Raiders, Warriors collide in 5A quarterfinals

Nettleton’s Blake Brown (20) tackles Hot Springs’ Robert Linnear as teammate Jordan Pigram (90) closes in during last week’s Class 5A state playoff game at Raider Field. The Raiders host Little Rock Christian in the second round Friday.

JONESBORO — Nettleton’s quarterfinal opponent in the Class 5A state football playoffs has become accustomed to success this time of year.

Little Rock Christian is seeking its fourth consecutive appearance in the state championship game. The Warriors defeated Pulaski Academy in the 2018 state final before losing to the rival Bruins in the 2019 and 2020 championship games.

Nettleton coach Steven Hampton said the Warriors, the No. 3 seed from the 5A-Central, are probably the most complete team the Raiders have seen.

“They’re one of the most balanced teams that we have faced, being able to run the ball and throw the ball effectively, so it’s trying to coming up with a plan to slow them down offensively, get them in some negative-yardage plays,” Hampton said. “They’ve got a good running back, good receivers, so it’s a big challenge for us defensively. Offensively, we have to find a way to move the ball against a very, very good defense.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but I think our kids will be ready for it, be up for the challenge, and they’ll come out and play well.”

The 5A-East champion Raiders (11-0) will have the home field advantage again Friday night as they take on the Warriors (9-2). Kickoff at Raider Field is set for 7 p.m. Both teams won in blowout fashion last week. Senior running back Koby Bradley ran for 281 yards and four touchdowns as Nettleton reached 11-0 for the first time in school history by routing Hot Springs 33-14 in the first round.

Bradley and senior quarterback Cameron Scarlett power a Raider offense that averages 278 yards rushing per game. Bradley has 1,401 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season, while Scarlett has 1,227 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.

Scarlett has also completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 1,154 yards and 14 touchdowns, with five interceptions.

“Our running game is always very, very important to us. That’s where everything starts,” Hampton said. “Being able to control the football, run the football effectively and put points on the board, to get down there and capitalize, will be a key. In big ballgames we’ve been able to do that.

“Our offensive line has played well and we really like them. They’re a good group. They’ve got a big challenge this week, they’re facing a tough front, but they’ve faced some good ones throughout the year and they’ve come through. I expect them to play well.”

Little Rock Christian rolled past Vilonia 53-29 on the road last week, led by 202 yards and three touchdowns from senior running back Jayvean Dyer-Jones.

Dyer-Jones has 1,532 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing on the season. Sophomore quarterback Walker White has completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 1,786 yards and 20 touchdowns, with eight interceptions.

Little Rock Christian’s losses came in conference play against White Hall (14-10) and Pulaski Academy (63-14). The Warriors have scored 158 points in their last three games.

Nettleton’s defense has given up just over 12 points per game for the season. Linebacker Blake Brown leads the Raiders with 111 tackles, totals that include 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Defensive lineman Jordan Pigram leads the Raiders with 27 tackles for loss and is second on the team with 66 total tackles. Linemen Javontae Wallace and Kam Phillips have 15 and 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, respectively.

“We’re playing really fast, aggressive. I think when you play with that much energy and effort, you can overcome some mistakes,” Hampton said. “They’re flying to the football, relentless. Guys are improving every week.”

Nettleton is looking to return to the 5A semifinals for the first time since 2017. The Raiders have tied the school record for victories in a season.

Friday’s winner advances to play the Camden Fairview-White Hall winner in the semifinals next week.

Hampton doesn’t expect Little Rock Christian’s playoff experience to be a factor.

“Our kids, they’ve played in some big ballgames this year, some high-intensity games,” Hampton said. “It’s just going to come down to executing, who can execute and make plays the most. We’ve got a good group and we really like our plan. Now we just have to go out and execute.”