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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mansfield Football Beefs Up Non-Conference Schedule For 2024

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There always seems to be a lot of hype and excitement whenever it comes to schedule releases in the sport of football. Fans are often eager to see where they’re going for away games, what juggernauts or cupcakes their team will be playing, and try to predict their team’s win/loss record. Even though the first snap of a new season is almost half a year away, websites, forums, enormous magazines, and dinner table debates dedicated to the new season are already firing up and getting hot. After Mansfield’s extremely successful 2023 campaign under first-year head coach, Whit Overton, Tiger fans were eager to catch a glimpse at the 2024 schedule. Once released, some fans thought the changes were questionable while others openly accepted it as tough but manageable. The players, on the other hand, the players were downright excited to get a shot at testing their might against some stiff competition outside of the 3A-1.

The Mansfield versus Mena scrimmage has become a preseason staple for both programs and will continue in 2024.
Photo courtesy of Megan Hecox

Conference games are where the bread and butter of a team’s season is sorted out. Therefore, it is only right that those games would be the most critiqued when looking at a new schedule. With the 3A-1 not being affected by the AAA’s restructuring for this cycle, Tiger fans already knew what to expect in conference play. The non-conference games, on the other hand, can be a little more intriguing. Historically, Mansfield has always seemed to have their ups and downs with non-conference play over the years. From 2010 through 2015, the Tigers played Mena, Greenland, and Waldron for their warmup games. In 2016 and 2017, Mena was replaced by Lincoln while Greenland and Waldron stuck around. During that seven-year stretch, Mansfield went 10-14 against their non-conference foes. Hackett and Lavaca were not in the 3A-1 during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, so the neighboring rivals were inked in along with Waldron as the Tigers’ non-conference opponents which allowed Manfield to drum up a 6-0 non-conference record in the two-year span. The COVID years of 2020 and 2021 masked any previous successes Mansfield had though as the Tigers fell hard to Waldron and Elkins in 2020, had to cancel games against both teams in 2021, and only won two games in the time period both against Magazine. Then in 2022, the Tigers laid out a staircase non-conference schedule that saw Mansfield start with the Magazine Rattlers out of the 2A, move up to the Paris Eagles in the 3A, and finish their slate with their Scott County rivals, the Waldron Bulldogs, from the 4A. That particular layout saw Mansfield go 6-0 in non-conference play and was a good boost for the Tigers as they went on to make back-to-back State Playoff seasons.

The Battle of Scott County will be played this upcoming season and for the foreseeable future. ‘Nuff said.
Photo courtesy of Joey Bolin

With two successful years of proving the growth of the program in non-conference and conference play, the Tigers were looking for some stiffer competition for the 2024 season to keep from becoming merely a stagnant mid-card program in the state. It didn’t take long for Coach Overton and his staff to turn their gradual staircase non-conference schedule into an extension ladder of competition. The Tigers will maintain their annual scrimmage with Mena and continue the Battle of Scott County with Waldron in 2024. The changes will come from dropping Magazine and Paris on the Tiger’s non-conference slate and replacing them with a pair of larger hardnosed programs. The Bismarck Lions will be one of the teams filling the spots in the Tigers 2024 non-conference schedule. Bismarck, like Mansfield, stunned the state in 2023 with an under-the-radar performance that put them on the map. Going 10-3 overall and 6-1 in conference, Bismarck’s only losses were to the State Semifinalist and conference opponent, Glen Rose Beavers, and then twice to the State Runner-Up Prescott Curly Wolves. The Lions dismantled Hackett 42-13 in Round1 of the 2023 Playoffs and shocked Charleston 35-27 on their own turf in Round2 before being cut down by Prescott for the second time in the State Quarterfinals. Bismarck was affected by the AAAs conference shuffle and will face some tough teams out of the 3A-7 this year but will likely still be favored in the preseason polls in most of their games. Mansfield will travel to Bismarck for the first meeting between the two programs for Week1 of the season on Friday, August 30th.

Bismarck’s defense only allowed an average of 17.9 points per game last season.
Photo courtesy of Jim Best

Mansfield will host the Waldron Bulldogs for their annually anticipated Battle of Scott County on September 6th. The Tigers have owned this rivalry for the most part of two decades. Anything is possible in this rivalry, especially since the Bulldogs will have a new head coach for the third time in four years. The Tigers’ third and final non-conference game will be against a familiar foe from back in the day. The Lamar Warriors. Just as Mansfield has held a leash on Waldron in recent years, Lamar has had the Tigers by the tail dating back to 2011. The Warriors have an 8-2 record against Mansfield in the program’s previous ten meetings, all of which were when Lamar was in the 3A. Lamar moved up to the 4A in 2020 and earned a Round2 spot in the 4A Playoffs each year since. Now in the 4A-4, the Warriors will likely be one of the Top3 teams in the conference preseason rankings which makes their game against Mansfield a big match-up for both programs After the Tigers travel to Johnson County to play Lamar, they will be gifted with a bye week which will be a slight break from the non-conference pot before they enter the fire that is known as the 3A-1 conference.

Photo courtesy of Joey Bolin

They say iron sharpens iron, and if that is true, the Tigers should be able to cut through tungsten, chromium, and titanium going into their 2024 3A-1 conference schedule. Facing a 4A-4 team in a scrimmage followed up by two 4A-4 teams and an up-and-incoming 3A-7 program in non-conference play is a hefty bag to haul. It can also be a boost for the players, coaches, and fans if they’re successful. Many other premier programs in the state schedule larger teams for non-conference play all the time. Greenwood has made a habit of upsetting 7A teams nearly every year. Booneville faced a 5A and two 4A schools for non-conference play while Charleston took on three 4A teams last season. Even though both programs lost some of those games, they benefited greatly by doing so and finished first and second in the 3A-1. Mansfield is aiming to step up to the roles of a premiere team and the recipe to do so calls for the Tigers to step up in competition. Although it may seem a tad bit off to those used to a weaker or more evenly matched non-conference schedule each year, the 2024 Tigers are eager to stick their necks out there and prove themselves to the state right out of the gate.

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