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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Eagles’ Historic Playoff Run Ends in Northeast Arkansas with Loss to Hoxie Mustangs


On the cold artificial turf of Mustangs Stadium, the Paris Eagles historic 2020 football season came to an end when the Eagles went down to defeat in Hoxie. Paris finishes the season at 11-2, conference runner-ups, and state quarterfinalist. Hoxie will now travel to McGehee who defeated Prescott on Friday night.

In other quarterfinal action, the Booneville Bearcats went down to defeat at the hands of Harding Academy. And in perhaps the best game of the quarterfinals, the Glen Rose Beavers scored twice in the final 59 seconds to defeat the Centerpoint Knights to advance to the state semifinals.

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The Class 3A state semifinal match-ups that will be played this Friday and will determine who advances to Little Rock to play in the state championship game will be Hoxie at McGehee and Glen Rose at Harding Academy. The state final is scheduled for December 19 at 6:40 p.m.

Everyone knew going into Friday’s game at Hoxie that the Mustangs are a very experienced and talented football team. Led by three brothers who transferred from the Jonesboro school district, the Mustangs posses size, speed, and athleticism. Some have characterized the Mustangs’ athleticism as “crazy athletic”, and the three Powell brothers were certainly that and much more.

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However, the most disappointing thing about this game was not the loss, but the way in which the game was played. Players from Hoxie and Paris were ejected as questionable plays and actions on the field were not called in the first half and eventually led to a bench clearing in the second half. It all seemed to start with a play in which Hoxie defensive player ShunDerrick Powell picked up and slammed Paris quarterback Chase Watts into the Mustang Stadium turf. The play was not penalized and started a chain reaction of incidents that stemmed from the Paris players being incensed with the play on Watts. Resident Press was able to capture the exact sequence of the hit on the Paris quarterback.

Paris pushed the Hoxie Mustangs, particularly in the second half when the Eagles defense, who could not contain Hoxie quarterback Daylon Powell, answered Hoxie scores with drives of their own to remain in contention in the second half. Although the Paris defense was giving up multiple big plays by Powell for scores, the Eagles were able to hang around and keep the game at a manageable two-possession distance. It appeared that Hoxie was not expecting this. If one looks at the Mustangs’ season record, they have dominated their opponents, and although they won the game by 30 points, Paris scored 35 points against the Mustangs and were in striking distance mid way through the fourth quarter. The deficit was 16 points until two more dramatic plays by Powell sealed the win for Hoxie.

Hoxie is a good football team and the Mustangs have a chance to win a state championship. The Mustangs, led by Jonesboro transfers Daylon and ShunDerrick Powell, are an explosive team who are a threat to score anytime they touch the football. There is no doubt that the transfers from Jonesboro have transformed the Mustangs into a title contender. It is just disappointing to see a game played in the manner in which Friday’s game with the Mustangs was played. Emotions hit a peak late in the second half when Adam Chandler was injured inside the Paris five yard line on a Hoxie scoring play. It is unclear as to what happened immediately afterwards, but a fight broke out on the field and both benches emptied. Coaches from both schools ran on to the field to get their players off the field and back to the sidelines. Player ejections resulted from both schools, and the ejections will undoubtedly affect Hoxie in their semifinal match at McGehee next week.

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Hoxie scored on their second offensive play of the game when quarterback Daylon Powell raced to the end zone on a long run that left the Paris defenders dead in their tracks. It would be the first of many such runs for Powell. But the Mustangs missed their extra point and took a 6-0 lead early in the game.

Paris answered the score with an impressive drive of their own, scoring on their first offensive possession. The Eagles extra point attempt was good and Paris had an early 7-6 lead in the first quarter. The Paris score seemed to jar the Mustangs and the intensity level immediately rose to a different level on both offense and defense for the Mustangs.

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After the game, a very emotional Paris football coach, Tyler Clark, struggled to work through his emotions to share with me just how special he believes his team, led by a very special group of seniors, are to him and the Paris football program. Coach Clark said, “Our kids continued to respond to adversity and that is what they have done all year. That makes me really proud as their coach. That tells me that our kids are doing things the right way and I am just super proud of them.”

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The Hoxie Mustangs were as advertised and more; the Powell brothers were dominating in their performances. Coach Clark said, “They were really good. We just didn’t tackle. And that was the issue. Our kids were in spots to make plays most of the time. There early, I think they got us a couple of times out of position, but most of the times we were in position to make tackles and we just didn’t make them. We’ve got to do a better job coaching that stuff up and we will be alright. Our defense played well all year.”

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Through all of the explosive runs by Powell and the Hoxie offense for touchdowns, Paris continued to answer and kept the game within reach going into the fourth quarter. And in the end, the Hoxie Mustangs won by 30 points, but also gave up 35 on defense. Coach Clark commented, “You’ve got to love a group of kids that just keep fighting. That’s what we preach all the time and I am just so proud of them. I love them to death.”

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The Eagles went into the game with Hoxie with the late notification that their senior starting tailback and linebacker, Ely Fore, would not be available for the game due to COVID reasons. I asked Coach Clark how the loss of Fore may have affected the team, and Coach Clark said, “I hate it for Ely. Your heart hurts for Ely. He is a senior that deserves to be here and we really wanted him here. As far as from a game standpoint, no doubt we missed him. But we’ve played games without Adam Chandler, and last week without Caleb Yarnell. That’s kind of what we told our kids. We have been undermanned before, and it’s ok. We still have to go out and do what we do.”

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Immediately after the game, Coach Clark met with his entire team on the field, just as he had for all 13 games this season. He told the group that they are winners and had worked hard to become winners. He expressed his pride in how hard they played on Friday night, and thanked them and the seniors for beleiving in him and working hard to bring Paris football to where it is today.

And as I have mentioned in previous stories, I do not normally share the Coach’s comments to the team that are made immediately after a game. I have always believed that those are private moments for the coaches to talk with their players who have worked so hard to play in the program. But this time, I am going to break my own rule and share some of Coach Clark’s points that were made in Friday’s final game in Hoxie. I think it is important for our readers and parents to hear this.

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After talking about normal issues that he may address with the team after any game, he quickly moved to his praise and love for the team and the work and effort they had invested all year. In fact, I heard Coach use the term “love” many times when he expressed his feelings for the team. But then he said something that I was so proud to hear, and I want others to know. Paraphrasing, Coach Clark, talking to a tired and disappointed team after the loss, told his team that there is more to life than football. He shared his aspirations for each player to continue their development in the program to move on to become good men, good husbands, and good fathers. Repeating this to tell them, there is more to life than football, and I hope that the lessons learned in this program will make you successful in the more important endeavors in life.

When I heard this, the tears almost began to flow from my face. Everyone connected with the Paris football program, school district, and community, can be so proud of this team and program, and last but not least, their coach, Tyler Clark.

Each Sunday throughout the season, Coach Clark and I talked on the phone to get his comments on the upcoming week’s opponent. Late in the season, I told Coach Clark that I thought he should get serious consideration for conference and Class 3A coach of the year honors. Typically, by default, conferences have given this honor automatically to the coach of the team that wins the conference each year. This year, I think a strong case could be made for Tyler Clark who developed this program over the past three years and guided it all the way to the state quarterfinals. For whatever it is worth, I am saying publicly that Tyler Clark should be the 3A-4 and Class 3A coach of the year.

Along with Coach Clark, there is a whole flock of Eagles that should be up for numerous post-season awards at all levels, from conference awards to state awards. I am sure Coach Clark will be lobbying hard over the coming weeks to gain this well-deserved recognition for his players.

Finally, I asked Coach Clark THE question: what does this group of seniors mean to you? Perhaps this was an unfair question to ask an already emotional coach, but, selfishly, I wanted to get the coach’s feelings so that I could share them with our readers and the parents of the seniors on the team. I think it is important for all to hear just how special Coach Clark is and how much he has meant to the Paris football program. So, an emotional Tyler Clark, choking back the tears, said, “I…..I can’t even put into words (as the tears began to stream down his face)…what this group of seniors mean to me. Like I said before, they could have quit on me (referring to the previous two seasons of many defeats that were endured by the program during its rebuilding phase leading up to this season) but they didn’t, so, I will never forget them.” And choking back, he said, “they are a very special group of kids” Yes, Coach Clark, they are a very special group of kids, and you are a very special coach.

Resident Press will have coverage of the state championship game in Class 3A in its December 20 online edition. But now, it is on to basketball, and four players from the football roster will join the Eagles senior boys basketball team, just in time to make a quick transition before the start of conference play.

So, thank you Paris Eagles football for one of the most memorable in the community’s and my memory in many years.

Additional photos from this game will be available on Facebook at Paris Eagles Sports by Monday.

It was my privilege to cover this outstanding team, and on behalf of Resident Press, I wish the seniors all of the very best in the future. SOAR EAGLES!

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Jim Best
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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