JONESBORO — While Valley View is wrapping up its non-conference schedule this evening, Rivercrest is just getting started.
Tonight’s game at Central Dealerships Stadium is the third for the Blazers and just the first for the Colts. Rivercrest did not play during the first week games could be scheduled and its expected opener last week against Paragould was canceled because of the Rams’ COVID-19 issues.
The teams traded scrimmage film – Valley View played Pocahontas, while Rivercrest faced East Poinsett County – but Blazers head coach Sean Cockrell said Johnny Fleming’s Colts can probably do a lot of things his team didn’t see on video.
“I know Coach Fleming has watched us play live, in person, but they only have a scrimmage on us and we only have a scrimmage on them,” Cockrell said. “It’s really weird that this will be the first time they’ve played and we’re working on our third game. Usually it doesn’t happen that way, but this year is different.”
Unlike Valley View’s first two opponents, though, the Blazers (1-1) have a history with the Colts.
Rivercrest won last year’s meeting 41-24 on the way to a 13-0 start and the Class 4A state championship game, where the Colts lost to Shiloh Christian. Valley View won three of four games against Rivercrest from 2016-19, including a 7-3 victory two years ago.
Cockrell expects a different offensive look from Rivercrest without quarterback Kam Turner, last year’s Best Under The Sun Player of the Year.
“They’re a little different, I think, with the quarterback, Mike Sharp. I think they want to throw it a little more offensively. He’s got a good arm and he can throw it, and they’re big up front,” Cockrell said. “They still have the skill guys who can break one at any time, but they’ll try to throw it, too, and give it to them on the speed sweeps. They’ll look similar to what they’ve looked in the past, they just don’t have Kam Turner at quarterback, which is great for us.”
Fleming, who is 31-7 as the Colts’ head coach, said during the preseason that Rivercrest’s defensive front seven could be as good as the team has had in a long time.
Four players in the Colts’ projected front seven earned all-conference honors last fall. Linebacker Tray Jones was Rivercrest’s leading tackler with 88, including 20 behind the line of scrimmage, while end Brandyn Brownlee had 84 tackles, 23 behind the line of scrimmage.
Cockrell said Rivercrest runs the same defense as Valley View, but blitzes more than the Blazers.
“They’re really physical. EPC had a lot of trouble getting plays off against them and we did last year as well. We struggled offensively against them,” Cockrell said. “We had to throw it a lot more than we could run it last year. Hopefully we’ve gotten better up front and can run the football a little bit.”
The Blazers rallied to defeat two-time defending Class 3A state champion Harding Academy 31-30 last week, stopping a two-point conversion inside the final minute and recovering an onside kick to preserve the victory.
Sophomore quarterback Carson Turley had a hand in all four Valley View touchdowns. Turley finished with 131 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. He also completed 9-of-12 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Grayson Becker caught four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Reid Tyler and Jackson Harmon had three receptions each.
Cockrell said Turley played very well against Harding Academy.
“We’ve always known he had the running element. He can run, he can make plays, he sees the field, but throwing it, he’s looked really good so far,” Cockrell said. “He’s putting passes where people can go make plays and they’re helping him out, Grayson and Reid and Jackson. All those guys are making plays.”
The Blazers will probably play without senior defensive end Mario Crawford because of a shoulder injury, Cockrell said. Crawford, who is receiving Division I college interest, has five tackles for loss among his 12 tackles through two games. He already has four quarterback sacks.
Cockrell, whose team opened with a 30-0 loss to Southaven, Miss., said the Blazers were tested in their first two games.
“Obviously Southaven had athletes all over the place and they were really tough on us offensively. Harding was really tough on us defensively with the way they spread the field and execute, just the way they play because they expect to win every time they step on the field,” Cockrell said. “Hopefully that gives us an advantage this Friday, that we’ve at least played a couple of games.”