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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Charleston Hosts Dardnelle Friday to Open 2021 High School Football Season

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The Charleston tradition of playing tough non-conference opponents in all sports will continue this Friday night at Alumni Field. The 2020 3A-1 district champions will host the Class 4A Dardanelle Sand Lizards in what has become a tradition of tough, hard-hitting football when the teams meet each year. The Tigers’ philosophy of using the non-conference portions of their schedules to prepare their teams for tough, physical and competitive play before entering the conference portion of their schedules has paid off for Charleston, and no one can argue with the long-term success of Tigers athletics.

Perhaps no better illustration of the nature of the Dardanelle series with the Tigers is the 2019 match-up in Dardanelle when Charleston lost its entire defensive secondary to injury. By the end of the game, Charleston had many players dressed in street clothes that had been forced out of the game due to injury. Coach May and his staff did a remarkable job in getting the team ready for conference play and making the playoffs that year. In his second year, the Tigers went undefeated in conference play and were crowned at 3A-1 champions.

In 2021, the Tigers return many of their players from that undefeated conference team of a year ago. Most notably, junior quarterback Brandon Scott, who is arguably one of the best quarterbacks at any classification in the River Valley and perhaps the state, will return to the Tigers, bringing big play capability to the Charleston offense.

Resident Press File Photo / Ronni Tate Young

The first five weeks of the season are brutal for the Tigers, as they will play three of the predicted top five 4A-4 finishers in Dardanelle, Pottsville, and Ozark. Then the conference season will begin with two critical games, the first being at home against Greenland that always has playoff seeding implications in October, and on the road for a very tough and crucial match-up against an experienced and very talented Cedarville team. So, not to disrespect anyone else on the Tigers’ schedule, their conference finish for the 2021 season could be largely determined by where they are after the Cedarville game in week five. But until then, it is “one game at a time” for Coach May and his team.

I asked Coach May if he felt better about his team now that the Tigers have had an additional week of practice following the scrimmage against Booneville. Coach May responded by saying, ” A little bit. I feel a little better. We had a lot of time to work on what we needed to work on. Our kids are more physically prepared and I think they can meet a little bigger standard. It’s just hard sometimes not to know until you play someone. But, we feel better about it.”

Resident Press File Photo / Ronni Tate Young

Dardanelle has been impacted by injuries to start the new season. Most notably, their talented quarterback, Drew Vega, has been nursing an injury that first occurred this summer. Vega did not play last week in the loss to Booneville. According to Coach May, Vega’s presence in the game last week “would have definitely made a difference. At the same time, Dardanelle had, I think, four turnovers against Booneville.”

It remains to be seen if Vega will play against the Tigers. But Dardanelle has a tradition of being a big, physical, talented, and well-coached football program, and whoever takes the field for the Sand Lizards Friday night will be ready to play. Coach May commented, “I really don’t know if he (Vega) will play. It is a situation where if he does he changes the dynamic of everything (on defense). So, we’ll see. Dardanelle runs the ball really well, so it is not like they can’t run. They have a really good offensive line. Of course, Coach Vega does a very good job coaching them up and they are always well-prepared and disciplined. I just think they had a bad first game and they will definitely be better and they are going to give us everything we want on Friday night. The last two years we have not scored on them. So, defensively, they are pretty good.”

Resident Press will have a recap on this game in Sunday night’s online edition. Come out to the game Friday night and support your Tigers as they begin the march to repeat as conference champions and to position themselves with a high state playoff seed.

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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