JONESBORO — Valley View won two vastly different games leading into 5A-East conference play.
After falling 51-35 to Harding Academy in their opener, the Blazers made a few position changes on defense that helped during a 16-2 victory at Poplar Bluff, Mo. They built an 18-point halftime lead two weeks ago at Rivercrest and held on for a 37-34 victory.
“We feel great about being 2-1,” Valley View head coach Sean Cockrell said Wednesday. “Looking back, you realize how good Harding Academy was and how they’ve just beaten everybody that bad. Obviously there are no excuses, but we feel good about where we’re at and we learned a lot from that game. That was the biggest thing. We got to see probably a better passing game than anybody we’ll see all year.
“We feel good about where we’re at and have a little confidence. Obviously we have to keep working and playing hard, but we feel good about Friday.”
The Blazers open conference play this evening against Paragould (1-2) at Central Dealerships Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Four turnovers hampered Valley View’s offense against Poplar Bluff, but the Blazers had only one in their victory over Rivercrest. Junior quarterback Carson Turley ran for two touchdowns and passed for a third, while senior running back Matt McMullen had 144 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries against the Colts.
“Going over there, it’s obviously hard to play and hard to win there. We hadn’t done it in a few years and we knew we were going to get a very physical, very athletic team, and they obviously didn’t disappoint,” Cockrell said. “We came out and played really well in the first half, led 24-6 only giving up the kickoff return. They got back in it and we got tired a little bit on defense, and offensively struggled a little bit at times. It was just a really good football game and I think it got us prepared for 5A-East conference play.”
Turley finished with 68 yards rushing on 13 carries, including a 10-yard run on fourth down that helped Valley View run out the clock to end the game. He was also 8-of-18 passing for 134 yards, but Cockrell said five or six of the incomplete passes were drops.
With a fourth down at the Rivercrest 48 and the lead down to three points late in the game, the Blazers took their chances with Turley on a run-pass option.
“It was fourth-and-7 with 1:50 on the clock and we put it in his hands. He made a play for us, got a first down and stayed inbounds,” Cockrell said. “He’s just playing so smart and mature right now, being a great leader for us and he gets better every week. He had a really good game and we expect him to continue to improve throughout the season.”
McMullen had 21 yards rushing on four carries in Valley View’s first two games. Cockrell said he put McMullen in the backfield against Rivercrest as part of a personnel group that includes several defensive players.
“It was one of those things where it was working, so we weren’t going to get out of it and it was kind of wearing them down,” Cockrell said. “We knew a lot of their guys played both ways, so we tried to stay in it as much as we could.”
Temperatures earlier this week forced the Blazers to alter their practice schedule. Cockrell said Valley View practiced inside on Tuesday and took the field Wednesday at 6 a.m.
Former Arkansas State assistant coach David Gunn is in his first season as Paragould’s head coach. The Rams opened the season with a 35-0 loss to rival Greene County Tech, then bounced back to beat Piggott 37-0 before losing 38-0 to Hoxie two weeks ago.
Carter Beliew ran for two touchdowns and passed for a score during the Rams’ rout of Piggott. Kaden Calhoun finished with 176 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries for Paragould.
“They’re running the split-back veer. They’re taking their time, trying to take up the clock and do those types of things,” Cockrell said. “They have a big quarterback and they’re big up front, just trying to run right at you and slow the game down a little bit. They’re playing hard. You can see that on film. It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Valley View has a 12-0 all-time record against Paragould, including eight victories since the teams became 5A-East conference foes. The Blazers won last year’s meeting 35-6.
Cockrell said he hasn’t discussed the series history with his team.
“There’s only so much you can tell your kids. I think they understand the importance of this game and we keep talking about just wanting to be 1-0 (in the conference),” he said. “They understand how we’re not just going to go out there and beat anybody. I don’t ever bring up that we’ve never lost to them or anything like that, because year to year it’s different. We just talk about who our opponent is, what we can do against them and how we feel, that we have to get better. Hopefully the kids understand that.”