 0-7 hiccup against Barton in the title game. Focus on how these Bison charged through their previous 13 games – scoring 692 points, giving up only six. That’s four games of 60 points or higher and 12 shutouts, folks. Save that last game, Carlisle took full advantage of Class A competition en route to becoming the highest scoring team in Arkansas high school history.
2) Springdale Bulldogs, 2005 – With Bentonville’s loss to Fayetteteville, this undefeated team remains the state’s most lauded of modern times. It’s the team that ultimately would thrust head coach Gus Malzahn into college coaching circles and his position as Arkansas State head coach. Springdale’s 2005 season-ending single digits numbers are impressive enough – #2 nationally in StudentSports Magazine, #4 in USA Today, 5 high D1 signees. The double and triple digit stuff is even more impressive – Springdale outscored its 14 opponents 644-118, 486-55 in the first half. Quarterback Mitch Mustain passed for 3,744 yards and 42 touchdowns.
3) Shiloh Christian 2010 – Just like with Carlisle, 1993, there’s a hiccup. Except in Shiloh’s case, it was more like an early-season sledgehammer to the jaw. Following an 80-26 loss to national powerhouse Euless Trinity, Texas, however, Shiloh bandaged itself up quite nicely. That loss helped inspire the Saints to redeem themselves by reeling off 13 straight wins, totaling 704 points and 6,904 yards, behind possibly the state’s best-ever dual-threat quarterback in Kiehl Frazier. A total of three players from this team now play for high D1 schools. Its last victory was against P.A. (which racked up 684 points and 7,911 yards), and, ironically, left the burning desire for redemption that helped fuel this year’s accomplishments.
– source: Almanac of Arkansas High School Football
What would happen if 2011 P.A. played 2010 Shiloh Christian or 2005 Springdale?
“You can’t do it unless God Himself walks out there and magically makes it happen,” P.A. coach Kevin Kelley says. “But I do think it would be neat and I think our guys would definitely be up to a challenge.” Given the theoretical metaphysics involved , P.A. coach Kevin Kelley unsurprisingly adds it’s hard to speculate how his 2011 Bruins would match up against the team that beat them a year earlier, but he did discuss how last year’s XX-XX title loss was still close with a minute left in the third quarter. “They’re up by a touchdown and we’ve got the ball at the 20-yard line and we fumble. So we thought we had done well …. and then they pull away in the fourth quarter. This year we got just about everybody back and we obviously we were a whole lot stronger and better than we were last year.”
He’s confident his team would also be up to challenge of playing the 2005 Springdale team. “Not to say we would beat either one of them but I think our guys would accept that challenge and be confident going in. I got to see both teams in person, and both teams were extremely well-coached and full of talent and just fantastic teams.”
“I think this year’s PA team could have been very competitive with last year’s Shiloh Christian club. PA players, across the board, put on at least 10 pounds of muscle. It was the SC defeat in last year’s 4A title that pushed them to a more intense weight lifting regimen. I don’t think PA would have enough depth to beat the Springdale 05 team. It is one of the greats of all-time and a legit national power for that season.” – Nate Olson, editor of Vype Arkansas
* Kelley says his team has four players currently with athletic scholarship offers from D1 schools. He adds other players who will “likely play somewhere” in college include junior wide receiver L.J. Wallace (6-1, 180), junior defensive end Kyle Whelpley (6-3, 255) and sophomore linebacker Tyler Colquitt (5-11, 230)..