BROOKLAND — Only five unbeaten teams remain out of 30 in Class 5A football going into Week 5 of the season.
Nettleton is the lone 5A-East member remaining in a club that also includes Little Rock Christian, Vilonia, Greenbrier and Farmington. The Raiders own a 4-0 record as they visit Brookland this evening.
After opening with a rout of Blytheville, Nettleton squeaked past Mountain Home and Pocahontas to conclude non-conference play. The Raiders defeated Batesville 26-7 last Friday to open their 5A-East schedule.
Coach Steven Hampton was looking for a quicker start last week and the Raiders complied by taking a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“I liked the way we started. We came out and started fast, we scored on our opening possession and got some stops early,” Hampton said. “That was good to get the momentum in our favor. I liked the energy we came out with early on.”
While the Raiders were beating the Pioneers for the first time since 2018, the Bearcats (2-2, 0-1) were opening league play with a 38-7 loss to defending 5A-East champion Wynne.
Coach Eric Munoz hopes playing a team the caliber of the Yellowjackets, who reached the 5A state semifinals last season, will benefit Brookland down the road.
“They’ve got a lot of really good football players all over the field. You play teams like that, it makes you better, and that’s the thing you have to take out of it,” Munoz said. “Being the first conference game, one loss doesn’t mean we’re out of anything and hopefully it helps us get better down the stretch.”
Munoz said the Raiders also present challenges, starting with senior quarterback Cameron Scarlett.
Scarlett has completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 474 yards and eight touchdowns, with only two interceptions. He is also Nettleton’s leading rusher with 448 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries.
Running back Koby Bradley has 428 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries. Five different Raiders have caught a touchdown pass, led by senior Kenwarren McShan with three. Jaden Brown has caught 11 passes for 160 yards, while McShan has 10 receptions for 165 yards.
“They’re very athletic and they have a heck of a quarterback. They’re long on defense, they show you multiple defensive looks,” Munoz said. “Their D-line gets after you and they do a lot of stuff on offense, a lot of formation motions. ... We just have to play our game and get prepared for some adjustments in the game.”
Brookland lost back-to-back games against Rivercrest and Wynne after opening with victories over Gosnell and Westside. Munoz said the Bearcats, who have scored 54 points in four games, are learning on the offensive line after losing four of last year’s five starters.
“The name of the game for us up front is to get better every week. We did that last year,” Munoz said. “We struggled some up front last year at the beginning of the season and we kept on getting better and better, and by the end of the season we were probably running the football better than we ever had. That’s the name of the game.”
Running backs Kaden Matthews and Joseph Wright have 254 and 136 yards rushing, respectively. Matthews finished with 69 yards and a touchdown against Wynne on 14 carries.
Quarterback Barrett Cunningham has completed 46.6 percent of his passes for 439 yards and four touchdowns. David York leads the Bearcats with 12 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Sinquan Spratt and Ayden Stinnett have shown big-play ability.
Matthews ran for 188 yards and Wright for 128 when the teams played last season at Raider Field.
“Those guys, stature-wise, they have a low center of gravity and have good balance. They’re capable of breaking big runs at any moment if you don’t make sure you get them on the ground,” Hampton said. “The film that they have, obviously they have the Pocahontas film, and they ran the ball quite a bit against us. I’m sure that’s going to be part of their game plan going into it, to try to run the ball and keep the ball away from us.”
While Nettleton won last year’s inaugural meeting of the teams 41-21, the Bearcats gave the Raiders a scare in the final four minutes.
Nettleton led 34-7 before Matthews and Wright scored on runs of 82 and 47 yards, respectively. The Bearcats recovered two onside kicks in the late surge and were 11 yards from cutting their deficit to single digits, only to see the Raiders hold on downs and punch in one more touchdown.
Munoz anticipates a big crowd and a good atmosphere for football as the teams meet at Brookland’s Jordan’s Stadium for the first time.
Given the proximity of the neighboring schools, Hampton thinks the Raiders and Bearcats should develop a healthy rivalry.
“Just the closeness of the schools lends itself to growing into something more as we play and the years go by, we gain familiarity with one another,” Hampton said. “Last year was kind of strange. It was the first time we’d ever played. But I know the more you play someone, the more the kids get to know one another, and I’m sure it will pick up steam in the next few years.”