By: Seth McKinzie

It is finally here: High School Football. No more talking about who is going to be good and who is going to be not so good. The talking will come from the results seen on the fields across Northwest Arkansas each and every Friday night.

The non-conference portion of the schedule is always interesting. These games give fans a chance to see teams line up against opponents from different conferences, classifications and, for this year, out of state.

Four teams from the 4A-1 are competing tonight while the other four wait to begin their seasons next Friday. Gentry, Gravette, Pea Ridge, and Shiloh Christian all kickoff tonight so the list of predictions will be a bit shorter than they normally will be throughout the season.

Let’s get right into them. The ranking listed next to each team reflect that team’s ranking by Hooten’s Arkansas Football.

#12 Dardanelle @ #27 Gentry — This game is intriguing for several reasons:

1. Dardanelle is hoping to challenge for the 4A-4 title (although LL believes there is a clear favorite).

2. Gentry is wanting to show folks they are continuing to make steady improvements.

3. Can the Pioneers win a home game against a playoff quality team?

4. Will the 4A-1 be extremely top heavy? Meaning, if Gentry gets blown out LL might believe the top two or three teams in the league are going to be head and shoulders better than everyone else in the conference once again.

A close friend of LL’s in the coaching world said Gentry has some players just not many others to go with them. The skill positions for the Pioneers seem to be pretty good but how is the offensive line? As any fan who monitors football closely knows the offensive line will dictate exactly how successful a team can be.

The Pioneers lost their scrimmage to Ozark 28-7 and that was in one half of live play. Ozark was also missing one of their key players. To be fair to Gentry, Ozark has a lot of buzz surrounding them this year as a team that could win the 4A state championship. We are still a long way from knowing that but Gentry can turn a lot of heads with a win OR a very tightly contested game against the Sand Lizards.

The first games of the season are always either very easy to predict or very difficult. This one is a little difficult in terms of what the final score will be but LL is pretty confident in selecting the winner.

FINAL SCORE: Dardanelle 28 Gentry 13

#2 (5A) Harrison @ #7 Pea Ridge — The Blackhawks come in once again with high expectations. They have arguably the best quarterback in the 4A-1 in Tate Busey. They have talent at the skill positions again and just have a ton of kids out to play football. Pea Ridge, who will compete in 5A in 2020, looks the part of a team that has the depth to face the larger schools.

Last year, Harrison kicked Pea Ridge around winning by 31. Some think the Blackhawks will make this game much closer than last year but LL is not so sure Pea Ridge will be as good as they were in 2018.

There really is no shame in losing to an opponent as good as Harrison. The Goblins were VERY tough last year and word on the street is they are even better in 2019.

This one might be about as ugly as last season although LL knows Pea Ridge will defend their home turf better than most. Still, the confidence in picking the Blackhawks is non-existent.

FINAL SCORE: Harrison 42 Pea Ridge 14

#3 Shiloh Christian vs. Moore Haven, Fla. — This game is being played in Orlando. Moore Haven is one of the best small school programs in Florida as it appears they have made several recent deep pushes into the playoffs. If you know anything about Florida football’s reputation then you know one thing Shiloh Christian is going to see tonight: SPEED. Speed, speed, speed. That it is the name of the game over there.

LL tips his cap to the Saints for scheduling an opponent like this. The Saints are certainly the team from the 4A-1 who “might be” built to handle playing a team like Moore Haven will likely be. LL says “might be” because there is still a lot of doubt for LL that Shiloh will be able to hang an entire game with Moore Haven.

This is not an insult to Shiloh. If LL were still coaching and preparing to face a team like Moore Haven likely is…let’s just say that would make all the fingernails on both hands disappear from anxious chewing (heck, maybe even the toenails too).

According to MaxPreps, Moore Haven did lose their first game by a score of 41-6. Maybe they played an extremely good team from a larger classification. Maybe the Terriers are down in 2019. Who knows? This game is as big a question mark for LL as any during the non-conference slate so let’s just take a shot in the dark.

FINAL SCORE: Moore Haven 35 Shiloh Christian 24

#45 Gravette @ Cascia Hall (Tulsa) — The Lions are ranked 45th our of 48 teams. Ugh. That is a tough one to swallow. This game, much like Gentry’s contest, can turn a few heads. If the Lions go over to Tulsa tonight and put up a fight while losing a tough game people will try and erase the star next to “Gravette” on their schedules that indicates an easier victory. If the Lions go over and win…well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Gravette is going to be better in 2019, LL is quite certain about that. The culture seems to be vastly improved. The players seem to be enjoying themselves again. The coaching staff seems tight knit and the atmosphere just seems much more fun and loose. The problem, however, is being better may not translate into a whole lot of wins because the Lions have a pretty dadgum tough first two games.

Cascia Hall whipped Gravette 44-7 last year. The Commandos were bigger, stronger, and faster in every aspect of the game. Their style of defense really clogged up the line of scrimmage and Gravette just could not muster any sort of pulse offensively except for a long touchdown run. Hopefully, that game is weighing heavily on the minds of the Lions while also not being a hinderance to the way the team is approaching the game.

As LL has mentioned, mentality in 2019 is going to be huge for Gravette. There cannot be an attitude of “here we go again”. The guys have to say “We are not last year’s team and we are not doing this again” and then continue to press forward. The coaching staff has enough fresh faces as to not allow that to happen.

Based on the fact Gravette had over 200 yards of offense in one half of a scrimmage gives LL the confidence to say the Lions are going to be better. Now, Greenland is no Cascia Hall but something inside LL says Gravette will not allow the Commandos to just steamroll them again. The key for Gravette, along with keeping 2018 far from their minds, is just keep everyone healthy.

The Lions truly do have some talent at the skill positions and the style of offense that has been returned will allow those guys to make plays and at least give the team a fighting chance in a lot of games. That is huge and should make for a much better game than last year.

If the defense gets a few stops here and there and can create a turnover or two then the Lions will be in this game much longer than last year. Still, Cascia Hall is a very good program and will likely just have too much for Gravette to overcome.

FINAL SCORE: Cascia Hall 35 Gravette 21