Lake Hamilton breezes past Blue Devils in state playoffs

By Billy Woods

WM School District

PEARCY --- A wrap was put on the 2021 West Memphis Blue Devil season and it wasn't perfectly secured with a blue-ribbon bow on top of it.

For the fifth time in 11 games this season the Blue Devils were mercy ruled. This one a 41-6 defeat here on Friday night to Lake Hamilton in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

The season ends at 4-7 for West Memphis with one of those wins a forfeit.

"As far as West Memphis standards...this is not what we're used to here," said a downcast West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "The only thing we can do now is head into the offseason and have a good few months of work in the weight room and get ready for next season."

Lake Hamilton, which advances to the quarterfinals this coming Friday night at El Dorado, didn't waste any time in establishing its superiority over the Blue Devils.

Wolves head coach Tommy Gilleran pulled a huge surprise by replacing senior Grant Bearden, who started each of the previous 10 games, at quarterback with sophomore Easton Hurley.

The power run-based Wolves (9-2) threw more passes than they had in any other game this season, according to Gilleran.

Still, Hurley only threw 9 passes.

But he completed 6 of them for a whopping 217 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 31.6-yard-per-completion average.

":It surprised us," Hooks said of Lake Hamilton's quarterback switch. "The kid (Hurley) came out and he ripped it. They had a good game plan and they executed it well."

Gilleran said injury was not a factor in switching quarterbacks. He indicated Hurley, who had not seen any varsity action before Friday night, simply beat out Bearden in practice.

"I think putting Easton into the game probably messed up (West Memphis') defensive game plan," Gilleran stated.

Lake Hamilton rolled up a 41-6 halftime lead on the strength of three touchdowns each from Justin Crutchmer and Tevin Hughes. Two of Crutchmer's TDs came through the air, one of which was a 39-yard salvo coming on third and 19 in the second quarter.

West Memphis' only highlight all night was a 64-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins to Jarrell Shepherd in the second quarter which temporarily sliced Lake Hamilton's lead to 21-6.

Blue Devils head to Lake Hamilton with sophomore-infused lineup

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It has been a season of mostly ebbs and very few flows for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

A six-game losing streak and losses that included four mercy rules can't be sugar-coated. But here the Blue Devils are in Week 11 of the season, the postseason.

The Blue Devils take their 4-6 record (with one of those wins counted as a forfeit after the fact) on the road to Pearcy Friday night as they face heavily favored Lake Hamilton (8-2) the third-place team from the West.

No matter how this game shakes out, the Blue Devils and head coach Robert Hooks think next year looks brighter. With seven sophomores currently starting for West Memphis that very well may be true.

"The biggest thing is we've got a lot of sophomores that have gotten some valuable experience," said Hooks. "And the other thing is many of them have played a full JV schedule. They got in at least two quarters in every JV game. That right there is going to help propel us. But we have to finish this season strong and then get our guys bigger, faster and stronger."

With the help of a forfeit from the Marion game, which was a 33-3 Patriot victory, the Blue Devils ended up as the number six-seed from the East thanks to two wins over Sheridan and Pine Bluff, two teams who came into the eighth week of the season winless in 6A-East Conference play.

From an offensive standpoint, the Blue Devils have three sophomores who have starred at various times this season. Wide receiver Dylan Greer is the most promising with his sure hands and above-average speed.

Then there's running back Jalen Merritt, who has proven to be elusive in the backfield and a strong pass-catching threat.

In the past few weeks, Hooks has eased in sophomore quarterback Keland Mills into the framework. A left-handed thrower, Mills has been used primarily as a running threat when the Blue Devils reach the opposition's red zone.

"I think we've got a good group that's going to come back," said Hooks. "We'll mostly talk about that after the season. Right now our focus is on the playoffs and Lake Hamilton."

The Wolves will have a huge advantage over the Blue Devils in terms of size and they will mostly rely on their ground game on offense.

"They're one of the best teams we've seen all year, no doubt," Hooks commented. "But we feel like we can be competitive in this game and that we can have a chance to win at the end."

El Dorado breezes past Blue Devils, but playoffs are on the horizon

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils ran into a high-powered, quick-striking offense on Thursday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

El Dorado, still clinging to hopes of claiming the No. 1 playoff seed from the 6A-East Conference before the game, got five touchdown passes from quarterback Sharmon Rester II and four rushing touchdowns from Sedarius Plummer as the visiting Wildcats breezed to a 63-23 win in the regular-season finale.

But the Blue Devils (4-6 overall, 3-4 in the conference) will head to the playoffs as the No. 6 seed from the conference after Marion upset first-place Jonesboro 50-43.

West Memphis will most likely travel to Little Rock next Friday night to face Parkview, which will finish in third place in the West Conference with a win over Mountain Home on Friday, in a first-round game.

El Dorado finishes in a tie for first place in the East with a 6-1 record, but Jonesboro holds the tie-breaker over the Wildcats due to its 31-20 win over the Hurricane earlier this season.

"We're in the playoffs, so we got a chance," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "We wanted to play well tonight and take as much momentum into the playoffs as we could."

For a quarter, the Blue Devils made the Wildcats sweat.

They trailed just 14-13 after the first four minutes and 10 seconds of the contest thanks to two Bryson Jenkins touchdown passes. Jenkins dented the El Dorado man-to-man coverage for much of the night, completing 9 of 18 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns.

"With (El Dorado) playing man coverage we knew coming in that we were going to take some shots downfield," Hooks admitted. "I told the kids we were going to take, minimum, 10 shots at them and we capitalized on some early. But the problem with us tonight was we could not run the football."

Once again the Blue Devils finished well under 100 yards rushing for the night, getting only 20 by halftime.

Down 42-16 at the half, the Blue Devils gave up two quick TDs to El Dorado, but Jenkins threw his third touchdown pass of the night to sophomore Dylan Greer to make it 49-23.

El Dorado put the outcome to bed with two more Rester touchdown passes.

"Anytime you play a good team like (El Dorado) you can not make mistakes," Hooks added. "We made some mistakes on defense and they made us pay for them. It's just a matter of us growing up. We actually saw some great things from our young guys."

Blue Devils set to host El Dorado in regular-season finale

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The pressure is off the West Memphis Blue Devils for their final regular-season game.

One game.

One day.

Two wins.

That was their haul from last Friday night when the Blue Devils learned the Arkansas Activities Association handed down judgement on the Marion football program for playing an ineligible player in its Sept. 24 game against West Memphis.

The result was a forfeiture of Marion's 30-3 win.

Hours later, the Blue Devils hung on to defeat Pine Bluff 36-28 to secure a state playoff berth.

So, head coach Robert Hooks' club has clinched at least the No. 5 seeding from the 6A-East Conference for the state playoffs.

"We feel good about being in the playoffs, but we still have one game left and if we can get this one we can get the No. 4 seed and get a home game for the playoffs," said Hooks.

The Blue Devils (4-5 overall, 3-3 in the conference) face El Dorado (7-2, 5-1) on Thursday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Senior Night recognition will begin at 6:30 p.m.

A win over El Dorado will take some doing. The Wildcats need a win over West Memphis and a Marion win over Jonesboro to give El Dorado a tie for the 6A-East championship.

Jonesboro, however, has the tie-breaker over El Dorado by virtue of its 31-20 win over the Wildcats earlier this season.

But even a state playoff berth appeared unlikely for the Blue Devils, who started out 0-4 in league play, but since then they have won two straight, including a 21-20 win at home over Sheridan.

Hooks got some mileage the last two weeks from some platooning at quarterback. Senior Bryson Jenkins, the incumbent starter who has held down that position with some solid play, has shared some time with sophomore Keland Mills, who has taken a few snaps when the Blue Devil offense is near the red zone.

Mills adds athleticism and a strong left-handed throwing arm. Mills threw for a 32-yard touchdown against Pine Bluff.

"He's been coming on," Hooks said of Mills. "The JV games have helped his development and he's a hard worker. He's a big body, that can run and throw the ball."

Hooks said El Dorado is one of the more complete teams on the Blue Devil schedule.

"Their offense is the most complete we'll ever see," Hooks said. "Similar to Jonesboro's, but their quarterback is more mobile and their receivers are blazers."

One forfeit, one victory on the field clinch playoffs for Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

PINE BLUFF --- It's not often in football you win two games in one day, but that's what happened to the West Memphis Blue Devils here Friday night.

Before they even pulled into the parking lot at Jordan Stadium, news came from the Arkansas Activities Association that Marion played an ineligible player against the Blue Devils on Sept. 24 in the 33-3 Patriot victory.

The AAA ruled the Patriots must forfeit the victory to the Blue Devils.

Then just a few hours later, the Blue Devils clinched a Class 6A state playoff berth with a 36-28 victory over Pine Bluff.

One game, two victories.

It was almost too much for West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks to address in his postgame interview.

"When we got the news about the Marion forfeit, the one thing I made sure of is we did not lose our focus on the game we were about to play," said Hooks. "Getting into the playoffs is important...just getting in. You get in, you never know what might happen."

With the win over Pine Bluff, the Blue Devils (4-5 overall, 3-3 in the 6A-East Conference) clinch the No. 5 seed from the conference and will travel to play the No. 4 seed from the West on Nov. 12 in a first-round playoff game.

Against Pine Bluff, the Blue Devils put up their biggest offensive numbers of the season in terms of points and passing yards. Senior starting quarterback Bryson Jenkins completed 14 of 23 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and his back-up, sophomore Keland Mills fired a 32-yard touchdown pass in the first half, giving the team 256 yards in the air.

"Both our quarterbacks had good games," said Hooks. "Keland is starting to grow up. He's played in six JV games and two varsity games, so realistically he's not a sophomore any more."

For the second week in a row, the Blue Devil defense made a valiant stand near the goal line to deny a winning score. Twice, they did it against the Zebras, the second one coming on the final play of the game.

Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game into overtime, the Zebras were on the Blue Devil 7 with 2.9 seconds remaining.

Pine Bluff quarterback William Howell, who threw for 174 yards, threw incomplete to Austyn Dendy in the end zone as time expired.

"Second week in a row the defense came up big for us," Hooks added.

A Jenkins TD strike and a scoop and score on defense by Malcolm Perry gave the Blue Devils a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and the visitors went into the locker room with a 19-8 lead and three scoring passes in the first half.

Jenkins' seconed touchdown pass of the game, with 7:21 to play in the third quarter gave the Blue Devils a 26-8 lead that seemed safe enough.

It was not.

Two West Memphis turnovers later, Pine Bluff had trimmed the lead to 26-22.

Placekicker Luke Smith performed under pressure and connected on a 22-yard field goal with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter to make it 29-22.

Pine Bluff actually had a chance to take its only lead of the night after Charleston Collins scored a 1-yard touchdown with 2:09 left to cut his team's deficit to 29-28.

Without a competent placekicker, the Zebras were forced to go for two points after every touchdown, two of which they converted on the night. But on this attempt, X'zaevion Barnett was denied the line of scrimmage to keep it at 29-28.

All that was left for West Memphis was to hold onto the ball, something that has been an issue for the Blue Devils in the last few weeks.

After Pine Bluff burned its next-to-last timeout with inside a minute remaining and the Blue Devils facing third and 9 from their own 36, Hooks called for a jet sweep for sophomore Dylan Greer out of the timeout.

"Pine Bluff had been loading up inside, and blitzing inside," Hooks explained. "I thought we needed to attack them outside. We had tried it only once before and it was unsuccessful. They actually out-numbered us on the jet call."

Greer somehow managed to turn the corner and then break two tackles just beyond the line of scrimmage to break into the clear.

After gaining more than enough for the first down and then letting the clock run out, the wide-open spaces were just too tempting to Greer, who took it all the way for a 64-yard touchdown.

"Situational stuff...we have got to coach our guys up enough to let them know when to take it to the ground in a spot like that," Hooks said with a smile. "Sometimes it's not necessarily good to score a touchdown. (Greer) falls, ballgame."

Thus, the elasticity of the Blue Devil defense was tested on Pine Bluff's final offensive gasp.

"Through it all, I'm just so proud of our players and coaches," Hooks said. "All the praise and glory goes to God."

West Memphis ends the regular season this coming Thursday at home against El Dorado on Senior Night.

Blue Devil win over Pine Bluff would secure state playoff bid

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils will go for a postseason bid on Friday night.

As unlikely as those words seemed a few weeks ago it is, nevertheless, true as the team travels to Pine Bluff to take on the hapless Zebras.

Three 6A-East Conference teams entered week eight with zero wins in conference play and two of them just happened to be playing against each other last Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Head coach Robert Hooks' Blue Devils came away with not one of the prettiest wins ever, but it was indeed one in the left-hand column as they rallied for a 21-20 win over Sheridan.

Meanwhile, Pine Bluff kept up its losing ways at Marion, thus the Zebras and Blue Devils will play for a berth as the East's sixth seed in the state playoffs.

Working off a win has provided his team with an emotional boost in practice this week, according to Hooks.

"Just to see our guys excited about a win, that was nice," he stated. "You always want that expectation to win, but when you go six weeks without winning a ball game like we did it takes a toll on you mentally and physically. We've also seen that extra step in practice this week."

Hooks admits that Pine Bluff (1-6 overall, 0-5 in the 6A-East) "mirrors us."

The Zebras, back to back state title winners as recently as 2014 and 2015, have fallen on hard times. Their only win this year came against Watson Chapel in the regular-season opener.

They've given up 40 or more points four times and have given up 61 and 70 points to Searcy and El Dorado respectively.

Yet, Hooks says the Zebras, who start nine sophomores, aren't lacking in talent.

"Overall, they can do some good things," he commented. "They are explosive at wide receiver, their D-line is pretty good and of course they can fly to the ball."

The Blue Devils (2-6, 1-4) will need to eliminate the turnovers this week in order to have a chance at the Zebras. They coughed it up four times against Sheridan, including three in the first half.

They cannot continue to do that and expect to win a second time.

"We're banking on us going in and executing the game plan and doing what we have to do," said Hooks. "Ball security is always a priority in our practices. Every time we condition, we do it with a ball in our hands. Last week I thought it was just a lack of focus and nerves."

The scouting report on Pine Bluff indicates the Zebras start with a burst of energy during games, but then fade as the game lengthens. That held true last week at Marion when the Zebras scored on their first three possessions, but then let Marion back into it.

Late defensive stand lands Blue Devils a win over Sheridan

By Billy Woods

WM School District

In desperate need of a positive omen in the midst of a six-game losing streak, perhaps the West Memphis Blue Devils got the clue they needed in the first half of Friday night's game at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

They had just played one of their worst halves of football on offense, turning it over three times, yet the Blue Devils trailed Sheridan just 12-7 at intermission.

The second half begged to be better.

It was.

The Blue Devils, adorned in their seldom-used all-gray unis, fought off a final Sheridan drive, knocking down a pass in the end zone in the waning seconds for a 21-20 victory.

"We felt good about our chances at halftime, but little stuff like (turnovers) is what gets you beat," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "We're not good enough to turn the ball over like that and expect to win many ball games."

The victory kept West Memphis' state playoff hopes alive. A win next week at Pine Bluff would most likely clinch a berth.

On the eighth week of the regular season and three teams in the 6A-East Conference still without a win, the Blue Devils viewed Friday night as their best opportunity to break through with a win.

In a first half that definitely did not qualify as a "how-to" video on football fundamentals, the Blue Devils (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the conference) came away relatively unscathed after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble.

Sheridan (2-6, 0-5) cashed in on just two of the four West Memphis miscues.

"We made it a whole lot closer than it should have been because of the way we turned the ball over," said Hooks. "And our defense gave up a couple of big plays."

Sheridan bolted to a 12-0 lead on a pair of first-half touchdowns, and the two missed extra points wound up being the difference in the game.

But, the Blue Devils dented the scoreboard with just 20 seconds left in the first half on a 1-yard touchdown by Mardarius Warren, who proved to be the hero in the second half.

West Memphis rushed for just 64 yards in the first half, but got more than that on one carry in the second half from Warren.

After suffering their fourth turnover of the game when sophomore Dylan Greer mugged a Sheridan punt in the third quarter, the Blue Devils got the ball back and handed the ball to Warren on first down from the West Memphis 27.

He went all the way for a 73-yard touchdown to give the hosts just their second lead in a game since the regular-season opener at Southwest Little Rock.

"We've been saying all year Mardarius is a difference-maker," Hooks commented. "He made the big play tonight."

Although the play wasn't the difference-maker in terms of the final outcome,it gave the Blue Devils the momentum they needed to carry on in the second half.

Just three minutes later, Sheridan quarterback C.J. Dollarhide scored a 14-yard touchdown to give the lead back to the Yellowjackets at 20-14 following a two-point conversion.

The biggest play of the game actually came after another change of possessions in the fourth quarter.

West Memphis senior Daniel Kelly, who gained more playing time on the defensive line against Sheridan than he's seen all season, pounced on a fumble by Dollarhide at the Sheridan 12.

Working with the short field, the Blue Devils didn't disappoint.

On the first play, Warren scored his third TD of the game to tie the game 20-20.

Placekicker Luke Smith provided the winning point when he drilled the PAT.

It still took a spirited Blue Devil defensive stand to make the lead hold up.

Dollarhide and the Yellowjackets drove to the Blue Devil 11, where they faced second and five with inside a minute to play.

By that time, however, the short-yardage Sheridan offense was out of options and had to dial up some trickery on fourth down from the 11.

An end-around pass from Levi Flora to David Myers in the end zone was broken up and the Blue Devils went celebration-mode.

"I'm just proud of our defense for standing up," said Hooks, with a smile. "That's big time."

With playoff hopes still alive, Blue Devils host Sheridan

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The first seven weeks have brought mostly frustration and disappointment to the West Memphis Blue Devils.

But as is often the case in sports, redemption could be right around the corner.

Welcome to Hamilton-Shultz Field, Sheridan.

There are three 0-4 teams in the 6A-East and two of them play at Hamilton-Shultz on Friday at 7 p.m. The other winless team in the conference is Pine Bluff, which plays at Marion.

West Memphis (1-6 overall, 0-4 in the conference) will need two wins in its final three games in order to qualify as one of the six playoff teams from the East.

The next two weeks will define the season for the Blue Devils.

But first, Sheridan, and only Sheridan, according to West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks.

"First off, we gotta take care of business this week," said Hooks. "If we can win Friday night then we put ourselves in position to be in the playoffs."

For a team that has held exactly one lead for just over three minutes in the last six weeks, the current opportunity is beyond generous.

The Blue Devils are fresh off a 40-0 thrashing at Jonesboro last week. And still, memories of last year's 27-21 overtime loss at Sheridan linger.

"None of us has forgotten that game a year ago," said Hooks.

And for good reason.

First off, the Blue Devils were short two coaches due to Covid quarantines. Hooks and defensive coordinator Butch Gray were forced to sit out the Sheridan game, and the head coach said it was frustrating watching the live stream and having only limited contact with his coaches and none with his players.

"We were on the phone watching it online together," Hooks stated. "It was miserable watching it, and Coach (Grafton) Moore said it was even worse watching it in person.

"Anytime you lose one you know you should have won it always hurts and you want to get it back. We're here now, and this is our opportunity."

The whole evening was encapsulated by Sheridan's Payton Edwards, who rushed for 383 yards and four touchdowns.

Sheridan (2-5, 0-4) has wins over Jacksonville (42-6) and Hot Springs Lakeside (24-7). The Yellowjackets' closest conference encounter this season was a 28-6 loss to Sylvan Hills.

"They're a gutsy group and they're going to play hard until the final whistle," Hooks said of Sheridan. "They're going to be where they're supposed to be and they have a very physical style of running game on offense."

Ill wind blows through stadium, Hurricane rocks Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

JONESBORO --- It was another disappointing night for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

There was little, if anything, that went right for them as they lost for the sixth straight time this season, 40-0 to Jonesboro at Cooksey-Johns Field.

The Blue Devils (1-6 overall, 0-4 in the 6A-East Conference) put a hard lick on Jonesboro's top running back, Brock McCoy, on the game's first play. It knocked him out of the remainder of the contest.

In keeping with the way this season has unfolded for the Blue Devils, all Hurricane head coach Randy Coleman, who now has beaten West Memphis twice in a row after losing four straight to the Blue Devils, had to do was send in the next man up.

In this case it was Markevious Pickett, a sophomore who has had little varsity playing time this season.

Pickett was unstoppable.

He gained 113 first-half yards on his way to a 142-yard rushing night.

If Pickett wasn't chewing up yards past the West Memphis interior defense, Jonesboro quarterback Ryka Acebo was terrorizing the Blue Devil secondary.

Acebo threw for a career-high 5 touchdown passes, all in the first half to lead the Hurricane to a 33-0 lead at halftime. Acebo connected on 10 of 13 passes for the game for 222 yards.

"Very disappointing loss," said a downcast West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "No excuses for it."

The Hurricane (5-2, 4-0) wasted no time in establishing its supremacy.

Minutes after a cold front moved into Cooksey-Johns Field, the home team took the opening kickoff, moving into the teeth of a 30-MPH wind.

It resulted in an 11-play, 60-yard drive that saw Pickett enter the game, gaining 19 yards until Acebo hit Kavon Pointer for a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the Hurricane ahead 7-0.

"What's crazy is this is the first significant action Markevious has seen in a varsity game this year," said Jonesboro head coach Randy Coleman. "He's been playing really well in the JV games, and the plan tonight was to get him in there and rotate him with Brock. But Brock got injured on the first play."

Down 27-0 late in the second quarter, the only highlight for West Memphis came when its offense took possession at its own 23.

On the seventh play of the drive, quarterback Bryson Jenkins, who threw for 95 yards on the night, hit an all-alone Tamerius Bell near the West Memphis sideline. He advanced all the way to the Jonesboro 4 before he was caught from behind.

However, a delay of game call and a five-yard loss on the first play pushed the Blue Devils back and killed the momentum.

And the drive.

On fourth and goal from the 14, Jalen Merritt was dragged down for a one-yard gain.

On Jonesboro's first play following the change of possession, Acebo hit Tyrin Ruffin in the flat and he outran the Blue Devils down the sideline for an 87-yard touchdown pass, which deflated an already deflated West Memphis team.

"If our offense doesn't put our defense in a bind, I think we're in a better position," said Hooks. "We couldn't get anything going early and the defense feeds off of that. It was disastrous."

The Blue Devils host Sheridan this coming Friday night.

Blue Devils show life, but special teams play costly in 35-21 loss

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It was another loss for the West Memphis football team, but for the first time since Zero Week, the Blue Devil offense showed a pulse.

West Memphis held its first lead in a game since beating Southwest Little Rock in the season opener when the Blue Devils led Sylvan Hills 21-14 in the third quarter, but the Bears, semifinalists last year in the state playoffs, took advantage of two special teams gaffes by West Memphis in the second half to pull away for a 35-21 victory on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Losers now of five straight, the Blue Devils pieced together their two longest touchdown drives since that opener with a 66-yard score in the first half and a 74-yard drive in the third quarter.

They also had their first play from scrimmage go for 20 or more yards on the ground since that game and quarterback Bryson Jenkins hooked up with Jarrell Shepherd for a 74-yard touchdown pass, marking the offense's longest pass play of the season.

After falling short of the 100-yard mark in rushing for four straight games, the Blue Devils rushed for 95 yards in the first half, 85 of it coming from A.J. Motley, but still finished with a meager 149 for the game.

"Saw progress tonight," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "I thought we practiced well all week and had good intensity. It all came down to those mistakes on special teams. They can make you or break you."

After playing Sylvan Hills (5-1 overall, 3-0 in the 6A-East Conference) to a 7-7 stand-off in the first half, the Blue Devils gave up a 100-yard kickoff return by Jahaun Smith, whom referees ruled that his feet were in front of the goal line when he caught the kick.

Blue Devil coaches protested vehemently, but to no avail.

Then the biggest play of the game came in the fourth quarter when Sylvan Hills' Titus Stout blocked a Luke Smith punt and Tyler Pearson scooped and scored from 32 yards out for a touchdown that gave the visitors enough cushion to hold off a West Memphis rally.

"That was the difference in the ball game," Hooks added. "That's why we have to stay locked in at practice and locked in on the sideline."

It looked like a Sylvan Hills route in the early going. On their opening drive the Bears drove 51 yards in just four plays with Dylan Harris running uncontested through the Blue Devil defense all the way, the last run of which was a 4-yard touchdown.

Then on their second possession, the Bears were poised to cross the goal line again before fullback Orrin Boswick fumbled and the Blue Devils (1-5, 0-3) recovered.

That play was an injection of momentum the Blue Devils needed.

Their 66-yard drive was easily their best of the season to that point as Motley, who was inserted into the backfield at Searcy one week prior, capped it with a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devil defense tightened considerably. The run-dominant Sylvan Hills offense, under the direction of head coach Chris Hill, who returned to the high school ranks last year after a brief run in college at Harding University, was limited to just 55 yards on the ground in the first half.

Which brought a tongue-lashing from Hill at halftime.

"It wasn't pretty in the dressing room at halftime," Hill said with a smirk. "I told the coaches before we went in that I hoped I wouldn't make myself look like an idiot. I about passed out."

He was evidently revived, however, when Jahaun Smith returned the second-half kickoff for the touchdown that would snap the 7-7 tie.

That led to the best 12 minutes of football that West Memphis has played all season.

It answered Sylvan Hills' shot to the mouth with a 74-yard touchdown drive engineered by Jenkins, who went 5 of 17 passing on the night for 146 yards. Jenkins lofted a powerful deep throw to a streaking Shepherd, who beat his defender, for a 74-yard touchdown pass to stun the Sylvan Hills sideline.

The hosts went ahead for the first time in over a month when Malcolm Perry's 2-yard touchdown capped a 74-yard drive.

Motley bolstered a Blue Devil ground game that had been missing all season. He ran for nearly 50 yards in just less than a half of football the previous week at Searcy.

"No doubt about it, A.J. gave us a big lift on offense tonight," said Hooks. "If we can keep improving there and put together a good passing attack we'll be all right. We dropped a lot of good passes tonight. Gotta be able to catch the football."

special teams play costly in 35-21 loss

Big plays dot Searcy's 44-7 victory over Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

SEARCY --- The offensive woes continued for the West Memphis Blue Devils, but new problems cropped up on defense here Friday night.

The Blue Devil defense, which has been a strength for the team through the first half of the season, allowed 460 yards of offense to just two Searcy players, and it added up to a 44-7 loss to the Lions.

Junior D.D. Johnson and senior Ckyler Tengler chopped up the West Memphis defense with Johnson rushing for 269 yards and two touchdowns and although starting quarterback Tengler completed only 7 passes, he made the most of them with three going for touchdowns and good for 177 yards through the air and another 20-plus on the ground.

"Another disappointing loss," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks, whose squad drops to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the 6A-East Conference. "At some point, we've got to execute and finish. What we want is right there, we just have to execute."

Offensively, the Blue Devils did not suffer a turnover for the first time this year, and also for the first time they pieced together some semblance of a ground game.

West Memphis rushed for 79 yards in the first half, a modest total by all accounts, but it represents the best total for a first half all year. Plus, the team got an encouraging performance from senior A.J. Motley, who rushed for 47 yards in the second half.

"I thought A.J. came in and sparked us," Hooks added. "I think we found something with him. We've just got to find different ways to use him. He can cause some problems for the opposition."

Searcy (3-2, 2-0) scored on five of its first six possessions and took a 17-0 first-half lead until the first of its two offensive mistakes of the night. Working out of the shotgun at his own 20, Tengler saw a snap soar over his head and West Memphis' Scotty Dobbins recovered at the Lions' 3.

On the first play, Motley bulled his way into the end zone and after Luke Smith's PAT, the Blue Devils cut the Searcy lead to 17-7.

But it only took 32 seconds for the hosts to answer back with Johnson, who had 193 yards in the first half, going 15 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-7.

Then Tengler connected for his second touchdown pass of the game to give Searcy a 31-7 lead at halftime.

The Blue Devils got a creditable effort from senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins, who played error-free and completed 9 of 13 passes for 78 yards.

Still, the Blue Devils have to find a way to be competitive now that they've reached the halfway point of the season.

"Our defense gave up some big plays tonight, but we knew (Searcy) was good up front at tackle," said Hooks. "They have two good running backs and one good receiver. We wanted to limit the big play, but we gave up too many of them tonight."

The Blue Devils return home next Friday night for homecoming against Sylvan Hills.

Blue Devils hope to bounce back tonight at Searcy

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Five days later it still stung.

The West Memphis Blue Devils are licking their wounds from the 33-3 loss a week ago to Marion in a game that was more than just a loss on the regular-season schedule. It came at the hands of their Crittenden County rival, marking the first time in 19 tries that the Patriots had defeated the Blue Devils.

Now comes the challenge for West Memphis (1-3 overall, 0-1 6A-East Conference).

Can the Blue Devils put the Marion loss in the rearview mirror as they play their first road game of the 6A-East Conference schedule this Friday night at Searcy?

"The biggest thing for us right now is not letting Marion beat us two weeks in a row," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "It hurts. No doubt it hurt us, but our morale in practice this week has been good."

For all the success Searcy (2-2, 1-0) had in 2019 when it won its first state championship since 1933, the Lions have fallen on hard times since then.

A 4-7 campaign in 2020 prompted a new head coaching hire in Zak Clark, the former Arkansas Razorback quarterback and baseball player. Clark's father is well known as the long-time hitting coach for the Razorback baseball team in head coach Norm DeBriyn's run at the helm.

Clark, in his sixth year as a head coach, owns a 23-40 record.

The Lions got their conference slate off on the right foot last week with a 41-13 victory over Sheridan.

"They like to spread it and they make plays on offense," Hooks said of Searcy. "They have two or three guys that can make plays and we will have to know where those guys are at all times."

Still searching for any semblance of a ground attack on offense, Hooks said his team is being patient with an experienced offensive line that has gone to the school of hard knocks this season.

"It may be hard for the fans to see it, but our linemen are getting a little better," said Hooks. "We just have to trust the process. In the beginning I said it would take four or five weeks for our offensive line to develop."

Marion finally finds a way to beat West Memphis

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The Marion Patriots finally know how the old Brooklyn Dodgers felt in 1955.

Dem Bums had the old phrase "Wait til next year" tagged on them when they annually lost to the powerful New York Yankees in the World Series until it finally happened for them in '55.

Next year happened for Marion on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field as the West Memphis Blue Devils finally lost a football game to their Crittenden County rivals, 33-3.

The Blue Devils won consecutive games over Marion back in the old days (1978-80) and then had won every year over the Patriots from 2006-20.

Marion (2-2 overall, 1-0 in the 6A-East Conference) left no doubt in game No. 19 between the two teams.

From the moment the Patriots sacked Blue Devil quarterback Bryson Jenkins in the end zone for a safety at the 5:42 mark of the first quarter, the visitors dominated.

The offensive problems continued for the Blue Devils (1-3, 0-1). They have not scored a touchdown in the last eight quarters and for the fourth time this year they were held under 200 total yards for a game.

West Memphis rushed for just 37 yards and threw for 70 yards for a total of 107 for the contest.

The loss did not sit well with Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks after the game.

"Embarrassed," said Hooks. "Evidently I didn't have us prepared for this game. To lose this game in the way that we did and have it being a huge rivalry's embarrassing."

In order to get the West Memphis offense percolating, Hooks threw some different looks at Marion. Jenkins took the vast majority of the snaps, but once it became apparent that the offense was stalling again, he put Brandon Peters in for direct snaps along with newcomer A.J. Motley.

Neither look moved the needle.

Meanwhile, the Patriots got three touchdown passes from quarterback Benjamin Gerrard and took a 23-3 lead into halftime. West Memphis' only score of the night came on a 24-yard field goal from placekicker Luke Smith just before halftime.

The Blue Devils had one play go for as many as 20 yards, coming on a 24-yard pass completion to Jarrell Shephard in the third quarter.

While not exactly lighting up the Blue Devil defense, Marion did, however, manage 201 total yards in the first half. The Patriots had just 97 yards total in the second half.

"I take full responsibility for this loss, and the way we lost," said Hooks.

The Blue Devils take to the road next Friday night at Searcy.

Blue Devils ready to square off against rival Marion

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's a game that pulls Crittenden County together, no matter the records of the teams.

When the West Memphis Blue Devils play host to the Marion Patriots Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field, the records won't be glistening. At 1-2 each, the county neighbors don't appear to be state championship contenders.

But has that ever mattered when fan participation and excitement is concerned?

The Patriots are still waiting for that day when they defeat the Blue Devils.

Will it be this year?

From all appearances, they think so.

It could have, and could have, happened sooner.

There have been five games between the two teams that were decided by less than 10 points, most recently a 41-40 West Memphis victory in 2019.

"It's always a huge game for the communities," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "It's for bragging rights. For Marion to have never won a game in this series, it's still a huge game. It's the biggest game for both teams because it's the next game and it's the biggest game also because it's the first conference game for both teams."

The Blue Devils are 18-0 all-time versus Marion, and they have won the last 15 in consecutive fashion, covering the years 2006-present.

Marion comes in after a week off and many of its troops and staff were present last week to scout the Blue Devils' 41-0 loss at home to North Little Rock.

The Pats bring in new head coach Lance Clark, who takes over for Keith Houston, who left Marion last spring to take a coordinator position with a high school in his native Texas. Clark was the defensive coordinator for Little Rock Christian Academy from 2018-2020.

"There's not going to be much difference in their offense from last year to this year," Hooks said of Marion. "They do, however, have two or three different power formations they can get in. Similar, but with a little more power running.

"They love to go for it on fourth down. Fourth and short, fourth and long they go for it. If the ball's past midfield they would rather go for it."

Hooks is still waiting for his offensive line to mature because the Blue Devils have not been successful running the ball thus far in 2021. Last week, West Memphis rushed for a paltry 25 yards against North Little Rock.

"Gotta be able to run the football if you want any kind of success," said Hooks. "Our offensive linemen have been coming in early in the morning and we've been going over some assignments with them."

Blue Devils fall to NLR 41-0 despite strong first half

By Billy Woods

WM School District

For the first 24 minutes, the West Memphis Blue Devils were competitive against one of the top five teams in the state.

The defense was stubborn, and forced two turnovers.

The offense stayed away from turnovers.

The locker room at halftime was surging with energy and focus.

Although the Blue Devils lost 41-0 to North Little Rock on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field, they showed life.

In his post-game presser, head coach Robert Hooks focused more on his team's mistakes than the positives.

He's a tough evaluator, but he has to be when he's trying to rebuild a program that has been one of the top in the state for the last 43 years.

"I mean happy?," Hooks asked rhetorically. "OK, we're happy with the first half, but you know the second just can't appreciate it. It's like we didn't do anything. If you're going to take a whooping I expect us to finish everything full speed. I don't think we finished the way we should have."

The Blue Devil defense frustrated North Little Rock (3-0) in the first half. The Charging Wildcats, as expected, took the opening kickoff and after a 30-yard kick return, marched the rest of the 50 yards in just four plays to take a 7-0 lead.

Only minutes later, they were up 14-0 after a 56-yard punt return.

But from there, North Little Rock couldn't do much with the West Memphis defenders.

North Little Rock quarterback Malachi Gober, after completing his first three passes for 56 yards, was only 3 for his next 13 with two interceptions.

Gober was outplayed in the first half by West Memphis senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins, who completed 6 of his first 7 passes for 67 yards.

However, the Blue Devils (1-2) could not establish any running game for the second straight week. West Memphis could only rush for 25 yards on the night against North Little Rock.

"A lot of mental errors up front," said Hooks. "Our quarterback took shots that he shouldn't have."

On the other hand, the Blue Devil defense gave up just 71 yards on the ground in the first half.

"Defense played lights out," said Hooks. "(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Butch) Gray had a great game plan for them and he called everything (North Little Rock) was going to do. We created two turnovers. Anytime you can do that, you should not only be in the game, you should be ahead."

North Little Rock turned it on in the second half with four touchdowns. Gober threw for two of his three TDs in the second half.

"As coaches, we gotta look in the mirror," Hooks added. "We didn't make adjustments that we needed to make in the second half."

The Blue Devils prepare this coming week for the Marion Patriots, whom they have beaten 18 times without a loss.

Blue Devils prepare to take on high-powered North Little Rock

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils will face the toughest opponent on their schedule Friday night when North Little Rock invades Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Coming off a bye week after a 35-13 loss at Wynne which evened their record at 1-1, the Blue Devils spent a lot of last week polishing up fundamentals and also preparing for the high-powered Charging Wildcats, who are 2-0, ranked No. 4 in the state in the Arkansas Sports Media Poll and who have two wins over traditional Class 7A powers (Springdale Har-Ber and Fayetteville) already this season.

"We worked a lot on physicality," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "We want to be more physical. We felt like we were really soft at the point of attack playing against the two option offenses we've seen so far."

The Blue Devils come into the game somewhat handicapped.

Hooks said five of his players tested positive for Covid and will be out of action for a while. One was a starter and he said "two or three others" would have seen action against North Little Rock.

Hooks said North Little Rock's strength is on defense. The Charging 'Cats limited a normally high-powered Fayetteville offense to just one touchdown in a 14-7 victory over the Purple Dogs last week.

"Their front seven is really, really good," he stated. "They have a noseguard that is 6-foot, 310 pounds and has a motor like no other. He's a difference-maker and big-time disruptive."

After seeing the option two weeks in a row, the Blue Devil defense will have to shift gears to defend a strong spread offense this Friday night.

"(North Little Rock) has three very good receivers and their quarterback has really good feet," said Hooks.

GAME NOTES: The coin flip Friday night will take place on the south end zone on the 13-yard line in remembrance and honor of the 13 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the recent upheaval in Afghanistan...also, the Double Devil Feast will be held before Friday night's game from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the AWM cafeteria. The menu will call for a $10 smoked turkey leg and/or a $15 stuffed turkey leg with mac and cheese.

Wynne flexbone rolls in 35-13 victory over Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

WYNNE --- West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks was right about one thing.

Earlier in the week, Hooks pointed out that Wynne would run the flexbone offense with much more efficiency than did Southwest Little Rock, whom the Blue Devils defeated by three touchdowns in Week Zero.

Wynne piled up 316 yards rushing, and more telling was the Yellowjackets' first-team offense had just five possessions all night and scored on four of them en route to a 35-13 win on Friday night at Yellowjacket Field.

"We killed ourselves by not being disciplined and not tackling," said Hooks. "Tackling was a huge issue tonight. Gotta go back to the drawing board."

Wynne (1-1) took the opening kickoff and ate up seven minutes and 31 seconds of the clock, hitting the end zone with Carl Washington, who had three touchdowns on the evening for a 7-0 Yellowjacket lead.

But the biggest play early in the game came when the Blue Devils (1-1) finally touched the ball on offense. After showing some improved efficiency with the intermediate passing game, quarterback Bryson Jenkins had his pass deflected on second and 16 from the Wynne 43.

Wynne linebacker Tre Holmes got the easy pick and galloped 41 yards into the end zone for a 14-0 Jacket lead in the first quarter.

"We didn't do what we were coached to do," said Hooks. "The linebacker made a good play. That right there stole the early momentum."

After another Washington TD the Blue Devils finally got some sustained offense, going an impressive 84 yards in nine plays as Brandon Peters scored a 1-yard touchdown to stem the Wynne tide and make it 21-6 at halftime.

And with the Blue Devils receiving the second-half kick it seemed all the more important.

However, Wynne stopped West Memphis on that opening second-half drive and quickly turned it into another touchdown of its own as sophomore Kobey Davis, who rushed for 90 yards on the night, scored a 1-yard TD, killing all hopes of a Blue Devil comeback.

West Memphis' other touchdown on the night came on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Jenkins, who was 12-for-20 for 197 yards, to Jarrell Shephard with 3:16 left in the game.

The Blue Devils will use this coming off week to prepare for their home opener on Sept. 17 against North Little Rock.

Blue Devils shoot to make it two in a row at Wynne

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils have a chance Friday night to equal their win total from a year ago, and there are some factors that look favorable.

West Memphis, which used a solid second half to upend Southwest Little Rock 20-0 last week, will travel to Wynne on Friday night looking for their second win. The Yellow Jackets, which went 11-1 a year ago, lost a ton of starters from 2020 and they fell 24-21 last week on a late field goal by Marion's Dylan Pieri.

Also, the Blue Devil defense will have some carryover defending an option offense, which is a staple under Wynne head coach Van Paschal.

"We defended the option very well last week at Southwest Little Rock, but they are still adjusting to running it for the first time," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "We are going to be facing a Wynne team who has been doing it for years. They'll be a little more efficient at it. It'll be important for our guys to be disciplined and do their job."

Offensively last week, the Blue Devils compiled just 9 yards of offense through the first 24 minutes, but put up a respectable 129 yards on the ground in the second half to go along with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Jenkins to Quad Brown.

"We got off to a real slow start last week, and had the plays there, but we just missed a step here and a block there," said Hooks. "We had what we wanted in the passing game. We just didn't execute up front early in the game. We went to Plan B and that's to run the football. I liked the way we ran it in the second half."

Defensively, Wynne relies on its speed.

"What they do exceptionally well is run to the football," Hooks added. "They fly to the football."

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Tickets for West Memphis Sports Hall of Fame on sale now

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Tickets for the West Memphis Sports Hall of Fame ceremony on September 23 at 7 p.m. at the Academies of West Memphis cafeteria are now on sale.

Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at the West Memphis School District's administrative office on South Avalon. Tables for 8 can be purchased for $200. Tables for 6 can be purchased for $150.

The 2020 Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet were scratched due to the Covid pandemic.

The sixth class of inductees this year will include Lady Devils basketball head coach Shelia Burns, former boys all-time great point guard Mark Mangum, multi-sport star Tyrone Bullins, golf great Jordan Payne and football and track star William Franklin.

Burns served as Lady Devils head coach for 24 years and is the school's all-time leader in wins. Her teams won 10 conference championships and her 2002-03 team won the state title.

Burns had two other teams reach the state title game.

She came to West Memphis in 1994-95 to serve as an assistant coach to Bobby Ashley. She was named head coach the next year.

Mangum starred on two straight Blue Devil basketball state championships under head coach Larry Bray. He broke Stanley Andrews' single-season assist record in 2003-04 and held the record until Cavin Paige broke the mark in the 2018-19 season.

After helping the Blue Devils to state championships in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, Mangum went on to win national championships at two colleges, first at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and then a Division II national title.

Bullins was a two-time all-state football player for the Blue Devils in 1987 and '88 and he was an all-state selection in basketball his senior season. He also starred for head coach Joe Nooner's track and field squad.

A two-way star in football, he was named to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's All-Decade team of the 1980s as a defensive player.

Payne was a multi-time all-state performer in golf. His senior year Payne won the coveted triple crown of high school golf, taking first place in the Class 5A state tournament, the Overall state tournament and the Junior Boys summer championship.

Payne signed with the University of Arkansas out of high school, but wound up starring for the University of Memphis after transferring. He has played professionally in several tours, including the PGA.

Franklin was a terror as a defensive lineman early in the Grafton Moore era in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. He signed out of high school with the University of Central Arkansas, where he starred on several Bears teams that competed for the NAIA national championship.

Franklin also starred as a thrower for Nooner's Blue Devil track and field teams.

Strong second half lifts Blue Devils to opening win at SW Little Rock

By Billy Woods

WM School District

LITTLE ROCK --- In a season of sought-after improvement from a year ago, Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks has placed his team's ground game at the front of his check list.

And in the first half here on Friday night, the Blue Devils did not meet the coach's hopes.

West Memphis rushed for a mere 9 yards, ran just 15 offensive plays and despite playing to a scoreless stalemate after the first two quarters, saw Southwest Little Rock dominate the game.

But the Blue Devils sprang to life in the second half, rushing for 129 yards and hitting the end zone three times in a 20-0 season-opening victory over Southwest Little Rock.

Hooks did not indicate that the halftime speech was colorful, and he flat out said there were no adjustments made on offense.

"I think it was first-game jitters in the first half," said Hooks. "There weren't any adjustments made in the locker room. Just better execution. We ran the same exact plays in the second half. I think in the second half we ran 37 plays. I was glad to see us run the football tonight."

In addition to the slow-moving offense in the first half, the Blue Devils failed to cross into Gryphon territory, although they had a starting point inside the 50 once, on their second possession.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devil defense was solid all night, displaying some grit after giving up 91 yards on the ground in the first two quarters. Southwest Little Rock, 0-8 since its inaugural game a year ago against West Memphis, ran 27 plays in the first two quarters.

The Blue Devils turned the Gryphons over twice in the first half, one on a recovered fumble by Jalen Turner and another on an interception by Mardarius Warren.

"We're going to hang on our defense early (in the season)," Hooks stated. "Hopefully they'll keep us in the games while we make adjustments on offense. Our defense is our strength right now."

West Memphis got two touchdowns from Brandon Peters, who was impressive when used in short-yardage packages, in the second half and senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Quad Brown.

The Blue Devils took the second-half kickoff and immediately established their ground attack with Turner leading the way. However, they briefly repeated the same mistakes they made in the first half.

After churning the yardage into Gryphon territory, Peters fumbled on the 28 and the Blue Devils suffered one of their three turnovers on the night.

But after holding the Gryphons on downs, Warren gained 19 on the first play and then added a 23-yard pick up on the third play.

The drive culminated with Peters vindicating himself with a 2-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Blue Devil lead after Luke Smith's PAT with 3:23 to play in the third quarter.

From there, the momentum built.

Peters scored his second TD, this one from 4 yards out, with 11:20 to play in the fourth quarter and a 13-0 West Memphis cushion.

Jenkins iced the game with 5:56 to play in the game when he hooked up with Brown on third and five from the Little Rock 31.

"If we can get everything straightened out in the passing game, I think we're going to be OK," said Hooks. "Right now, we're talking too much. And another thing, we've got to stay away from dumb penalties. We had a few tonight, but then again it's the first game and everybody's going to make mistakes in the first game."

Blue Devils brace for flexbone from Southwest Little Rock

By Billy Woods

WM School District

They've had all summer to prepare, but still West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks is leery going into his team's regular-season opener against a wishbone offense.

Hooks and the Blue Devils begin their second campaign together on Friday night in Little Rock as they take on Southwest, a new school with a brand new stadium.

Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Southwest, in its second year of operation and still looking for its first-ever win, is coached by Darryl Patton, a veteran Arkansas high school coach with an impressive resume from his stints at Fayetteville and Bryant.

He has installed the flexbone offense this season, which requires patience and discipline from the opposing defenses.

Hooks, however, says he and his defense are ready. They'd better be because the Blue Devils will see the triple option three times this season. Sylvan Hills and Wynne also are option-heavy offenses.

"No ifs, ands or buts about it, it's going to be assignment football for us Friday night," said Hooks. "We've been working on (defending) the option all summer long."

The Gryphons, 0-7 a year ago, opened the Blue Devil season in 2020 at Hamilton-Shultz Field and Hooks and Company came away with a 35-16 victory.

"I feel like they'll be much improved from a year ago," Hooks said, referring to Southwest. "I think it's going to be a very physical football game."

Hooks said his team had some improvements to be made after last Tuesday night's scrimmage at home against Blytheville. The areas of concern, according to Hooks, were tackling and running the ball on offense.

"Right now, the issue with running the ball is we're just so inexperienced on the offensive line," he stated. "It's nothing to do with effort, talent or even size, but we're just short of experience. We'll get better at running the ball because we're going to have to be able to do that."

Consequently, the Blue Devils look adept thus far with the short to intermediate passing game in the hands of senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins. He has a couple of game-breaking receivers to get the ball to in transfer Ashun Motley and sophomore Dylan Greer.

"We want our short and intermediate passing game to be really good," Hooks commented. "If we are successful there, it should open us up to take some shots way down field."

Hooks, Blue Devils look for improvement in 2021

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It was the most difficult season in West Memphis football history.

Coaches and players alike had to deal with the Covid 19 virus with staff missing weeks at a time due to quarantine obligations.

If that wasn't enough, head coach Robert Hooks was in his first season at the helm and was trying to patiently install his system and philosophy. Then came the losses.

Nine of them. Including the final six games in succession.

"It wasn't one of the most fun seasons," Hooks admitted.

But the former Rivercrest standout is putting all that behind as the 2021 season beckons.

"I think we will be much improved this season," the Blue Devil coach insisted. "I think teams will be thinking we're still down and I think we're going to surprise some people. I think we're better right now than we were at this point last year."

The Blue Devils open the regular season next Friday at Southwest Little Rock, a team that accounted for one of two West Memphis wins last season.

Offensively, the Blue Devils return just two starters from a year ago in senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins and lineman Micah Turner.

The team's offensive line will be inexperienced and untested, but it will feature players with encouraging upside.

Starting at right tackle will be Kendric Hall, Turner will be at right guard, the center is Zalen Lewis, at left guard is Hayden Roeder and at right tackle will be Carlito Ingram.

Ray Jordan and Lewis, both of whom were promoted from junior high to start for the Blue Devils in their playoff game at Greenwood, are sophomores. Another player projected to see a lot of minutes is Roderius Golden.

"I think we've got seven to eight solid guys, who could play varsity ball for us on the line," said Hooks. "Micah is a guy we can move around to play center or tackle."

Hooks believes he's in good shape at the receiving corps with wideout Jarrell Shepherd, who saw a lot of varsity action last year off the bench, Quad Brown, a transfer from Nettleton, Danny Malone, senior Kam Barnes, who has been a mainstay on the Blue Devil basketball team and Dylan Greer, who has stood out in preseason work.

Hooks is also very excited about transfer A'Shun Motley, who is a gifted, explosive athlete who will be utilized at receiver, running back and quarterback.

"We've got some tall, rangy receivers," said Hooks. "They are all big guys who can move."

Jalen Turner and Marderius Warren will be the top running backs, either of whom could line up at slot receiver.

Defensively, the Blue Devils return six starters.

"We're much better defensively, especially with our front seven," Hooks commented.

Returnee Jalen Trice will start at nose guard, another returning starter Travis Wright at one end while the other end will be sophomore Scottie Dobbins.

Hooks said he is also expecting good things from senior Tamerius Bell, a starter from a year ago. Warren and Brandon Peters will shore up the secondary.

The Blue Devils will be sophomore-heavy this season with 26 on a roster of 54 players.

The kicking and punting chores will be handled by Luke Smith.

Big plays highlight Blue Devil preseason victory over Chicks

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Almost eight months removed from a nightmare season, one in which the West Memphis Blue Devils do not want to repeat, the team took the first step to putting that 2-9 2020 campaign in the rearview mirror on Tuesday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

In the only dress rehearsal before opening the regular season on Aug. 27, the Blue Devils defeated Blytheville 21-0 in a preseason scrimmage.

Tuesday's first half put the spotlight on both teams' first-teamers while the second half was a mix of starters with the reserves. Despite clearly outplaying the Chicks through all four quarters, Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks was non-committal on handing all-out praise for his troops.

"Very, very sloppy," Hooks said in assessing his offense's execution. "And we've got to get special teams cleaned up in a hurry. Offensively, we saw some good things, but we've got to be able to run the ball. Still not able to run the football. This here helped us to learn that we've got a lot of work to do."

The Blue Devils, who travel to Southwest Little Rock, a team that served as one of the two wins from 2020, say they are read to start the 2021 season a week from Friday.

With returning starter Bryson Jenkins at the controls on offense at quarterback, the Blue Devils hit the Chicks with some big plays on their second offensive series.

Jenkins hit Dylan Greer with a long pass that set up Jarrell Shepherd's 34-yard touchdown with 6:02 left in the first quarter to give the hosts a 7-0 lead after Luke Smith's PAT.

While Hooks was critical of his offense, his defense gave him plenty to be excited about. Jalen Turner picked off a Terry Northern pass and returned it 26 yards for the second West Memphis touchdown with 2:19 left in the first quarter.

"I love where our defense is right now," Hooks stated. "We've just got to help them on special teams and on offense."

Hooks began the second half with his first-team offense and Jenkins at quarterback after the starter was relieved briefly in the second quarter by senior Brandon Peters, who will be utilized more on defense this season. Jenkins responded by hooking up with Greer once again, this time for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 9:26 left in the third quarter to close out the scoring in the contest.

"Greer and Shep are guys we know and who can do a lot for us this year," said Hooks. "They stood out tonight, and they've been doing that all spring and all (fall) camp. You only saw half of what we can do on offense. We have some receivers who can make some big plays."

Blue Devils ready for Tuesday night scrimmage against Chicks

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The pads have been popping for several days now and the West Memphis Blue Devils are itching to hit the opposition.

They'll get that chance on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Hamilton-Shultz Field when the Blue Devils face Blytheville in a preseason scrimmage.

At 2-9 a year ago in head coach Robert Hooks' inaugural year, the Blue Devils are anxious to put away the trials that came from 2021.

Hooks, for one, thinks his club will make good on that.

"I think we're going to surprise some people this year," he said. "They're thinking we're still going to be down. I think you'll see a big improvement from us this year."

The format on Tuesday against Blytheville, according to Hooks, will call for first-teamers from each squad facing off against each other for a half.

Minus the live kicking game, that is.

Then, the second half will be for second- and third-teamers to shine.

"We need to have some early success on Tuesday night," said Hooks. "We need to see it from both sides of the ball, although right now our defense is going to be stronger than our offense early in the season."

The losses that piled up on the 2020 Blue Devils weren't the only hardship the club faced. In the Covid-fueled campaign, Hooks and some of his staff endured two-week quarantines.

Players also felt the strain of coronavirus.

"Still, we don't want to look back on that," Hooks commented. "That season is over and we learned a lot. We had a brand new coaching staff and the players had to adjust to our system."

Hooks pointed out that the film session from Tuesday night's scrimmage will be vital before the club opens the regular season on Week Zero on Aug. 27 at Southwest Little Rock.

"The first three weeks is where you make your biggest strides," he stated.

Only two starters from a year ago return on offense, one of which is senior quarterback Bryson Jenkins, who will once again get the early starting nod.

But the Blue Devils will welcome in transfer A'Shun Motley, a senior, who can play quarterback, receiver and running back.

"He's a physical specimen who we want to get the ball to this year," Hooks said of Motley, who is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. "He's new, so he's learning the system. He's a fast learner. But he's able to play multiple positions. We think he's a difference maker."

Without giving away the starting lineup, Hooks said he expects possible "five or six" sophomores to start this season.

"We have 54 on roster and 25 of them are sophomores," he said.

Blue Devil Sports Hall of Fame to induct five in September

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis School District is pleased to announce that the annual West Memphis Sports Hall of Fame ceremony will be held this year on September 23 at 7 p.m. at the Academies of West Memphis cafeteria.

The 2020 Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet were scratched due to the Covid pandemic.

The sixth class of inductees this year will include Lady Devils basketball head coach Shelia Burns, former boys all-time great point guard Mark Mangum, multi-sport star Tyrone Bullins, golf great Jordan Payne and football and track star William Franklin.

Tickets for the banquet are $25 and will be available around mid-August.

Burns served as Lady Devils head coach for 24 years and is the school's all-time leader in wins. Her teams won 10 conference championships and her 2002-03 team won the state title.

Burns had two other teams reach the state title game.

She came to West Memphis in 1994-95 to serve as an assistant coach to Bobby Ashley. She was named head coach the next year.

Mangum starred on two straight Blue Devil basketball state championships under head coach Larry Bray. He broke Stanley Andrews' single-season assist record in 2003-04 and held the record until Cavin Paige broke the mark in the 2018-19 season.

After helping the Blue Devils to state championships in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, Mangum went on to win national championships at two colleges, first at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and then a Division II national title.

Bullins was a two-time all-state football player for the Blue Devils in 1987 and '88 and he was an all-state selection in basketball his senior season. He also starred for head coach Joe Nooner's track and field squad.

A two-way star in football, he was named to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's All-Decade team of the 1980s as a defensive player.

Payne was a multi-time all-state performer in golf. His senior year Payne won the coveted triple crown of high school golf, taking first place in the Class 5A state tournament, the Overall state tournament and the Junior Boys summer championship.

Payne signed with the University of Arkansas out of high school, but wound up starring for the University of Memphis after transferring. He has played professionally in several tours, including the PGA.

Franklin was a terror as a defensive lineman early in the Grafton Moore era in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. He signed out of high school with the University of Central Arkansas, where he starred on several Bears teams that competed for the NAIA national championship.

Franklin also starred as a thrower for Nooner's Blue Devil track and field teams.

Blue Devils' Richardson signs with Clarke University

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devil football program has senior Vince Richardson listed at 5-foot-11. Another two or three inches, according to head coach Robert Hooks, and big colleges galore would be beating the door down for his services.

As it is, Richardson, the Blue Devils' leading tackler in 2020, got his college scholarship from Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, where he will take his game to the next level.

As a defensive end/defensive tackle, the Blue Devil star used his strength and quickness to get around bigger opponents.

"The only thing that hurt him from getting a bigger scholarship was his height," said Hooks. "If he's 6-1 or 6-2 I think we're talking about him signing with a bigger college. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen and he's also one of the strongest."

Clarke looks like the perfect fit, according to Richardson.

"I love the profile athletics get at the school," said Richardson. "I had some other offers from small schools, but Clarke had a better athletic program and better facilities."

Richardson said he would get looks in practice at his two high school positions. He stated that it wouldn't matter which of the two he played at Clarke.

"The coaches there told me I'd have to compete in order to get on the field next year," Richardson stated. "It's a blessing to be able to get a scholarship to play football. It'll be a lot less stress and weight off our shoulders."

Richardson said he wants to major in graphic design.

"I'd like to be a graphic designer in the field of science," he commented.

Hooks said Richardson's future in college looks bright.

"I think Vince has all the tools to be a very good college football player," Hooks said. "He's got the work ethic and the strength from the weight room. He runs well and loves the contact on the field."

Shepard's diversity leads to signing with Arkansas Tech

By Billy Woods

WM School District

As every football fan knows, high school players are often asked to play on both sides of the ball.

But what Jaylen Shepard pulled off in 2020 was more extraordinary.

More acquainted with playing tight end, his natural position, Shepard played four positions last year for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

And it was that diversity that paid off in the form of a full ride to Arkansas Tech University to play football.

Shepard signed with the Wonder Boys Wednesday at the Academies of West Memphis' Performing Arts Center.

"Coming over and playing defense for us last year speaks a lot to Jaylen's character because a lot of guys would balk at that," said Blue Devil defensive coordinator Butch Gray. "We asked him to play three different positions and he never blinked. I thought he had a great year defensively for us."

On defense, Shepard played end, inside and outside linebackers.

Shepard said Tech coaches have told him he would be tried on both sides of the ball, but that they like him more as a tight end.

While Shepard was the offense's No. 1 target through the air, on defense he put up some impressive numbers.

He made 30 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles with 4.5 tackles for lost yardage. Shepard also had two quarterback hurries, 1 sack, 4 fumble recoveries and 1 unforgettable interception.

The pick came in Week 4 at Marion when he returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown that provided the spark in a 20-7 West Memphis win over Marion.

Shepard said he visited the Arkansas Tech campus in December and liked what he saw.

"I think someone told me it's one of the biggest colleges in Arkansas," said Shepard. "The football facilities are up to date and I think the weight program over there will benefit me greatly."

Shepard said it does not matter what position the Tech coaches put him.

"I like defense, too," he said. "I'm blessed to have this opportunity to get a free education and play football."

Shepard's offensive coach at West Memphis, coordinator Brian Hembree, said "he can be a great tight end. He's got great hands and great awareness. He'll need to put some weight on when he gets there, but I think that'll happen."

Greenwood ends Blue Devil season with 55-7 playoff victory

By Billy Woods

WM School District

GREENWOOD --- With a chance to shock the state in the first round of the state playoffs, the West Memphis Blue Devils gave No. 1 Greenwood some anxious moments early in the second quarter before falling 55-7.

After Greenwood (11-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 6A) scored on its first possession, the Blue Devils (2-9) pieced together an impressive 51-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first quarter to tie the game early in the second quarter.

But in a four-minute span, the Bulldogs blew the game open and cruised to the win.

Greenwood will host upstart Mountain Home, which rallied for a 24-20 win over Pine Bluff, next week in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs are going for their 10th state title in program history.

"We had some momentum but we shot ourselves in the foot (in the second quarter)," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "We've been doing that all year. We are a young team and we have to learn how to finish ball games and not let the little things beat us."

After Greenwood's Hunter "Boot" Wilkinson, who had 119 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for a 5-yard touchdown to give the hosts a 7-0 lead, the Blue Devils answered.

The Blue Devil defense stopped Greenwood on fourth and 1, the West Memphis offense took over at its own 49.

Junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins, who again rotated with senior Caden Smith at the position, warmed up and fired a 21-yard pass to senior Eli Duncan for a first down at the Greenwood 34.

Two plays later, Jenkins connected with Elijah Eulls for 8 yards and Dennis Dallas got a first down on the next play with a 23-yard burst to the Greenwood 3.

After three unsuccessful tries at the end zone, the Blue Devils got a free timeout to discuss the fourth down call when the first quarter came to an end.

On the first play of the second quarter, the coaching staff called for Eulls around the left end for a 1-yard touchdown.

Edgar Gudino's PAT tied the score 7-7.

But West Memphis score lit a fire into the Bulldogs, as they scored the final 48 points of the game.

Greenwod led 34-7 at halftime and the Bullies scored on their first possession of the second half and then went for two to apply the mercy rule the rest of the way.

Greenwood quarterback L.D. Richmond completed 15 of 18 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns while receiver Luke Brewer snagged 5 passes for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Blue Devils were limited to 155 total yards and Greenwood's defense intercepted two passes for touchdowns.

Blue Devils strike early, but bow out with 41-6 loss at El Dorado

By Billy Woods

WM School District

EL DORADO --- It looked promising early against a team that gave up 50 points in a win a week earlier, but the West Memphis Blue Devils ended their regular season with a 41-6 loss here on Thursday night.

The defeat puts West Memphis at 2-8 overall and 1-6 in the 6A-East Conference and the team is set to travel to Greenwood next Friday night for a first-round Class 6A state playoff game.

El Dorado (4-4, 4-1) outgunned Searcy 54-50 last week and the defensive effort worried Wildcat head coach Steven Jones coming into the game against the Blue Devils.

After El Dorado's offense ran out of downs on the first series of the game at its own 38, the Blue Devils struck first on a perfectly lofted deep ball from junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins to senior Elijah Eulls on the team's first snap from center.

"I'm sure after that touchdown (West Memphis) had it in the back of their heads how many points our defense gave up last week," Jones said. "And it had me worried, too."

But that was all the offense the Blue Devils would get on the night.

By halftime, El Dorado led 21-6 and the West Memphis offensive numbers were not pretty.

The Wildcats ran 50 offensive plays to the Blue Devils' 17 in the first two quarters. Worse yet, the Blue Devils had minus 29 yards rushing at halftime and zero first downs.

"We had a great start, but we lost our center early when he was ejected from the game," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "We don't coach that type of behavior. From there, we just kinda scrambled for folks to put in at center."

El Dorado sophomore Deandra Burns, who made a verbal commitment to the University of Arkansas just a few days before the game, scored two touchdowns and quarterback Eli Shepherd completed 12 of 21 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

"We didn't get anything going on offense all night other than the first play of the game, but still we had our chances and didn't execute," Hooks added. "On defense, I thought we were in position...we just didn't make plays."

Blue Devils travel to El Dorado in regular-season finale

By Billy Woods

WM School District

In this most unusual year for anyone, it certainly holds true for the West Memphis football team.

As the Blue Devils (2-7 overall, 1-5 in the 6A-East Conference) travel to a favored El Dorado team on Thursday for the regular-season finale, they hope to catch lightning in a bottle and steal a win on the road.

Kickoff for Thursday night's game is set for 7.

West Memphis has lost five straight since defeating Marion 20-7 in Week 1 of the conference schedule. But its latest loss, a 27-26 decision to Pine Bluff, was encouraging on two fronts.

First, the Blue Devil offense finally came to life against the Zebras with the running of back-up quarterback Brandon Peters and the passing of starting QB Bryson Jenkins doing all of the damage.

Jenkins completed 18 of 26 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, making it the best game of his young career.

"I thought Bryson had his best game," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "We threw and caught the ball well. Bryson is a very smart football player. He's developing. We need to speed up his feet in his drops and speed up the delivery. I think he's gotten better in all of those phases. He's developing into a pretty good quarterback for us."

Secondly, the Blue Devil defense stiffened in the second half against Pine Bluff, holding the Zebras to under 100 total yards.

"We know what our guys are capable of on defense," said Hooks. "They've been carrying us all year. We're going to lean on them again going into this (game)."

They'll need another great effort because El Dorado (3-4, 3-1) have one of the more potent offenses in Class 6A. Last week, the Wildcats outdistanced Searcy in an offensive shoot-out, winning 54-50.

They also put up 45 against Marion and 44 against Sheridan.

However, the Sylvan Hills defense, which stifled the Blue Devils earlier this season, did the same to El Dorado in a 33-7 win over the Wildcats.

"I think Sylvan Hills has the best defense in our conference," said Hooks. "They pose a lot of problems. They play press man coverage, and they're really good at what they do."

El Dorado is also good at what it does. Especially with all the speed it has.

"They have speed on the edge and speed at quarterback," Hooks added. "Their back-up quarterback is faster than the starting quarterback. They'll be a well-coached football team."

Valiant Blue Devils suffer heart-breaking loss to Pine Bluff

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's been a season unlike any other in history for the West Memphis Blue Devils, and on Friday night another weird chapter was written.

It was the team's best effort all season, and with a spectacular final touchdown drive nearly capped off in the waning seconds, the rug was pulled out from under them.

Pine Bluff 27, West Memphis 26.

After striking first, the Blue Devils (2-7 overall, 1-5 in the 6A-East Conference) played catch-up the rest of the night and then victory was only one three-yard play away from breaking the team's four-game losing streak.

After junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Eulls, the Blue Devils went for two and the win.

And the winning play was dialed up.

A wide-receiver reverse was called and Jenkins was sent to the end zone, where he stood all by himself. But the pass was overthrown.

Heartbreak draped the Blue Devil sideline.

"We went back and forth from (deciding) to kick it or go for it," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks, who returned to the sideline on Friday night after a two week Covid quarantine.

The initial decision was actually to kick it and tie. But after the Blue Devils were flagged for a procedure penalty the ball was moved to the 8. On the snap, placekicker Eric Gudino's PAT sailed through the uprights.

But, Pine Bluff was flagged after their defensive linemen screamed out "hut, hut, hut" before the snap.

And the ball was put back at the 3.

That's when the decision to go for the win was made.

"(The players and assistant coaches) finally convinced me to go for it," said Hooks. "We tried to run that play last week (at Sheridan), but we didn't execute it. We had what we wanted...again, you have to execute."

None of that, however, took away from the coaches praising the players for their effort throughout the game.

With no ground game to speak of, the Blue Devils made do with what they had. And what they had was the best performance of Jenkins' career. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

And the defense limited Pine Bluff (3-3, 2-2) to just 64 yards on the ground in the second half and just 151 for the contest.

"I'm very proud of our kids," said Hooks. "We knew from early in the week, from the way that we practiced, that we would compete well tonight."

The Blue Devils seized early momentum, when on the second snap of the night, Pine Bluff ninth-grade quarterback Landon Holcomb's exchange was fumbled and West Memphis senior linebacker Eli Duncan scooped up the loose ball and sped 45 yards for a touchdown, giving the hosts a 7-0 lead.

And despite Jenkins and Eulls hooking up for their first touchdown pass of the night later in the second quarter, Pine Bluff took a 20-13 lead into the lockers at halftime.

West Memphis' offense pieced together two of its finest offensive drives of the season against Pine Bluff, including the final one that led to the fateful conversion play.

The other was the opening drive of the second half.

With Hooks alternating Jenkins with junior Brandon Peters, who gave the hosts its only real running threat, the combination of run and pass was finally there. Peters gave the Blue Devils 41 yards rushing on the drive as he capped it with a 15-yard touchdown to tie the game.

"We couldn't run it early because (Pine Bluff) had eight men in the box," Hooks explained. "When you run with the quarterback that neutralizes the defense. Brandon sprang some big-time runs for us."

Pine Bluff's eventual winning points were both gift-wrapped and slathered with luck.

In the early moments of the fourth quarter, Jenkins was flushed from the pocket and the ball was jarred loose. Zebra defensive tackle Ronald Russell scooped and scored from 41 yards out.

Then, Jorrell Grant's line drive PAT nailed the cross bar and flopped over for the point that eventually decided the contest.

After stopping Pine Bluff on a fourth-down gamble at the West Memphis 42, the Blue Devils showed poise and determination on their final drive of the evening.

Jenkins connected with Nathan Watson for 16 yards to the 26 and then after three straight runs by Peters left the Blue Devils with a do-or-die fourth down and four, Jenkins calmly passed to Eulls for a first down at the 16.

Jenkins' TD pass to Eulls from the 2 came with just 5 seconds left on the clock.

"Bryson did a solid job tonight finding his receivers," said Hooks. "I loved the way we moved the ball in the second half. We were just taking what the defense was giving us."

The Blue Devils travel to El Dorado for a Thursday night special in the final game of the regular season.

Hooks is back, Blue Devils look to end slide against Zebras

By Billy Woods

WM School District

This difficult season that is 2020 isn't over yet, and there still is much to accomplish for the West Memphis Blue Devils, but one thing head coach Robert Hooks is grateful for is finally being able to emerge from quarantine.

Hooks, in his first season at the helm, has been quarantined the last 14 days due to close contact with Covid-19. He tested negative and had no symptoms. And after missing two games, both losses, the Blue Devil Boss is as much ready to get back on the field as he is just being able to get out of the house.

"It can definitely drive a man insane," Hooks said of being quarantined. "I was able to watch a lot of film and tape of practices. We also had some Zoom meetings. But not being able to get out of the house was very hard."

During his time away from the field, the Blue Devils (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the 6A-East Conference) lost a 38-13 decision to Jonesboro and a 27-21 overtime decision at Sheridan. It was West Memphis' fourth straight loss.

The Blue Devils hope to end the slide Friday night as they host Pine Bluff at Hamilton-Shultz Field. Kickoff is set for 7.

West Memphis is still without the services of defensive coordinator Butch Gray, who is in his second week of quarantine after close contact to Covid-19. Last week at Sheridan, offensive coordinator Brian Hembree served as the head coach.

It was decided by the Arkansas Activities Association last week to allow all football teams to qualify for the state playoffs due to the difficulties from the pandemic. So, Hooks is intent on getting some momentum for his team as the postseason looms.

"The toughest part of being quarantined was watching the games and not being able to make coaching decisions," Hooks added. "It was frustrating watching the Jonesboro game. The score didn't indicate how well our defense played in that game. We threw two pick-sixes on offense and then threw the ball to them two other times. It's just frustrating to see how we're losing.

"Having said that, it feels great to be back around the coaching staff and the kids. That's why you do this. If you're not in this for the sake of the kids, then you're in the wrong profession."

Pine Bluff (2-3, 1-2) has had three games canceled this season due to Covid-19. The Zebras saw cancellations to their games against Watson Chapel, El Dorado and last week versus Marion.

"We need as much momentum as possible to close out the regular season," said Hooks. "Our kids have not quit, I will say that. It's just a matter of stop making the same mistakes over and over."

Hooks said the Zebras are a physical team.

"They're good on both sides of the line," Hooks stated. "They've also moved up two ninth-graders and they're better than the ones they replaced. If we can hold our own up front we can give ourselves a chance to win."

Blue Devils fall 27-21 in overtime at Sheridan

By Billy Woods

WM School District

SHERIDAN --- Mistakes still plague the West Memphis Blue Devils.

Despite compiling 240 yards of total offense in the second half and rallying from a two-possession deficit, the Blue Devils fell here on Friday night in overtime 27-21 to Sheridan.

It marks West Memphis' fourth straight loss. For Sheridan it was its first win in 6A-East Conference play.

On three occasions the Blue Devils drove deep into Yellowjacket territory only to fall victim to their own mistakes.

"We'd get something going on offense then snap one over the quarterback's head, drop a snap, get a penalty or fumble," said Blue Devil acting head coach Brian Hembree. "On defense, we missed a lot of tackles."

It was the Blue Devils' second straight game without the services of their head coach Robert Hooks, who was forced into quarantine two weeks ago because of close contact to Covid-19. He is expected back in full capacity this week in practice and for the team's game at home against Pine Bluff.

Last week's acting head coach, defensive coordinator Butch Gray, also is in quarantine after being in close contact to Covid. He has one more week to sit out.

The Blue Devils (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the 6A-East) got off to another sluggish start on offense and trailed 8-0 at halftime.

West Memphis no doubt shocked some of its fans and even the Sheridan coaching staff, coming out in the wing-T offense.

"We put it in this week in practice just to have something else to go to," said Hembree. "We knew (Sheridan) wouldn't be able to line up to it early, and they didn't. Second half we saw it working a lot better with throwing quick screens and pitches."

But the offense started to gel after Sheridan (2-6, 1-4) increased the lead to 15-0 late in the third quarter.

The play that got West Memphis going was, ironically, a mistake by Sheridan. A high snap in the shotgun was recovered by Blue Devil Jaylan Carter, who scooped up the loose ball and ran 82 yards for a touchdown to slice the Jacket lead to 15-6.

Carter also starred on defense with a leaping interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter to thwart a Sheridan touchdown.

An 80-yard touchdown by Dennis Dallas and a PAT by Eric Gudino brought the Blue Devils to within 15-13 with 8:33 to play in the game.

But just 13 seconds later, Sheridan got a 53-yard touchdown by Peyton Edwards, who had 338 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the night, to make it 21-13.

The effort, however, was there for West Memphis.

The offense gathered itself once again and junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins engineered a 61-yard touchdown drive, capped off by Bell's 9-yard touchdown with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter.

With the score 21-21 at the end of regulation, the Blue Devils got the ball first in overtime.

The result was minus 16 yards after four plays.

By that point, the Blue Devils had a lot of players limping, including three running backs that were either out of action or compromised physically.

"We didn't have a running back left," Hembree stated. "That's no excuse, though. We got a holding call in overtime that set us back, and that hurt us bad."

Edwards then scored his fourth TD of the night on second down, setting off a jubilant celebration at midfield for Sheridan fans.

Hembree next man up as quarantine hits Blue Devil camp again

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's next man up for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

Another mandated two-week quarantine has hit the Blue Devil coaching staff this week as defensive coordinator Butch Gray will be sequestered in his home after close contact to Covid-19. Last week Gray, who has not tested positive for Covid, served as the acting head coach in place of Robert Hooks, who is in his second week of quarantine.

So, as the Blue Devils (2-5 overall, 1-3 in the 6A-East Conference) prepare to travel to Sheridan Friday night in a must-win league clash, the next man up is offensive coordinator Brian Hembree, who will serve as head coach.

"It's been a challenge for sure," said Hembree. "I came into class (on Tuesday) and Butch tells me 'you got it.'"

If current qualifications for the state playoffs remain status quo, the Blue Devils would currently be out of the running for the postseason as El Dorado, Jonesboro, Searcy and Sylvan Hills all have winning conference records.

The top four in each conference will qualify for the state playoffs.

Thus, West Memphis needs a win Friday night.

As far back as can be recalled, the Blue Devils and Sheridan have never met on a football field. The Yellowjackets are 1-6 overall and winless in league play.

The Blue Devils desperately need a win. Effort has been an on-again, off-again issue with the team this season, but coaches were pleased with the effort in last week's 38-13 loss to Jonesboro.

The execution, however, is not yet where coaches want it to be.

"I think if we play hard for four quarters we can pull out a win," said Hembree. "We can't start out slow and think by finishing strong we've done our jobs. We've got to get out to a quick start."

Sheridan's lone win this season was a 36-18 victory over Jacksonville in non-conference play. The 'Jackets did, however, play Searcy a close game, losing 35-23 a few weeks ago.

Defensively, Sheridan yields a lot of yardage on underneath pass patterns, according to Hembree.

"We'd like to be able to take advantage of some short stuff, give our (receivers) some space and let them do their stuff," Hembree added. "Sheridan's new to our conference this year, but we're still able to do a lot of scouting on them because you've got so much film on people these days."

Blue Devils fight hard, but fall to Jonesboro 38-13

By Billy Woods

WM School District

When it was all said and done, after Jonesboro had handed them a 38-13 defeat, the West Memphis Blue Devil coaches were in agreement. The players on the field couldn't be faulted for their effort.

Effort has been an on-again, off-again issue this season for the Blue Devils, thus that was the main priority coming in against a Jonesboro team that, despite losing the last four games to West Memphis, was the prohibitive favorite on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Even though it was once again a slog for the Blue Devil offense, it was the defense that culled most of the praise after picking off two Jonesboro passes and digging in for a pair of stops inside the red zone in the second half.

"I can't fault their effort. I told them that at halftime," said acting West Memphis head coach Butch Gray, who has taken over for head coach Robert Hooks after he was quarantined this week due to close contact, but testing negative, for Covid-19.

"We played hard, but for being this far into the season we're still making too many mistakes. They are pretty much the same mistakes, too. When you play the caliber of teams we play week in and week out, you can't shoot yourself in the foot like we do."

For the third straight week, the Blue Devil offense fell far short of the 100-yard rushing mark, getting only 53 yards on the ground against Jonesboro. Eight plays went for lost yardage, which was the main culprit to the final ground total.

"We've got to do a better job of preparing during the week to try and clean up those mistakes," said Gray, the team's defensive coordinator. "I'm a little biased, but I thought we played harder on defense than we did on offense."

With senior Caden Smith getting his first start at quarterback, the Blue Devils tried a different look on offense. Smith is quick and shifty in open spaces, and it showed on one of his first reps when he took off for a 14-yard gain running out of the pocket.

Jonesboro head coach Randy Coleman, whose team improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the 6A-East Conference), was prepared for the move.

"We thought that (Smith) would come out and play quarterback because he's a good athlete and he can run," he commented. "We wanted to keep him from beating us with his legs. We felt if we could do that, then we'd be in pretty good shape."

After three unanswered Jonesboro touchdowns for an early 21-0 lead, the Blue Devil offense finally clicked when Bryson Jenkins, who alternated with Smith at quarterback, connected with Elijah Eulls for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 2:21 left in the first half.

The Blue Devils trailed 28-6 at intermission.

Jonesboro added a 30-yard field goal on its first possession of the second half and then put up a final touchdown on a pick-6 by Brodie Williams, which was his second of the night and third interception overall.

Jenkins fired his second touchdown pass of the night when he hooked up with Smith for a 23-yard pass with 25 seconds left in the game.

The Blue Devils (2-5, 1-3) still have a shot at qualifying for the state playoffs with the final three games against teams with uneven or losing records. The first of which will be next Friday night at Sheridan, which is 1-6 this season after Friday night's 34-13 loss to Sylvan Hills.

Blue Devils look to snap skid as Jonesboro visits Friday

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The weirdness that is 2020 has finally hit the West Memphis football team.

Head coach Robert Hooks will be quarantined for two weeks due to close contact to Covid-19. Hooks has tested negative and has no symptoms.

So, he'll be at home Friday night while his Blue Devils host Jonesboro in an important 6A-East Conference game at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Taking over for Hooks on the sideline Friday night will be defensive coordinator Butch Gray.

The Blue Devils (2-4 overall, 1-2 in conference) will try and snap a two-game losing skid. Jonesboro comes into the game 3-2 and 2-0.

Particularly concerning for Hooks is his team's approach the last two weeks in a 38-9 loss to Searcy and last week's 35-13 loss at Sylvan Hills.

"I think last week was one of those deals where we let Searcy beat us two weeks in a row," said Hooks. "Some of our practices last week didn't go very well, and I think we were still feeling the effects of the loss to Searcy."

Although the Blue Devils have shown a more defensively sound team than the last two weeks, it's the club's offense which has been slow moving most of the season.

In the final two quarters against Searcy, the Blue Devils racked up only 49 yards of rushing, which carried over into the first half against Sylvan Hills, in which the team rushed for just 28 yards.

Jonesboro, which has lost the last four games to West Memphis, has shown plenty of potential offensively all season. The Hurricane held off a fourth-quarter rally last week to edge out Pine Bluff 34-33. JHS' lowest offensive output this season called for 28-point nights against Little Rock Catholic to open the season and against Conway.

Head coach Randy Coleman's offense also put up 52 points in a victory over Sheridan.

"On offense, (Jonesboro) has plenty of playmakers," said Hooks. "Their quarterback does a good job of staying poised in the pocket."

Effectively halfway through the conference schedule, the Blue Devils need to post some victories in order to qualify for the state tournament. All of which makes Friday night's game that much more important.

"As far as seedings, you want to get the next four games, but Friday night is the one we're focusing on," said Hooks. "If we can get going offensively and score early that will be huge. I think our defense will feed off that. We need to get going early and often against Jonesboro. I have all the confidence in the world in our coaching staff for Friday night."

Sylvan Hills hits hard, fast in win over Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

SHERWOOD --- With a chance to win what could have been considered a swing game in conference play, the West Memphis Blue Devils watched as Sylvan Hills came out more fired up and focused in a 35-13 loss here Friday night.

Both teams came into the game with identical overall and 6A-East Conference records at 2-3 and 1-1, respectively, but Sylvan Hills jumped on the Blue Devils before they knew what hit them.

Coached by Chris Hill, who led Wynne to state-contender status a few years ago and who is in his first year heading up the Sylvan Hills program, the Bears rolled up 35 first-half points.

After a slow-moving ground attack against Searcy, which saw the Blue Devils (2-4 overall, 1-2 in the 6A-East) gain just 40 yards in the second half, the going wasn't any better against Sylvan Hills.

Buoyed by seven plays for lost yardage, including three by more than 10 yards, West Memphis rushed for a mere 13 yards in the first half and combined with 15 yards passing, it gave the visitors just 28 net yards in the first two quarters.

"We never got in rhythm offensively," said Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks. "It's like we lost our minds early. We didn't make plays when we had an opportunity. We had a couple guys wide open, but didn't get the ball to them."

After a fruitless three-and-out, which netted minus 9 yards, to start the game, the Blue Devil offense gave way to Sylvan Hills, which struck quickly and for big yardage off the bat.

Senior running back D.J. Smith scored a 5-yard touchdown with 9:16 to play in the first quarter to set the tone for the Bears.

From there, the Bears scored four more first-half touchdowns that went for 34, 55, 14 and 65 yards.

"We just didn't play winning football tonight," Hooks said, succinctly.

The Blue Devil offense debuted some wrinkle at quarterback two weeks earlier against Marion, and on Friday night it became more than a wrinkle.

Fleet-footed senior Caden Smith relieved junior starting quarterback Bryson Jenkins and gave the Blue Devils a jolt on offense in the second half. Smith threw an 8-yard touchdown pass with just 30 seconds left in the game to senior Jaylin Shephard.

West Memphis' other touchdown came on a 79-yard run by Dennis Dallas with 3:32 left in the third quarter.

"We're still learning," Hooks said. "We'll take a look at the film on Sunday and evaluate. We'll see how everything goes. We're going to fight to give this team the best chance to win."

Blue Devils set to travel to Sylvan Hills

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The halfway point of the regular season is in the rearview, and with each week the games get more meaningful. This week the West Memphis Blue Devils need to get above the .500 ledger with a victory at Sylvan Hills.

The Blue Devils and the Bears both own identical records at 2-3 overall and 1-1 in 6A-East Conference action.

West Memphis took a step back last week offensively in a 38-9 homecoming loss against Searcy.

"We've actually gotten better a little every week," said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. "We've just got to be able to put four quarters together, and we've got to do it in all three phases of the game."

Sylvan Hills raised some eyebrows last week with its 10-7 loss to Marion, which came into the game winless on the season. The Bears are in the first year being coached by Chris Hill, who experienced a lot of success during his days as head coach at Wynne, particularly on offense.

Hill has a 138-88 record as a head coach all time.

Defensively, the Blue Devils will have to be on the look-out for some outside-the-box looks from Sylvan Hills on offense.

West Memphis lost the services of senior starter Caleb Troxler at inside linebacker in the second game of the season and he will be out for the remainder of the year with a knee injury.

That loss forced the Blue Devils to insert Jaylin Shepard at Troxler's spot and the fellow senior has been effective, teaming with Eli Duncan at the other inside spot.

"Both Eli and Shepard are playing well for us right now," said Hooks.

Hill has the Bears in a triple option offense that has been hit and miss thus far in the season. Marion shut down the Bears last week, but Sylvan Hills put up 35 points in a conference victory over Pine Bluff two weeks ago.

Defensively, Hooks said Sylvan Hills will play man coverage.

"We'll have to win some one-on-one matchups," he said matter-of-factly. "We're going to have to be able to run the football. They'll bring pressure and play man coverage behind it. That right there could be troublesome for us. Their defensive line has good motors. They go until they hear the whistle. We'll have to keep our eyes up and communicate."

Searcy pulls away in second half as Blue Devils fall

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Four points separated the West Memphis Blue Devils from Searcy at halftime, and it was no big deal to Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks.

"We were going to get the ball to open the second half, we were going to pound it on the ground and we were going to score," he said. "That's what we were going to do."

But the offense just wasn't there for the Blue Devils.

Not for just the second half.

All evening.

It all added up to a 38-9 defeat at the hands of Searcy on a homecoming Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

With each opportunity that did not pan out for the Blue Devils (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the 6A-East Conference), Searcy, last year's Class 6A state champion, pounced with an emphatic answer to create separation on the scoreboard.

West Memphis' first possession of the second half began at its 38, but netted just one yard in a three-and-out sequence.

Searcy then capitalized by taking the ensuing punt and going 57 yards in seven plays as Daniel Perry, the game's top rusher with 110 yards, scored the second of his three touchdowns.

Instead of the Blue Devils regaining the lead after halftime, the Lions (3-2, 2-0) increased their lead to 19-9.

"Offensively, we didn't get anything going," Hooks stated. "We put our defense in a bad position because we kept them out on the field too long. The defense can only hold you for so long.We missed a wide open touchdown once in the second half, and it just took momentum away from us and gave it to (Searcy)."

The Blue Devil offense has had difficulty finishing drives all season, and on their next possession they penetrated to the Searcy 24 where they faced second and 8.

But a key holding call on West Memphis put a damper on the drive and it extinguished after three straight pass incompletions.

The West Memphis ground game, which hit Marion for 181 yards in the second half a week earlier, was stopped dead in its tracks by Searcy. After rushing for 82 yards in the first half against the Lions, the Blue Devils could only manage 49 for the second half.

"I don't think we finished like we're capable of," Hooks added. "That's my fault."

Perry, who is only a junior, was more opportunistic than dazzling. After West Memphis' drive was stopped in Lion territory, Perry's third TD of the game sealed the outcome.

He sped 62 yards for a touchdown with 3:34 left in the third quarter to give the visitors a 25-9 lead.

Hooks was wary, and complimentary, of Perry during the week of preparation.

"We knew coming in that he was a really good back," said Hooks. "We bottled him up early, but once they got a little momentum he got more confidence running the ball."

The Blue Devils took an early lead when ninth-grade placekicker Edgar Gudino, who just joined the team the week of the game, booted a 24-yard field goal with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

But Perry scored a 2-yard touchdown to put the Lions ahead to stay.

West Memphis' only touchdown came from Dennis Dallas on a 2-yard run that capped an eight-play, 63-yard drive with just 24 seconds left before halftime.

"That's another reason why we felt confident at halftime," said Hooks. "We had just gotten something going on offense and we felt it would carry over in the second half."

The Blue Devils will try and balance the scales next week as they travel to Sylvan Hills.

Blue Devils ready to take on Searcy for Homecoming

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Just four games into his first season as West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks is still learning the ropes. And after his team's victory last Friday at Marion he learned something else.

After each Blue Devil win over the Patriots, and there have been a whopping 17 of them in history without a loss, the West Memphians have historically displayed a lack of focus the very next week.

As the Blue Devils prep for a very different homecoming atmosphere this Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field, Hooks will try to reel in the emotions that followed the 20-7 win last week at Marion.

West Memphis will face defending state champion Searcy with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. Homecoming court activities will take place at 6:30 p.m.

"My coaches tell me that, typically, there is a letdown after the Marion week," said Hooks, whose club is 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the 6A-East Conference. "One thing I tried to do last week was not to play up the (Marion) game so much. I wanted them to be as even-keeled as possible. I'm hoping that will help the kids get locked in for Searcy."

The Searcy team that raced through the 2019 schedule 12-1 and captured its first state championship since 1933 did with an aerial attack on offense that stayed true to the end.

But head coach Mark Kelly left Searcy to take (gulp) an assistant coaching position at Conway.

That leaves Kenny Simpson as the new man at Searcy, and his debut season has been less spectacular than a year ago, although the Lions still look formidable.

"They are a run-heavy team this year and they use the buck sweep a lot," Hooks said of Searcy. "They'll pass it every now and then, but they want to run the football. They have a running back (Daniel) Perry, who makes guys miss. We'll have to keep him bottled up."

The Lions, who won their conference opener last week 35-23 over Sheridan, have gotten better each week, according to Hooks, after they lost to Wynne in a preseason scrimmage.

The Blue Devils enjoyed their finest half of offense at Marion last week, rushing for 181 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Igniting the attack was senior running back Dennis Dallas, who gained 159 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown against the Patriots.

"Dennis is evolving and getting better each week," Hooks said. "He's definitely playing with more confidence. What he's doing best is he's seeing the hole and then exploding through it, instead of trying to be patient and tip-toeing through. Now, he's hitting it and trusting it."

Getting that first conference win was a huge momentum-builder for the Blue Devils, Hooks said.

"It takes some of the pressure off," Hooks added. "Always good to go 1-0 in the conference. It's a confidence booster and it gives your kids a sense of relief."

Hooks said the biggest takeaway from the Marion game was the Patriot turnover inside the Blue Devil 5-yard line to start the second half.

"That was an opportunity for us to fold, and we didn't," said Hooks. "Instead of them going ahead of us, we answered with a big score. That wasn't just a game-changing turnover, I think it helped mold our team."

Big plays, Marion miscues fuel Blue Devils' 20-7 victory

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It continues to be the year it's supposed to happen.

But in the end, the Blue Devils' number of wins over Marion without a loss continues to grow.

It's at 17 now (and counting) after Friday night's 20-7 decision at Patriot Stadium.

With just one win (belonging to West Memphis) between the two teams coming into the game, it figured to perhaps be the year Marion would finally notch that elusive win over the Blue Devils.

But it was too many big plays by the visitors, too many turnovers by the hosts and too much West Memphis in the second half.

Robert Hooks' indoctrination into the West Memphis-Marion rivalry made an impression on the first-year Blue Devil head coach.

"It was back and forth was a rivalry," Hooks said with a sigh of relief. "You can throw out the personnel, this-and-that, the was everything you would expect in a very emotional game."

Marion's biggest (and perhaps only) weapon was senior quarterback Daedrick Cail, but the lack of a supporting cast had him scrambling for his life much of the game. He figured into the decision, but not in the way the Patriots wanted.

Cail threw two interceptions and finished just 3 of 14 passing for 77 yards, albeit with one touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

After both teams matched each other in offensive futility for the better part of the first half, the Blue Devils fired the first salvo.

A pick-6 by West Memphis senior Jaylin Shepard, who returned an underthrown ball by Cail 76 yards for a touchdown with 1:13 to play before intermission.

"Our defense continued to spark us, especially with the pick-6," said Hooks.

Shepard seemed surprised by the throw made by Cail

"He underthrew it," Shepard said. "After I caught the ball all I remember seeing was daylight."

The Blue Devils (2-2 overall, 1-0 in the 6A-East Conference) thrived on the big play and Marion turnovers all evening.

Marion took the second-half kickoff and was literally a few feet from tying the score and ultimately going ahead when its biggest miscue sucked the life out of the home team.

The Patriots had second and goal from the West Memphis 4 when running back Cam Anderson was hit inside a yard from the goal line and the ball squirted loose.

West Memphis' Eli Duncan scooped up the fumble and returned it to the Marion 5.

"That was a huge momentum shift right there," said Duncan, who had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. "It could have been 7 points for (Marion) and it turned into 6 for us."

That's because the Blue Devils' second big play of the game came when senior running back Dennis Dallas squirmed free from a near tackle at the line of scrimmage, but kept his feet churning for an 85-yard run to the Marion 10.

Three plays later it was only fitting that Dallas converted the touchdown from a yard out to give West Memphis a 12-0 lead.

After rushing for only 38 yards in the first half, the Blue Devils, led by Dallas, racked up 181 yards on the ground in the second half.

"Once again, Dennis Dallas ran the ball hard for us, as did Tamerius Bell and Mardarius Warren," said Hooks. "I have to applaud them and the guys up front for getting the job done. We had some leak-throughs in the first half and our offensive line coach (Gary) Jackson made the adjustments at halftime."

Meanwhile, the Patriots never got anything going on the ground after that failed drive to open the second half. They could only manage 34 yards on the ground in the second half.

Blue Devil junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins cranked up his arm near the end of the third quarter and connected with Nathan Watson for a 29-yard touchdown.

Jenkins then passed to Caden Smith, who played a solid all-around game with two receptions, two pass completions and solid punting, for a two-point conversion and a 20-0 lead that felt insurmountable.

With time running out on Marion, Cail finally got something going for the Marion crowd, which was held to less than 60 percent due to Covid-19 regulations.

Cail threw over the top of the Blue Devil secondary and connected with Tajiri Ellis for a 73-yard touchdown pass to close out the scoring for both teams.

The Blue Devils head into Week 2 of the conference slate by hosting defending state champion Searcy for homecoming this coming Friday night.

Searcy (2-2 overall) comes into the game after Friday night's 35-23 victory over Sheridan.

It's West Memphis-Marion, Part XVII, Friday night

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Robert Hooks gets his indoctrination into the West Memphis-Marion football rivalry on Friday night, and he admits all that he's heard about it will not be able to explain the full scope.

Not even a world-wide pandemic will be able to stop Crittenden County's biggest sporting event this year. However, because of Covid-19, there will not be a full house at Patriot Stadium Friday for the 7 p.m. clash.

But emotions still expect to be high, despite social distancing in the stands and despite just one win between the two schools thus far.

Hooks said he got clued in on the rivalry the last three years while he was head coach at Osceola, whose assistant superintendent is Toriano Green, a former Blue Devil football player himself.

"Mr. Green told me a lot about the West Memphis-Marion game," said Hooks. "I go to church in Marion also, so I've been told a lot about this game."

And Hooks said he doesn't want to be the first West Memphis coach to lose to Marion, which is zero and 16 lifetime versus the Blue Devils.

"Our kids look like they're really focused," said Hooks. "They don't want to be that team, the first to lose to Marion."

After a series of blowout wins over the Patriots in 2013 (42-13) and 2014 (41-0) the Blue Devils have won some close calls over Marion, including a 41-40 overtime shocker last year that rewarded a gambling group of West Memphis coaches, who chose to go for two and the win in overtime and then saw all their chips cashed in as senior offensive tackle Chris Morris took a swing pass from Owens McConnell, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 300 yards, and rambled into the end zone for a two-point conversion, setting off a wild celebration at midfield.

The Patriots ride the strong right arm of Daedrick Cail, a three-year starter at quarterback and an Arkansas State University baseball commit. Cail is just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm.

"His arm is what really concerns me," Hooks said of Cail. "He can beat you both ways, but I think where he really excels is throwing the ball. He can throw it deep and he can hit the short routes, too."

Marion has played a tough non-conference slate that includes No. 1-ranked Byrant (57-16 loss), No. 5 Joe T. Robinson (39-7) and a 35-19 loss to Wynne, the No. 4-ranked team in Class 5A.

"(Marion) is the best 0-3 football team that's out there," Hooks said. "Their offense is really good with some really good route runners for Cail to work with. They'll provide us a real challenge. Defensively, they fly to the football and they do a lot of moving up front."

The Blue Devils made some gains, despite a 35-0 loss last week at North Little Rock. They dominated the stat sheet at halftime, although they found themselves down 14-0 heading into the locker room. But the visitors dominated time of possession, with 40 snaps to North Little Rock's 22.

The concern, offensively, for West Memphis hasn't really been in the turnover department. For the season, the Blue Devils are only down 5-4 in that category.

The problem has been not being able to finish drives.

Last week the Blue Devils ran out of downs three times after penetrating once into the North Little Rock red zone and then two other times inside the 40.

Plus, Blue Devil receivers dropped seven Bryson Jenkins passes, which Hooks pointed out.

"We've brought our offense in at 6 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday of this week, just trying to fine-tune the base fundamentals," Hooks commented. "Blown assignments and penalties have also played a part in our offensive drives thus far. As far as the drops are concerned, if we catch those then, hey, we give ourselves a chance."

Cail's cast on offense includes running back Cameron Anderson, who rushed for 60 yards in the loss to Robinson, which included a 31-yard touchdown, and receiver Donnie Cheers.

Blue Devils give North Little Rock first-half fits before falling 35-0

By Billy Woods

WM School District

NORTH LITTLE ROCK --- The West Memphis Blue Devils didn't guarantee victory this week with the No. 3 team in state in North Little Rock staring them in the face.

Nor did they guarantee any statistical victory against the Charging Wildcats.

But the visiting Blue Devils gave North Little Rock all they could handle for a half on Friday night before bowing 35-0.

Two weeks after having only 11 offensive snaps in the first half of a 39-6 loss to Wynne, which had 41 itself in the first two quarters, the Blue Devils were intent on turning the tables in that particular area.

And they did it, resoundingly.

The visitors trailed 14-0 at intermission, but they had 40 offensive plays to North Little Rock's 22.

It was a sign of encouragement to head coach Robert Hooks.

"All we asked of these guys is to go out and compete, and that's what they did tonight," said Hooks, whose squad now stands 1-2 on the season. "We wanted to shorten the game and limit (North Little Rock's) possessions."

The Blue Devils' first-half ambush fell short of ever owning a lead, but it was enough to get the Charging Wildcats' attention from their coach at halftime.

"It was loud in our locker room at halftime, let's just say that," said North Little Rock head coach J.R. Eldridge. "West Memphis had a great game plan and they came in here and took it to us in the first half. We actually stayed in the locker room longer than we were supposed to because we were pretty upset."

The Blue Devils' first three offensive series saw movement, but all three ended up as stalled drives. They ended up at the North Little Rock 33, the 41 and the 17 before all three drives crashed after going for it on fourth down.

"We talk all the time about finishing plays," said Hooks. "And we talk all the time about finishing series.We're still making the mistakes that champions are supposed to avoid. We gotta make a play, we gotta put the ball into the end zone. We didn't do that tonight, but it's going to get better."

The Blue Devil defense turned North Little Rock over once in the first half as dazzling junior Tamerius Bell intercepted a Kareame Cotton pass and returned it to the North Little Rock 46 before that particular drive stalled at the 17.

Although down by a pair of touchdowns in the first half, West Memphis outgained the 'Cats in total yards, 145-142.

"I like where this team is headed," Hooks added.

West Memphis' first possession in the second half was much like the first half as it trampled onto North Little Rock territory thanks to a pass interference call on the hosts, putting the ball at the 'Cats' 34. But once again the Blue Devils ran out of downs.

One of the bigger gains, individually, for West Memphis was the play of junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins, whose passing numbers were quite deceiving. He completed 8 of 20 passes for 83 yards.

However, he had six dropped throws, which drew the ire of the head coach.

"Oh my goodness, dropping the football...," Hooks said, his voice trailing. "That right there will get you beat. Huge momentum shift right there."

North Little Rock (4-0) put it away with two touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth quarter.

With the non-conference now in the rear-view mirror, the Blue Devils now turn their attention to the 6A-East Conference portion of their schedule, and awaiting them right off the bat are the Marion Patriots, who were idle Friday night after losing their first three games of the season.

The game is set for Patriot Stadium.

Ticket information for the game includes West Memphis players getting an allotment for family and friends, which will leave a limited amount of tickets for the remainder of Blue Devil Nation.

Those tickets will be on sale beginning Wednesday at the West Memphis School District Administrative office on South Avalon. There will likely be no tickets sold at the box office in Marion on game night.

Hooks: Blue Devils will be much crisper at North Little Rock

By Billy Woods

WM School District

After a few hours to think about it, after a few days to come up with a solution, West Memphis head football coach Robert Hooks boiled it down to something not so technical.

"We need to be a whole lot more physical," Hooks simply said.

The first-year boss was not happy, to say the least, about the way Wynne went about defeating the Blue Devils 39-6 on Sept. 4. Wynne used its size advantage and played keep-away from West Memphis in the first half in building up a 24-0 lead at intermission.

Particularly displeasing was the fact that the Blue Devils had only 11 offensive snaps in the first 24 minutes to Wynne's 41.

So with an open date last week, Hooks put the Blue Devils (1-1) through the ringer. He said he thinks the product on the field will be much crisper Friday night as the Blue Devils travel to North Little Rock (2-0), the No. 3-ranked team in the state.

"We focused on physical and mental toughness last week," said Hooks. "Wynne exposed us as being a soft football team. I don't ever want to see that on video again."

Hooks said there were exhaustive drills his team went through in practice last week.

"Just one-on-one stuff," he said. "You gotta beat the man in front of you. Head and heart stuff. We also repped on doing the little things right. The open date came at a great time. We needed to find out some stuff about our football team and we did."

North Little Rock, with first-year head coach J.R. Eldridge at the helm, defeated Springdale Har-Ber 41-28 in the regular-season opener and then handed Fayetteville a 35-17 loss last week.

The Charging Wildcats have been in the Class 7A state championship game the last four consecutive seasons, winning it all in 2017 for their first state championship since 1972.

"Very good football team," Hooks said of North Little Rock. "Big, fast and strong. You can tell they're a program that's played for four straight state championships.

"We have our hands full, but I think our kids have bought in. We had a good week last week and a great day on (Monday) of this week. I think our kids will compete."

North Little Rock features a run-heavy offense that is led by senior running back Frederick O'Donald, who is averaging 166.5 yards per game, and senior quarterback Kereame Cotton, who although has completed only 11 of 27 pass attempts this season, has rushed for an average of 141.5 yards per game thus far.

The Blue Devils so far have gotten good mileage out of junior running back Tamerius Bell, who scored the team's only touchdown last week after rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns in the team's season-opening 36-16 win over Southwest Little Rock.

"I think in every phase of the game you'll see improvement by us this week," said Hooks. "Right now I think our defense is ahead of our offense. But I think we're headed in the right direction."

Kickoff for Friday night's game is set for 7 p.m.

Tickets for fans are still on sale at the WMSD Administrative Office at 301 S. Avalon for $5 each. NLR officials have said tickets will probably not be on sale at their ticket booths on Sept. 18. They will be available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Wynne overpowers Blue Devils 39-6

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The Blue Devils have a lot of work to do.

So said their coach, Robert Hooks, moments after Wynne handed West Memphis a 39-6 loss Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

West Memphis showed heart, conditioning and no quit in its 36-16 season-opening victory over Southwest Little Rock, but Wynne exposed the weaknesses in Week Two.

The Blue Devil offense was held to just one first down all night and it ran just 11 plays in the first half.

"We played a really, really good football team and a physical football team in Wynne," said Hooks. "It showed us that we have a lot of work to do as far as physicality and playing that type of ball."

Wynne (2-0) ran out to a 24-0 halftime lead and dominated the time of possession. The Yellow Jackets ran 41 snaps on offense to the Blue Devils' 11. The hosts also had just 18 yards of offense in the first two quarters while Wynne had 284.

The Blue Devils had just one brief moment of glory in the first half. After Wynne took the opening kickoff 65 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead, it appeared the Blue Devil offense answered back quickly.

Junior quarterback Bryson Jenkins connected with senior H-back Eli Duncan for an apparent 58-yard touchdown pass, but the celebration was short-lived. West Memphis was flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield.

"That's a momentum-changer," said Hooks. "I thought it was a legal play. (The receiver) was off the ball. It's just about communication. He told the ref that he was off the ball. But we've just gotta be able to capitalize and do better."

West Memphis' defense was challenged by the power approach of Wynne's option offense, engineered by senior quarterback Marterius Ross, who accounted for four touchdowns on the night, three of which came through the air.

The visitors scored on their first four possessions behind the inside running of senior fullback Kamryn Speed, who rushed for 88 of his game-high 126 yards in the first half.

The Blue Devils finally got some offense going late in the fourth quarter after senior Dennis Dallas returned a kickoff 70 yards to the Wynne 13. On the ensuing snap, junior Tamerius Bell, who rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Southwest Little Rock, sped 13 yards for a touchdown with 3:05 left in the game.

For the game, Wynne outrushed the Blue Devils 351 to 29.

Hooks and his troops will have two weeks to correct the mistakes because next week is an open date for the Blue Devils. On Sept. 18 West Memphis travels to North Little Rock to take on one of the state's top five teams.

Conditioning the key for Blue Devils as Wynne visits on Friday night

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With athletes all over the world quarantined for three months, it should have made for a bunch of athletes out of shape when it came time to fire those muscles again.

And for the most part that has held true.

Except it didn't last Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

The West Memphis Blue Devil football players were shutdown due to Covid-19, but they apparently made up a lot of ground from mid-June on because they were clearly the better conditioned team in defeating Southwest Little Rock 36-16 in the season opener.

They'll need a similar effort, if not a better one, on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field as the Blue Devils take on Wynne.

The decision to move Senior Night to early in the season was made due to uncertainty for the rest of the football season. Thus, West Memphis' seniors will be honored before the game, starting at 6:30 p.m.

New head coach Robert Hooks noted early on this summer that his kids were already in better shape than he anticipated thanks to the conditioning program of Billy Elmore's staff.

Hooks then pushed his players hard once the state gave football players permission to start workouts on June 18.

On a night that pushed the cardiovascular envelope, the Blue Devils won out. After intermittent rain throughout the afternoon and ending just five minutes before kickoff, the air was heavy for the players on the field.

"One thing I learned working with Buck James at Camden Fairview and Bryant is that early in the season if you can be in better shape than your opponent it gives you a good chance to win," said Hooks. "Early, you've got to train them like thoroughbreds. You push them to the max and then back off of them about the third week to let them get their legs back under them. Actually, right now we don't have all our legs under us. You're going to see us look like a different football team in about week 4.

"We ran every day in the summer. A lot of programs stayed away from the weight room and just tried to implement their offenses and defenses and sort of slacked off a little on the conditioning. We did not compromise the weight room nor in the running. That's what's going to help us these next few weeks."

The Blue Devils actually looked stronger in the second half, outscoring Southwest Little Rock 30-0.

One of the reasons was the play of junior Tamerius Bell, who rushed 7 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the decisive fourth quarter, as well as two key interceptions.

Hooks said Bell wasn't even on the depth chart at running back in the days leading up to the game. He was only listed as a starter in the defensive secondary.

"Before Wednesday Tamerius wasn't a running back," Hooks said. "On Wednesday we had him working some H-back. One of our running backs was not hitting the hole and I could hear Tamerius in the background saying he wanted to hit the hole. So I asked him if he could do any better and he said yes. So I put him in there...and he hit the hole. I said do it again, and he did it again. I made up my mind there that we were going to get him the football."

Wynne also got its season off on the right foot last week, defeating Marion 35-19. Head coach Van Paschal's team will bring a tough option offense to town that has caught Hooks' attention.

"They have a slotback (Carl Washington), he's only 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds but when he gets into the open spaces, I don't know if we've got anybody who can catch him," said Hooks. "I don't think you can rattle them. They're going to come in here and do what they do best and be pretty good at it."

Bell's heroics give Hooks victory in debut as Blue Devil coach

By Billy Woods

WM School District

When it was over, when his teammates had already showered him with pats on the back, the birthday boy talked about the gifts he'd already received earlier in the day.

But what Tamerius Bell may not have considered was the biggest gift came from him to his teammates and coaches. The 5-foot-10 junior intercepted two passes and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field to power the West Memphis Blue Devils to a 36-16 come-from-behind victory over Southwest Little Rock.

The biggest recipient of that gift was most likely Robert Hooks, who was victorious in his debut as Blue Devil head coach.

"Two touchdowns and two interceptions and a win...that's my birthday," said Bell. "That's all I wanted."

Southwest Little Rock was the big unknown coming into the game. West Memphis coaches had nothing to go on for a scouting report since this was the brand new school's first-ever football game.

And about the only thing West Memphis fans had to go on as far as expectations from their end was a preseason scrimmage the previous week at Blytheville that saw little offensive movement by the Blue Devils.

And after a first half in which Southwest Little Rock led 16-6 and outgained the hosts 221-135, not many could have foreseen what materialized in the second half.

The Blue Devil defense dominated the second half as the Gryphons (a combination of a Lion and an Eagle) were minus 17 yards rushing in the second half. Bell himself rushed 10 times for 88 yards in the final two quarters.

Hooks, who coached the Osceola Seminoles from the depths to two straight state championship appearances, deflected the personal accolades afterward.

"It's always good to win, no matter how you get it," he said with a smile. "It's always better than losing. I thought our kids kept their composure."

And Hooks' kids were the better conditioned team.

On a muggy night following rain showers that were off and on up until kickoff, the Gryphons had several players cramp up during the game while the Blue Devils still had plenty of gas left in the tank in the fourth quarter.

"I think our strength and conditioning helped us win this ballgame," said Hooks. "In the second half we were still strong. (Southwest Little Rock) was fatigued. We didn't have any kids to cramp up. I'm just excited we were able to win this type of game."

Southwest looked to be on the verge of creating history by winning its first football game as it took a 16-6 lead at halftime. West Memphis struck first on a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryson Jenkins to Elijah Eulls early in the second half.

But Gryphon quarterback Markel Cartwright, after going just 1 for his first 5 passing, loosened up and ended the first half with 125 yards passing, including two touchdowns.

But three bad snaps, two coming in the shotgun formation, opened the door for West Memphis. The Gryphons lost 71 yards in those snaps and the first one gave the Blue Devils possession at the visitors' 12 early in the third quarter.

It led to back-up quarterback Brandon Peters connecting with Jaylin Shepard for a 3-yard touchdown pass to slice the deficit to 16-13. After another errant snap, West Memphis' Kelvin Malone and teammates capitalized when the 5-foot-8 senior scored a 12-yard touchdown, giving the hosts the lead for good at 20-16.

Yet another bad snap by the Gryphons later gave the Blue Devils a safety with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter to pad the lead at 22-16.

Not surprisingly, the play that helped secure the win for West Memphis came on defense.

With the Gryphons pinned at their 10 and facing an all-or-nothing fourth down, head coach Darly Patton, who rose to success years ago as the head coach at Fayetteville, brought in his back-up quarterback, Hunter Belton, hoping to throw the visitors back into it.

But, Blue Devil senior linebacker Eli Duncan came charging from the left edge and pressured Belton into throwing an interception by Bell.

"I tell you Eli's a warrior, man," said Hooks. "He played both ways for most of this game and he still had enough energy to pressure their quarterback and force that interception."

It took only two plays for Bell to run 9 yards for another West Memphis touchdown to make it 29-16 with just 3:52 to play.

Bell then put the icing on the cake when he blasted through a huge hole for a 47-yard touchdown with 1:57 to play and start the early celebration on the West Memphis sideline.

"When I hit the hole, Eli hit the linebacker and I saw a clear lane," Bell explained. "And then I ran off Caden (Smith's) butt to see which way I was going to go."

It'll be a night of firsts as Blue Devils clash with SW Little Rock

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The key, and most often used, word for Friday night's football game between Southwest Little Rock and West Memphis is "first."

Foremost, it will be the first regular-season game during the Covid-19 pandemic and thus there will be restrictions in place such as social distancing, facemasks, staggered rows of bleachers and limited capacity.

But it will also be the first game for the Blue Devils' new head coach, Robert Hooks, who set a torrid pace in three years at Osceola before coming to West Memphis.

Furthermore, it will be the very first game for the Southwest Little Rock program. For veteran football fans in West Memphis, Southwest is a consolidation of McClellan and Fair. It will be classified as a 7A school for football.

Also, it will be the first game for Daryl Patton as head coach of the Gryphons. Patton was the long-time head coach at Fayetteville.

Throw all those "firsts" together and mix them in with the foreboding remnants of Hurricane Laura making its way into the area, and it promises to be a season-opener unlike any other in Blue Devil history.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Yet one more dilemma for West Memphis is trying to get a scouting report on a team that has yet to play a game in school history.

"I was just talking to Coach Patton and I mentioned they had film on us, but we didn't have film on them. That's an unfair advantage," Hooks said with a laugh. "I have heard they're going to be really good on defense. They sound like a mirror image of us. Any time you're putting in a new spread offense it's going to take some time."

Both teams figure to be playing at a high level of emotion because of the newness of each program.

"We know (Southwest) is going to be jacked up to play this game," said Hooks. "Any time you can be the first to do something, it's special."

But the Blue Devils, 7-5 a year ago under Billy Elmore, will no doubt be emotionally and mentally ready. Last week in the preseason scrimmage at Blytheville, Hooks said he noticed his players on the sideline being engaged with the action on the film and that enthusiasm swept through the squad.

"That's one thing we coach. We practice that," Hooks added. "You wanna watch the guy who's in front of you (on the depth chart) because at any moment you're one play away from being on the field. I think we did a good job of that in Blytheville."

Defense will be the key for the Blue Devils, at least in the early going of 2020. Leading the way is noseman Vince Richardson, a senior.

"Patton was telling me after watching film on us, that No. 52 (Richardson) is a very good player," Hooks commented. "He was asking me who No. 52 was."

Hooks isn't denying there will be a high level of emotion for him, too, coaching his first game for the Blue Devils.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, it'll be a 10 for me," he said. "Any time you play the first game of a season there is a little more excitement. But we're playing a 7A opponent, and we accept the challenge. We want to go out Friday night and show everybody what Blue Devil football is all about and show that we're capable of playing big-time ball."

Hooks Era ready to launch in West Memphis

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The Robert Hooks Era is ready to hit the ground running.

Hooks, the new Blue Devil head football coach, comes to West Memphis succeeding Billy Elmore. He led Osceola to a 35-8 record the last three seasons. Hooks also led the Seminoles to two straight state championship game appearances and another state semifinal appearance.

"I'm just excited to start a new era of West Memphis football," said Hooks, a native of Luxora and a graduate of Rivercrest High School. "I think our kids have really bought in and I think they're ready to show what they can do."

Hooks takes over a program that is used to winning, but he has also coached at other schools which have enjoyed a winning legacy, including Camden, Bryant and Fort Smith Northside.

The Blue Devils have gone 28-8 the last three years with appearances in the state semifinals in all three of those campaigns.

"The No. 1 thing I've noticed about the kids in our program is that they are fast learners," said Hooks. "This is my fifth different school to coach under and these kids catch on faster than anywhere else I've been. Second thing that caught my attention in the first few months here was the physical conditioning and strength of these kids. We didn't have to play catch-up in those areas."

After going 7-5 last season, the Blue Devils lost a lot of experience from a large senior class. Where it shows up most is on the line, especially on offense. The depth in that area will have to be developed as time goes on.

Offensively, Hooks likes what he sees out of his skill players, especially in running backs Dennis Dallas and Elijah Eulls and receivers Nathan Watson and Jaylin Shephard, all of whom accrued a lot of high-leverage minutes last season.

Hooks admits his defensive unit is ahead of the offense at this point.

"I really like what I see out of our defense," he said. "We fly to the football, we play assignment football and we play with enthusiasm. As far as effort, I think you'll see everyone out there playing 100 percent. I don't think you'll see anybody loafing out there."

The Blue Devil offense will be under the controls of junior Bryson Jenkins, who got his feet wet last year in junior varsity action. He has some talented skill people to get the ball to in Dallas, who is the son of a former Blue Devil standout. Dallas is the leading returning rusher from last year. He piled up 219 yards last year and two touchdowns. Eulls also returns after rushing 14 times for 127 yards last year for a 9.1 average per carry. He also had a long run of 57 yards and one TD.

Watson is Jenkins' leading returning receiver after hauling in 28 passes for 316 yards and one touchdown. Shephard caught 10 passes last year for 151 yards and a pair of TDs.

Also lining up at a receiver spot for the Blue Devils will be senior Caden Smith. The final receiver spot is up for grabs between Kelvin Malone and Eulls.

Up front at left tackle will be Rodney Richardson while left guard will be manned by Kalon Prackett. The center will be Micah Turner. Justin Horns will start at right guard while Daarious Smith will take on right tackle.

Defensively, the Blue Devils will rely heavily on senior Vince Richardson, who is enjoying a solid preseason camp. Richardson will play nose. Malcolm Perry will start at one defensive end while the other will be manned by Travis Wright.

The inside linebacking corps will include junior Caleb Troxler and senior Eli Duncan. The outside linebackers will find junior Jaylen Turner and Cayden Berry.

In the secondary, one corner will be manned by Tamerius Bell while the other is Jaylan Carter.

At safety will be Brandon Peters, another junior, and Julious McGruder, a senior.

Hooks has already been exposed to the culture surrounding Blue Devil football in the community.

"When you have the community behind you like we do here, there's an expectation when you walk around town as a player or coach," said Hooks. "Everybody wants to talk to you about Blue Devil football. It goes from top to bottom, from the administration all the way down to the community. I'm very pleased and very happy to be working for the administration that I'm working for in Mr. (Jon) Collins as a superintendent, Gary Jackson as the principal and Coach Elmore as the AD. All three of those guys make my job a lot easier. From the outside looking in I always thought of the West Memphis coaching job as being one that many coaches around the state would like to have. Now that I'm in this position all those things have been confirmed. There's no more guessing. I'm very proud to be the head coach in West Memphis."

Blue Devils happy to get back on the field in scrimmage

By Billy Woods

WM School District

BLYTHEVILLE --- The West Memphis Blue Devils' game plan for Friday night's preseason scrimmage at Haley Field called for playing it close to the vest

The Blue Devils, who open their regular season this Friday night at home against Southwest Little Rock, didn't show much of their offense in two fully timed 12-minute periods and the result was a 3-0 "loss" to Blytheville.

Despite holding some of their repertoire back on offense, first year Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks didn't hold back in critiquing his club.

"If I had to give us a grade I'd say F-plus," he said. "And they get the plus because of the defense. The defense played a great game. Anytime you can hold the opponent to three points, you should win the game."

Hooks was more critical of the offense, which had trouble moving the ball against an aggressive Chickasaw defense.

"We didn't finish a lot of plays on offense," Hooks added. "We made a lot of mistakes on offense, but I think we'll get them corrected this next week."

The one aspect Hooks said he was looking for in this simulation setting was effort. And the Blue Devils checked that box, according to Hooks.

"The effort was good, and we can coach off that," he stated. "We're going to be fine."

Hooks admitted what with the limited practices and the shutdown from the Covid-19 pandemic, that lack of timing on offense was going to be an issue for his troops.

"It was hard to know what to expect coming in here," Hooks commented. "We knew it could go either way. Tonight we started out slow and it snowballed on us. We got to moving late and we didn't finish. We gotta learn how to finish."

After an hour of specialty drills, including a seven-on-seven segment and some one-on-one blocking and tackling drills, the two teams settled down for some contact, the first of its kind since the pandemic struck the U.S. in early March.

The chance to get on the field with full pads and competing against an opponent elicited the enthusiasm and intensity Hooks and his coaching staff were hoping to see.

With junior Bryson Jenkins at quarterback for most of the night, the Blue Devils showed some life on several drives.

Hooks said his staff will approach this coming week in correction mode.

"We'll go back and make the corrections we need to make and get ready for a good Southwest Little Rock team," said Hooks.

Defensively, the Blue Devils used their speed and aggressiveness to hold the Chicks to just a 25-yard field goal.

With social distancing rules in place, fans were required to wear face coverings in the stands. Still, a good-size crowd came out for West Memphis. Players on each team were allowed to stretch out on the sidelines from between the 20-yard lines to between the 10-yard lines. Coaches were also wearing face coverings.

Blue Devils set for Friday scrimmage at Blytheville

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The governor has given the go-ahead, and the West Memphis Blue Devils are ready.

New head coach Robert Hooks will take his first Blue Devil team to Blytheville on Friday night for a preseason scrimmage at Haley Field.

Game time is set for 7 p.m.

"The time for games has approached fast for us, but we're excited about the opportunity," said Hooks. "We're ready to hit the field, put some pads on and hit somebody else for the first time."

With the Covid-19 pandemic still causing uncertainty with school-related activities, football coaches across America haven taken a cautious approach to playing this season. But Hooks has his troops ready to give the fans a preview.

"Not knowing whether or not we would be playing has caused a few setbacks, but once we got the word on Friday everybody was gung-ho about it," Hooks added. "We're just ready to play an opponent."

The Blue Devils are scheduled to open the season Aug. 28 at home against Southwest Little Rock. Ticket information will be forthcoming.

Hooks said Friday night's format at Blytheville would include some specialty reps for the first half of action. The second half will be a full-out scrimmage for two fully-timed quarters.

"Some of the things we want to see from our end is the offensive line," said Hooks. "To see how well they compete. We feel like our skills guys are going to be competitive. We just want to make sure that we fine-tune things up front. Overall, I want to see guys competing until the whistle blows. Not play-watching, but finishing each play. As long as we're giving 100 percent effort, we can correct the mistakes."

Hooks likes what he sees on first day of preseason workouts

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The first official day of preseason football practice was pleasing to new Blue Devil head coach Robert Hooks.

Just days after Governor Asa Hutchinson gave the go-ahead for football practice to start, with hints that there will be a season this fall, Hooks' squad went through one three-and-a-half hour practice this morning on the Hamilton-Shultz Field turf.

"I thought today went better than a typical first day of practice," said Hooks, who succeeds Billy Elmore at the West Memphis helm. "I'm excited about where we're at and I hope we continue to improve on our work."

With the Covid-19 pandemic still an issue in the U.S., the prospects of having a fall football season have been in question the last several weeks. But amid Hutchinson's declaration last Friday and administered through the Arkansas Activities Association, high school football is, for the moment, a full go in the Natural State.

The Blue Devils are set to open the regular season on Week Zero Aug. 28 at home against Little Rock Southwest.

Plus, Hooks is in the midst of setting up the Blue Devils with a preseason jamboree in Glen Rose on the Aug. 28. He said the jamboree would include his squad, Glen Rose and Hot Springs.

Final details of the scrimmage are still being worked on.

The Blue Devils worked out today in shorts and helmets only. The date for full pads and contact is tentatively set for Saturday, but the final word won't be given until Friday at the earliest.

"It's a waiting game," said Hooks.

With all the uncertainty surrounding any type of school activities due to the pandemic, it has placed football programs behind the curve in terms of traditional workouts.

However, Hooks said there will be total compliance in his program.

"Hey, that's football," he stated. "You always have to monitor and adjust anyway. It's up to us to make the adjustments and getting our kids comfortable during this period.

"We're playing a waiting game and we're going to do what we're told to do. We fully support whatever the authorities tell us to do or not to do."

Despite all that, the Blue Devils and every other team in the state are in hurry-up mode during the preseason.

"For us, it's especially hurry-up," Hooks said with a smile. "We want to stress to our kids that there are three phases of the game and we're going to work to be good in all three phases. Those first three weeks are building blocks for us. That's where you gain the most momentum, from Week One to Week Three. You should get better each week."

Hooks said his entire offense has already been implemented.

"We're now going back through the second phase of implementing everything," he said. "Now, we're going to add RPO's and add play-actions to the run. I think we're ahead of the game as far as offense goes. I am very excited about our defense. We're going to fly around and have fun."

New head coach Hooks hits the ground running on first day of work

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Upon his introductory speech this morning to his players, new Blue Devil head football coach Robert Hooks instructed them to write down on a sheet of paper a list of things they think it will take to win a state championship.

And with that the Hooks Era began at West Memphis.

Hooks, who met with new players this morning for the first time, was approved on Tuesday night at a special called West Memphis School Board meeting to succeed Billy Elmore as head coach for the Blue Devils. Elmore will move into the position of athletic director, succeeding Larry Bray, who retired just a week ago.

Hooks comes to West Memphis after leading Osceola to two straight state championship game appearances and one state semifinal berth. Hooks compiled a 35-8 record at Osceola.

A native of Luxora and a graduate of Rivercrest High School, Hooks also served as former assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Camden and Bryant respectively, and he is a former offensive line coach at Fort Smith Northside.

"I'm excited for this opportunity," said Hooks. "I am very familiar with Blue Devil football. To me, Blue Devil football means championship caliber football. They've been knocking at the door yearly.

"When you think of West Memphis you think of running backs. Back when I played for Rivercrest, West Memphis had a slew of running backs. I graduated the same year as D'Arrius Howard and he and I played for the East in the All-Star Game. Before D'Arrius it was ol' (Charles) Stackhouse."

Like his predecessor, Hooks intends to run the spread offense at West Memphis. But with just over two months before the regular season begins, he may have to make concessions on just how detailed he wants to be within his own system.

"We will run the spread, but I will have to evaluate the talent first to see whether we'll be four just depends on our personnel," said Hooks. "We want to be able to play at a fast tempo, but again we'll adjust to what we've got this year. We want to keep the field 50 yards wide and make defenses honor every part of the football field."

Defensively, Hooks said "we'll probably be in a three-front with coverage behind it. I think a base 3-4 defense is what we'll do."

Coaching is not what Hooks originally set out to do when he graduated Rivercrest High School.

"But somewhere around my junior year of college I pretty much knew that coaching was what I was born to do," he stated.

He said his coaching influences come first from his father, who coached his pee wee football teams, Gus Malzahn, Houston Nutt, Buck James, his position coach in high school Kelly Chandler and Scott Reed.

"Coach Buck James showed me the ropes on how to discipline kids and how to hold them accountable," said Hooks. "I take a little bit from just about every one of those coaches."

Hooks inherits a Blue Devil program that has gone 28-8 the last three years with three consecutive berths in the Class 6A state semifinals. Included in those seasons were records of 11-1 in 2018 and 10-2 in 2017.

"One thing I see about West Memphis is the number of athletes available," Hooks commented. "We have a good junior high feeder system and the kids are high-quality kids with a lot of athletic ability."

Coaching in the midst of a pandemic will be a challenge, Hooks admitted, but the job will get done.

"The main thing is safety for the kids and taking care of them," he stated. "We want to make sure we abide by all the rules and go the extra mile on not taking a chance of spreading or contracting the virus."

Hooks will also be in hurry-up mode when it comes to establishing his system and philosophy during a summer that will be as busy as possible.

"It's going to take at least to Week 3 of the regular season," he said. "I think by Week 4 we'll be gelling. The biggest thing is not to rush it, but to stick with what you know and really work on fundamentals."

The rest of the summer workouts will mostly be about evaluation, according to Hooks.

"We want to hit the ground running," he said. "We want to find out quickly what's going to work best for this group of kids."

Elmore steps down as head coach, named new athletic director

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Billy Elmore came to West Memphis in 2014 charged with rebuilding a storied football program that had a brief stumble.

Six years later he says he wants a new challenge in his career.

Elmore resigned last week as Blue Devil head football coach and has been hired as the West Memphis athletic director. His new role will be a dual one. Elmore will also be head of transportation for the West Memphis School District.

Elmore replaces Larry Bray, who retired last week, as AD.

"I've been an athletic director before in my career and I think in this position in West Memphis I can be even more beneficial to our kids from an athletic director's standpoint than being the head football coach," said Elmore. "Even though I won't be on the front lines of competition, I still have a chance to influence a lot of things they do."

The WMSD will move quickly to announce Elmore's successor, what with football season less than three months away.

After Lanny Dauksch resigned as Blue Devil head coach in 2014, Elmore, who had won his second state championship at Stuttgart in 2012, was named his successor.

After 12 wildly successful years under Dauksch, the Blue Devils stumbled to 3-7 in 2013. Elmore was brought in with a new system, the spread offense, and it took two years for it to catch on.

But once it did, it took off.

Elmore (43-26 in his tenure at West Memphis) led the Blue Devils to three straight berths in the state semifinals. His best years included a 10-2 campaign in 2017, followed by an 11-1 season in 2018.

Elmore won two straight 6A-East Conference championships in 2017 and 2018.

"I think I've coached my last game," Elmore commented. "But I'm not leaving West Memphis. Every desire and intention I have is to retire here. That time of coaching, I think, has come and gone."

Elmore's debut as head coach was wildly dramatic.

The Blue Devils defeated Forrest City 42-41 on the final play of the game as Kylin Whiting connected with Darrell Dudley for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

"I loved my time here as coach," said Elmore. "The program had slipped a little bit, but I feel like we've been knocking on the door the last three years. Yes, that first game against Forrest City was wild. I can't remember many games I've coached where our team won on the last play of the game."

Elmore's emergence on the West Memphis scene was also dramatic.

The Blue Devils had run the wing-T offense for over 20 years from Grafton Moore to Lanny Dauksch. It was a part of the West Memphis DNA.

Along comes Elmore, who wants to run the spread and throw the ball around twice as much as either of his predecessors. It was almost like teaching players a new game.

"It was a big adjustment for the kids, I know that," said Elmore. "My style and Coach Dauksch's style were complete opposites. Lanny was as successful with his way as anybody in this business has ever been. That first group I had struggled with the new offense. But eventually the kids adapted to what we wanted to do on offense."

Among the other top moments, according to Elmore, was the winning two-point conversion over Marion in 2019 in which offensive tackle Chris Morris took a lateral pass from Owens McConnell to beat the Patriots.

"Another moment that was big for me was National Signing Day," said Elmore. "I love the first Wednesday in February. A football game is one thing, winning and losing is another, but when a kid gets an opportunity to get their college education paid for...that's life-changing stuff."

Blue Devil football returns to practice via social distancing, masks

By Billy Woods

WM School District

For the first time in a long time the boom from the Blue Devil weight room was heard.

West Memphis football players, a few at a time, pumped iron, shuffled their feet through ladders, took turns running and even got a few snaps of position-based workouts at the end.

Monday marked the first day of a return to team sports workouts since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in March.

Social distancing was emphasized as weight stations were reconfigured 12 feet apart and position-based workouts were spread even further than that. Masks were used for indoor workouts.

"It feels good to be back and actually doing something," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "It's almost like football, but it's not totally because of social distancing and mask-wearing. But it's much closer than we had before."

Players were split into small groups as they rotated from station to station.

"I've been waiting for a long time to get back to the fieldhouse," said Blue Devil senior Nathan Watson. "I've been doing home workouts the last two months. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, doing some drills and running around in my backyard."

The home workouts and isolation from teammates the last two months made senior Caden Smith a happy man once he walked into the indoor facility on Monday.

"Once you lose something or it gets taken away for a while, you just can't wait for that moment to come back," said Smith. "Just being back makes me super excited. My home workouts included waking up at 6 a.m. and going on a three-mile run and then doing my sit-ups and push-ups. I also made sure I did some footwork drills."

High school football in Arkansas, and particularly in the Delta Region, is all about community. One high school in each community. Thus, football and community are dependent on each other.

The return to football practice, in anticipation of some type of season this coming fall, gives hope to many West Memphians.

"With us being in the South, football is the biggest sport," said Elmore. "I think in this day and time anything we can do that's positive is needed. Just getting our kids back out here and moving, that's definitely a positive. There are probably people driving down Broadway and seeing our kids's probably going to make them smile a little bit. I think it's time for us to reintroduce ourselves back to some type of normalcy, even if it's slow or not exactly like it used to be."

Blue Devil football is back on Monday!!

By Billy Woods

WM School District

For the first time since March 12, sports will become a topic once again in Crittenden County when the West Memphis Blue Devil football team will work out on Monday.

As the Blue Devil boys basketball team was 72 hours away from playing in the Class 5A state championship game against Jacksonville, state officials shut down sports and practically everything else because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, as communities and businesses are reopening, Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Department of Health have given the green light for team sports to begin under strict precautions and social distancing.

"I think with everything we've all been through the past two-and-a-half months we're all excited to get back to football," said Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore.

Elmore, who said he's confident there will be a regular season this fall, and his staff will coordinate weight work along with some conditioning outside and some drills.

All done to meet the standards set by the state Health Department, which call for strict protocols for a limited number of staff and student-athletes.

"We're gonna be 30 minutes in the weight room, done by position groups," said Elmore. "We'll bring in the offense and defense separately. The entire offense and the entire defense will not be in the facility together. We've restructured our weights to where we can have 12-foot separation.

"When we have meetings we'll use masks. We'll do 30 minutes in the weight room, 30 minutes for meetings and 30 minutes out on the field doing (footwork) drills."

Elmore said his staff's biggest challenge will be shutting down practice and telling the athletes they have to go home.

"Our kids love to hang around the fieldhouse an hour or so after practice to socialize," said Elmore. "We'll have to tell them they have to leave. That won't be so easy, but it'll get done."

Elmore also said he and his staff have used Zoom meetings to stay in contact with his players in the weeks following the shutdown.

"It'll be great just to see everybody in person instead of on a screen," Elmore added. "We'd like to get some type of normalcy back in our kids' lives."

The Blue Devil Boss also cautioned football coaches from all over Arkansas.

"We all need to follow every guideline to the T," he stated. "If we screw this up in the summer, who knows if we'll even have a football season this year. But I feel like if everybody is careful in how they go about the workouts, we'll have a football season."

Blue Devil standouts Moore, Crayton ink scholarships

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Two more West Memphis Blue Devil football players signed college scholarships Wednesday, bringing the total to three for this year's team.

In December, offensive tackle Chris Morris inked with Texas A&M.

On Wednesday, linebacker/running back Kendarrius Moore signed with the University of Central Arkansas and receiver Jamaul Crayton signed with Henderson State University.

For Moore, the recruiting process was very complicated. He made a verbal commitment to Tulane before the 2019 season began, but the Green Wave coaching staff pulled their scholarship offer late in the season.

To Moore's credit, Tulane's move did not deter him on the field. But it did enough to shake Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore, who was visibly upset.

"Unfortunately, Kendarrius got to see the unscrupulous side of college football recruiting," said Elmore. "We all learned some lessons from it. Due to that, Tulane's no longer welcome on our campus. Their coaches will lie to kids. They told (Moore) to cancel his official visits to Oklahoma State, the Naval Academy and Vanderbilt. When he did that, those other schools moved on.

"I understand there's a side of college football recruiting where that can happen, but you really don't tell a kid to cancel his official visits and then pull his scholarship offer."

Although Moore moved over to the offensive side of the ball midway through the 2019 campaign, he made his mark on defense, where he was a three-year starter and two-time All-State selection at linebacker.

He led the team in almost every defensive category. Moore had team-high totals in solo tackles with 137, in assists with 57, tackles for loss at 32.5, sacks with 4 and interceptions with 5.

In his limited time on offense, Moore had 38 rushes for 317 yards for 8.3 yards per carry. He added 6 touchdowns.

Moore said UCA coaches have said he'll stay at linebacker for the Bears, whether it be as an inside backer or outside.

"I really liked the coaches, the facilities, what all they have to offer and the campus at UCA," said Moore, who said he'll major in physical therapy.

When asked about the recruiting mess, Moore took the high road.

"It just taught me a lot about life," he said. "Obviously, anybody would be upset over something like that, but I just learned a lot. I feel like it made me a better person. Everything happens for a reason."

Elmore said he thinks UCA will end up being for the best for Moore.

"God puts you in certain situations for different reasons," Elmore added. "I really think UCA is going to be a great fit for Kendarrius."

Crayton's story is every bit as interesting as Moore's.

The speedy receiver moved from Minnesota to West Memphis before his junior year.

The reason?

"There are a lot better recruiting opportunities here than there are in Minnesota," said Crayton, whose grandmother and aunt live in West Memphis.

He picked Henderson State over Ouachita Baptist University.

Like Moore, Crayton led the team in his specialized categories. He caught 29 passes for 449 yards and 4 touchdowns.

And also like Moore, Crayton had to overcome some adversity, leading up to his college decision.

Crayton's transition to West Memphis was further complicated by a broken wrist during the 2018 season. He'd come to the Blue Devils with ideas of being a quarterback. He said the broken wrist changed those plans.

"I felt like I could have been more of a help to the team (in 2018), but the broken bone changed all that," he said. "When I moved to receiver I had to work on getting faster and my footwork."

Interestingly, Crayton said he wants to major either in culinary arts or sports medicine at Henderson.

"I just like to eat," he said with a smile. "Ever since I was little my dad did a lot of cooking and I thought that was something I'd like to do."

Jamaul Crayton signed with Henderson State.

Kendarrius Moore signed with the University of Central Arkansas.

Offensive lineman Morris competes in Under Armor All-American Game

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Offensive guard Chris Morris became the first West Memphis Blue Devil to play in the Under Armor High School All-Star Game last Thursday in Orlando.

Morris, who helped the Blue Devils to a 7-5 record and an appearance in the Class 6A state semifinals. He played all season for the Blue Devils at left tackle, but played guard in the Under Armor Game.

The experience at Orlando blew him away, Morris said.

"It was easily the best experience I've ever had in my life," said the 6-foot-3, 287-pounder. "We spent eight days there, went to Disney World, two resorts, the beach, had pool parties, a fireworks show. By far the most fun I've ever had."

Morris played for the victorious Pressure, which defeated the Savage squad. He was on the field for all but three possessions for the Pressure.

"It was great being around players from all over the country," said Morris. "I already knew most of them from visiting camps and stuff."

The Texas A&M signee was an early high school grad and is ready to report to A&M this week, where he is expected to play guard for the Aggies.

"I feel like I can't be beat at left tackle, but I like guard, too," said Morris. "The (Under Armor) experience will help me. Everybody I dealt with all week was great. I just wanted to see how I would react against adversity."

Offensive lineman Chris Morris (75) gets an encouraging pat on the back from Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore.

Benton ends Blue Devil state playoff ride

By Billy Woods

WM School District

BENTON --- The ride is over for the West Memphis Blue Devils, but after a 2-4 start the ending was palatable.

After rushing out to leads of 14-0 and 21-7, the Blue Devils fell victim to the hot passing arm of Benton junior quarterback Garrett Brown, who led his team to a 63-35 victory Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.

The 6A state championship game will feature Searcy, a 50-38 winner over Greenwood in the other semifinal, against Benton. And the looks of it might be the first team to 60 wins.

Like West Memphis (7-5), the Panthers started the season in a huge hole. Benton lost its first three games of the season, but have been unbeatable since. The Blue Devil coaches, however, can take satisfaction in salvaging a season based on their ingenuity on offense.

"There's going to be a time where we look back and feel good about what we did, coming from 2-4," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "But that time's not now."

Behind the mix-and-match offense that featured two different mindsets, the Blue Devils ambushed Benton (9-3) from the opening kickoff.

But the game seemed to subvert when the key to the West Memphis offensive plan went down with an injury. With the Blue Devils clinging to a 21-14 lead and the Benton offense crossing midfield, West Memphis senior two-way star Kendarious Moore went down with an injury on a questionable block at the 3:47 mark of the second quarter.

Moore and teammate Cedric Loving lined up in the Wildcat formation and kept opposing defenses on their heels for the better part of five weeks. Blue Devil coaches alternated series between the double direct snap look and the conventional look behind quarterback Owens McConnell.

Moore's ankle injury kept him out of the rest of the game.

That's when Brown, the Panther quarterback, found his rhythm.

After starting the game 1 for his first 6 passing with zero yards and a pick six, Brown finished the contest completing 27 of 36 passes for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns.

"I really felt like we had a chance, especially with the way we started off," Elmore added. "They finally had our numbers on our zero coverage and stuff that we've been living and dying with the last five weeks. They exposed some things there."

West Memphis took the opening kick and went 80 yards in just six plays, culminated by Loving's 15-yard touchdown.

Brown's auspicious start was punctuated by Blue Devil sophomore Tamerius Bell picking him off and returning it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead for the visitors at the 2:21 mark of the first quarter.

The momentum stayed with West Memphis when senior quarterback McConnell, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 297 yards, connected with Drayton Brown for a 33-yard touchdown pass.

But the final 6:59 of the first half belonged to Benton and its hot-handed quarterback.

The Panthers took a 28-21 lead into halftime, but they received the second-half kickoff. An onside kick by the Blue Devils was easily recovered by Benton and from there the hosts took over.

Sophomore running back Casey Johnson scored two straight TDs on the ground and the remainder of the game rested on the right shoulder of Brown.

"We were feeling pretty good when it was 21-7, but you knew 21 points weren't going to hold up," said Elmore. "We just didn't continue to score with them."

Blue Devil receiver Jamual Crayton makes a catch against Benton near the sideline.

West Memphis preps for third straight playoff clash with Benton

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Billy Elmore suggests West Memphis-Benton is beginning to be a rivalry.

For the third straight year, the Blue Devils (7-4) play the Panthers in the Class 6A state playoffs. On Friday night West Memphis travels to Benton for a second straight match in the semifinals.

After the Blue Devils defeated Benton in the 2017 quarterfinals, the Panthers upset West Memphis 30-17 in last year's semifinals at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Which sets up the rubber match.

"I don't know how much the revenge factor plays into it, but I think it's growing into a rivalry," said Elmore. "Just for the fact that this is the third year in a row that we've played and it's always been a big game."

Last year, the Panthers broke open a 3-3 halftime tie with two short kickoffs that both landed in their hands. And both times the Panthers cashed in with touchdowns that wound up being the difference in the game.

The loss was the only blemish on West Memphis' 11-1 season.

"That was one that kind of bothers you a little bit," Elmore said of the defeat. "We really felt like we had the better team last year. But they played better and we wish we could have played it over."

Benton (10-3) began the season in an 0-3 hole, but the Panthers have rolled in a big way since, even beating the powerful Greenwood Bulldogs 45-38 on Oct. 25.

West Memphis earned the right to play the 6A-West champions by virtue of its 33-28 victory over Lake Hamilton last week.

It seems the Blue Devil coaching staff is finding a way to ambush the opposition each week, tweaking the offense.

Last week it was a fake punt that was snapped to up man Kendarious Moore, who rambled 63 yards to snap a 14-14 halftime tie.

"At times it's funny," Elmore said, straight-faced. "Because we come in on Sunday and stuff that we would normally look at and just go 'No, we're not doing that.' Now it's something that we find that we're putting into our package on Monday and having it ready by Thursday. Really, it's not a drastic change, terminology-wise. Really, we're running the same plays over and over again, but now we're doing them out of different formations and some funky motions. Just some stuff to try to throw the defense off. But as far as the actual play calls, they're not that much different."

Benton is a team that normally doesn't beat itself and the Panthers forced five turnovers last week in an 18-7 victory over Jonesboro.

"They eliminate mistakes very well," Elmore added. "The run and throw well, they throw the quick game well. They're pretty opportunistic when they do force turnovers."

Julious McGruder (4) takes off on a long gain against Lake Hamilton last week.

Moore's 3 TDs lead Blue Devils over Lake Hamilton, into semifinals

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With the game tied, the West Memphis Blue Devils faced fourth and nine from their 37 on the opening possession of the second half.

Head coach Billy Elmore called for a fake punt.

Then he flinched.

"I looked up and saw it was fourth and nine, and I thought, 'Oh no," he said.

Elmore's brief fling with regret was rescued, however, by his newest offensive weapon. Senior linebacker, err, running back, Kendarious Moore, took the short snap and plowed through a huge hole on his way to a 63-yard touchdown that proved to be the key play in the Blue Devils' 33-28 victory over Lake Hamilton last Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field in the quarterfinals of the 6A state playoffs.

With the triumph, the Blue Devils (7-4) advance to their third straight semifinal appearance, this time with the club traveling to Benton this Friday night for the right to play in the state championship game.

This time the Blue Devils get to the semifinals with some ingenuity from the coaching staff and an opportunistic, diverse offensive scheme.

For just the third straight week, Moore played both sides of the ball and while the first two weeks were a mixed bag of results, the third time proved to be the most bountiful.

With regular quarterback Owens McConnell out of the game periodically, Moore lined up in the Wildcat formation with running back Cedric Loving and rushed 9 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns.

The biggest and most meaningful TD was the fake punt that, although did not totally deflate Lake Hamilton (9-3), it pumped new life into the Blue Devils for the rest of the game.

"I just trust old Elmore," said a gleeful Moore. "Whatever he calls, I'm gonna do it. If he tells me to run through a wall, I'm gonna do it. We always try to get set quick (on fourth down) so we can get the numbers."

Elmore pulled the right strings.

"We had the numbers," he said. "The whole right side was open."

Through the first half, Lake Hamilton outgained West Memphis 217-115 on the ground, although that figure was deceptive. One-hundred and twenty-one of those yards came on two big plays that accounted for the visitors' touchdowns.

With third-year head coach Tommy Gilleran at the controls, the Wolves have abandoned the wide-open spread offense that marked their success for a couple of decades and have instead gone to a wing-T that older West Memphis fans are familiar with.

For the most part, the Blue Devils defended Lake Hamilton effectively.

"There were some issues we had defending the wing-T tonight," Elmore said, referring to the two big plays in the first half. "I wasn't happy with that part of it."

The Blue Devil offense got a touchdown apiece from Moore and McConnell in the first half, but Lake Hamilton answered each West Memphis score with TDs of 64 and 57 yards.

Moore, however, was only getting started.

After his 63-yard TD in the third quarter, the Blue Devils padded the lead with a 27-yard field goal from Colin Clark for a 24-14 cushion.

Lake Hamilton ninth-grader Justin Crutchmer scored a 38-yard touchdown to trim the West Memphis margin to 24-21, but Moore answered immediately with a 58-yard touchdown with 9:31 left in the game to give the Blue Devils a 31-21 lead.

Moore said his comfort level on offense has not been an issue since Elmore made the decision to jump-start the unit by creating different looks.

"I played quarterback in Little League and I played on offense all the time in junior high," said Moore. "I always liked carrying the ball."

After another Lake Hamilton touchdown made it 31-28, the Blue Devil defense clinched it when Davion Eason, who had five sacks three weeks ago in Pine Bluff, sacked Lake Hamilton quarterback Zach Bradley in the end zone for a safety with 1:06 to play in the game.

Elmore's smile lit up where he stood at midfield after the game.

"You know, practicing on Thanksgiving is beginning to be a habit around here," he said, referring to the third straight semifinal berth. "We're proud of the kids and what they've accomplished so far, but we're not finished yet."

Blue Devils J'Marious Rodgers (29) and Jaylen Shepard (81) leap for a deflected pass against Lake Hamilton.

Blue Devils await Lake Hamilton in state quarterfinals

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It was the sixth week of the season, and after a disappointing 31-23 homecoming loss to Sylvan Hills, the West Memphis coaching staff was in desperation mode.

Head coach Billy Elmore admits there were fans around town asking him if his team, which sported a 2-4 record, would even make the state playoffs.

It wasn't getting beat by Sylvan Hills which triggered the desperation, it was the way the Blue Devils lost.

"It was a game that I thought we gave away," said Elmore.

Today, the Blue Devils sit 6-4 overall and they are the second seed from the 6A-East Conference as they await Lake Hamilton on Friday night in a quarterfinal playoff game.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Blue Devil coaches brainstormed for ideas that might kick-start a revival.

It took a couple of drastic shifts in order to do that.

First, the coaches drew up some quirks on offense that shifted from Elmore's spread set. The single wing was added. Running backs set up in the Wildcat.

Its initial use was a wild success after the Blue Devils blitzed Jonesboro 24-21.

Secondly, Elmore's four-front defense switched to an odd front that placed another defender near the box. Allowing that to happen was the smothering play of the Blue Devil secondary, which was able to play man-to-man coverage.

The result was a four-game winning streak.

The wins were not all pretty. But here the Blue Devils stand as their postseason fate awaits them.

"We had to go outside the box," Elmore explained. "We had to do some things that I don't necessarily believe in, but it's like you can keep doing things the way you've been doing them and you're 2-4 or you can make wholesale changes. That's what we did and we've been successful."

The adjusts on the fly has made this season most enjoyable to Elmore.

"It gets creative in (strategy sessions) on Sundays," Elmore said with a smile. "You're challenged to come up with something new each week. It's been a great year as far as what our assistant coaches have had to do on each side of the ball. My main job is to turn them loose and let them get creative...and boy they have. In that aspect, it's been a really neat and fun year."

Standing in the Blue Devils' way this week is a Lake Hamilton club that is 9-2 with the only two losses coming to Benton and Greenwood. After winning their first eight games, the Wolves lost to Benton 31-20 and then fell 42-14 to Greeenwood.

Lake Hamilton advanced to the quarterfinals with a 14-7 victory over Sylvan Hills.

The last time the Blue Devils played Lake Hamilton, the Wolves were led by quarterback Phillip Butterfield, who used his right arm to oust West Memphis from the playoffs in 2008.

Elmore said the Wolves do not at all resemble the team from 2008.

"Head coach (Tommy) Gilleran arrived in Lake Hamilton after coming over from Fountain Lake and they are a wing-T and they run it well," said Elmore. "It's almost reminiscent of what it used to be (in West Memphis). We feel like we've got a pretty good plan to slow it down, but it's just like any other offense that you're not used to seeing, it's hard to replicate it in practice."

Friday night's weather forecast once again calls for rain.

"With the weather being a factor so often this time of year you gotta be able to run the ball, but you also have to be able to throw it some, too," said Elmore. "If you can make somebody one-dimensional, especially in the playoffs, that's a pretty big deal."

Leading rusher Cedric Loving (21) keys the West Memphis offense.

Blue Devils blitz Mountain Home at frigid Hamilton-Shultz; cop 2nd seed

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With winds whipping over 25 MPH and the wind chill at 29 degrees before the night was over, it was the Southern version of the Ice Bowl Thursday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

All that was missing was Jack Buck asking Jack Whitaker if he could have a bite of his coffee.

But it was all worth it for the victorious West Memphis Blue Devils, who overcame some worrisome moments in the first quarter to turn back the Mountain Home Bombers 33-7 in the regular-season finale.

And it turned out to be the best possible of all outcomes for the Blue Devils (6-4 overall, 5-2 in the 6A-East Conference). Down 19-7 to start the fourth quarter, the Marion Patriots put together a frenetic finish to defeat Jonesboro on Thursday night 34-25.

Marion's outcome gives the Blue Devils the second-place seed for the 6A state playoffs, and the first-round bye that goes with it. Marion, Jonesboro and West Memphis tied for second place in league standings, but the Blue Devils had the tie-breaker over both Marion and Jonesboro.

West Memphis will play the winner of next Friday night's first-round match-up between Sylvan Hills and Lake Hamilton, provided it loses to heavily favored Greenwood on Friday night. That quarterfinal game will take place on Nov. 22 at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Playing a team that had lost its last 21 games, the Blue Devils had to overcome a trying first quarter that was dominated (at least in numbers of offensive snaps) by Mountain Home.

Mountain Home took the opening kickoff and kept the ball for 16 straight plays, chewing up just two or three yards at a time. But it not only kept the ball away from the Blue Devil offense, it also milked the clock.

After a missed Mountain Home field goal, the Blue Devils finally touched the ball with 24 seconds left in the first stanza.

And it ended tragically.

A fumbled exchange between quarterback Owens McConnell and running back Cedric Loving was recovered by the Bombers, who then took eight more plays to score the game's first touchdown.

Final tally on number of offensive snaps in the first 15 minutes and 11 seconds of the contest: Mountain Home 24, West Memphis 1.

"I almost felt like it was four years ago when we went to Mountain Home and they kept the ball the whole first quarter," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "What they do on offense, I hate playing against. But I give their coaches credit. They do what gives them the best chance to win. But they can keep the ball an awful long time."

However, the script totally flipped from there.

Over the remainder of the first half, the Blue Devils ran 23 plays to Mountain Home's 3.

In a span of 6:41 which ended the first half, the Blue Devils got three touchdowns from newly placed offensive back Kendarious Moore and two recovered pooch kicks to seize a 19-7 halftime lead.

"I'll tell you what part of that is," said Elmore. "When the wind is blowing like this and it's this cold, the kickoffs are harder to field. We work on this all the time in practice, and tonight it was executed perfectly."

In just the second quarter the Blue Devils put up 210 rushing yards while the bulk of Mountain Home's 74 yards on the ground came on that first drive.

Moore's first TD of the night, coming at the 6:41 mark of the second quarter was spurred by a 52-yard gain by Loving. Moore scored on runs of 12, 3 and 5 yards.

In the second half, the momentum kept building for West Memphis.

It scored on the first possession of the half, getting a 7-yard TD from Loving and then closing it out with a 17-yard touchdown pass from McConnell to Jamual Crayton with 5:16 left in the third quarter.

After an all-day soaking paved the way for a frigid front that moved in around 6 p.m., the game was affected by the weather. On more than one occasion, referees placed the ball down only to see it roll downfield before the teams could line up for a play.

"I may have coached in colder weather before, but not in a while," said Elmore. "The wind is what made it so miserable. But we played pretty well once we got into it."

Teammate Cedric Loving (21) congratulates Kendarious Moore (10) on first touchdown against Mountain Home.

Cedric Loving (21) fights for yardage against Mountain Home.

A postseason seed is awaiting the Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's all come down to this for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

Should the Blue Devils defeat the Mountain Home Bombers on Thursday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field they will play a home state playoff game.

When, however, will be the question that won't be answered until the Marion-Jonesboro game that same night is decided.

Scoreboard watching will be in vogue in the Blue Devil camp on Thursday night, but only after business is taken care of at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

"First thing we gotta do is take care of our own scoreboard, but then, yes, we will be immediately interested in finding out the other game," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore.

On the very last night of the regular season, there are still multiple state playoff possibilities for West Memphis (5-4 overall, 4-2 in the 6A-East Conference).

But the only two that seem likely are these:

--- With a win over Mountain Home and a Jonesboro win over Marion, the Blue Devils will clinch third place in the conference and thus host a first-round playoff game against the fourth-place team from the West on Nov. 15.

--- With a win over Mountain Home and a Marion win over Jonesboro, the Blue Devils will tie Jonesboro for second place, but West Memphis would clinch the second seed and thus earn a first-round bye in the state playoffs.

The Blue Devils should have no trouble with the Bombers (0-9, 0-6), who have lost 21 straight games. The last time Mountain Home won a game came on Oct. 20, 2017 in a 49-6 victory over Little Rock Hall.

But Elmore said he remembers a trap game in 2016 at Mountain Home where the Bombers so controlled the clock with their option offense that it limited the Blue Devils to just two offensive series in the second half of a 14-7 loss.

"We were the much better team that year, but I think we only ended up with about six possessions in the entire game," Elmore recalled. "They controlled the clock the whole game, and they still do that for the most part now."

Winners of their last three games, the Blue Devils are coming off a 12-0 win at Pine Bluff, in which the offense was slowed to a stall and the defense stepped up to bring its best effort of the season.

Offensively, Elmore and his staff have taken a different approach from his conventional spread. With each game they add different wrinkles and quirks, and it has worked.

Until last week at Pine Bluff when the Blue Devils barely rushed for over 100 yards and threw for just 29 yards.

For the first time in his career, senior linebacker Kendarious Moore lined up in the offensive backfield to utilize his strength and potential for gaining the tough yards, and also giving some relief to workhorse Cedric Loving.

Elmore said he credited Pine Bluff's defensive front for most of the Blue Devils' tough sledding on offense, but also to a lesser extent the Zebras' accurate scouting.

More wrinkles will be added as the season progresses, according to Elmore.

"Part of the reason for Kendarious being in the backfield was due to Dennis Dallas rolling his ankle in practice," said Elmore. "But honestly, we've been trying to throw darts offensively the last several weeks just to see if we can hit a bullseye. We're pretty inconsistent on offense and we've struggled at times. The offensive coaches have done a great job of coming up with something new each week. Hopefully, there will be some new wrinkles this week. I think the key for us the rest of this year is to be as unpredictable as we can be."

After the team's video review of last Friday night's game, Elmore said his defense's performance was every bit as good as it looked in real time.

"We were flying around and had good intensity all night," said Elmore. "I think the big thing people overlook is our defensive front is getting it done. But also, the back end is what's giving our defensive front the opportunity. Our coverage guys have been outstanding. We are able to go into man coverage. If they weren't doing that, then we'd have to put one or two safeties back behind them. That's freed up our guys to stack the box to defend the run."

Defense, Clark shine in Blue Devil shutout over Pine Bluff

By Billy Woods

WM School District

PINE BLUFF --- The West Memphis offense is still grab-bagging, but the defense came to the rescue on Friday night at Torii Hunter Field.

The Blue Devils were shut out of the end zone for the first time all year, but also for the first time all year the defense posted a shutout. All of which meant a 12-0 West Memphis victory over Pine Bluff.

A triumph means a ton for the Blue Devils and their postseason hopes.

It clinched at least third place in the 6A-East Conference, provided the Blue Devils dispatch cellar-dweller Mountain Home on Thursday night.

It still is possible for the Blue Devils to gain second place and the second seed in the state playoffs. Should Marion defeat Jonesboro at home on Thursday and the Blue Devils follow suit on a win over Mountain Home, West Memphis gets the second seed.

And would you believe the team still has a chance for a share of the conference championship?

A Sylvan Hills win over Searcy, a Blue Devil win and a Marion win over Jonesboro would mean a tie for the league crown with Searcy, although the Lions would still get the conference's No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.

It was the third straight win for the Blue Devils (5-4 overall, 4-2 in the conference).

Since the team's 24-21 heart-stopping victory at Jonesboro, the West Memphis offense, which put up 42 points against Marion on Sept. 27, has been slowed in its conventional set-up. Thus, head coach Billy Elmore has relied heavily on quirks and different formations, and mostly to successful proportions.

However, the strong Pine Bluff defensive line and a well-scouted plan, nixed the Blue Devil machine on Friday night.

West Memphis rushed for just 55 first-half yards and only 54 in the second half, with 38 of it coming on a run by Cedric Loving, who lost a fumble at the end of the run.

West Memphis quarterback Owens McConnell had no open receivers to throw to all night, with Pine Bluff limiting the Blue Devils to 33 yards in the air in the first half and minus-4 in the second half.

"The offense was a slow go all night," said Elmore.

But his defense answered the distress signal, allowing just 34 yards rushing all night and getting a whopping five sacks from Davion Eason.

"The defense won it for us, no doubt," said Elmore. "When you shut out a team like Pine Bluff you've really done something. We did everything we were supposed to do."

To make up for the offensive deficiencies, the Blue Devils got two field goals from Colin Clark (from 25 and 32 yards) and a 38-yard punt return for a touchdown from senior Jamual Crayton.

West Memphis went into the locker room at the half with only a 3-0 lead on the strength of Clark's 25-yard field goal with 58.3 seconds left in the first quarter.

For an example of how tough the offensive yardage was for West Memphis all night, it took a key facemask call on Pine Bluff on the first possession of the second half, which rescued what looked like a stalled Blue Devil drive on third and 10 from their own 30.

Then a halfback pass from Loving to Elijah Eulls picked up 33 yards to give the visitors a chance at the Pine Bluff 18.

But once again, they were denied the end zone, bringing out Clark, who is gaining more and more confidence from his head coach as the season progresses.

Clark split the uprights from 32 yards to increase the Blue Devil margin to 6-0.

"He's done an outstanding job," Elmore said of Clark. "Earlier in the year he missed a couple PATs that were worrisome for us, but now we feel like if we get inside the 20 it's automatic for him. There was no doubt we were going to send him out there tonight. He's been hitting the ball real good. That's what we expect out of him and that's what he does."

Although the Blue Devils wouldn't clinch the win until much later in the fourth quarter, they got the game's only touchdown when Crayton breezed untouched into the end zone from 38 yards out with 32.5 seconds left in the third quarter.

"I was going to fair catch it at first, but I saw Titus (Miller) got a good block and I saw nothing but green grass," Crayton said.

From there, the Blue Devils relied on Eason, who put up a career high in sacks and a season-high for any West Memphis defensive player this year.

"Wow, he had five sacks?" Elmore asked . "I didn't know that. But that's a huge number for one game."

Eason said the defensive game plan opened things up for his effort.

"We did a lot of stunting," he said. "Our wheel linebacker acted like he was (blitzing). It made the offensive guard block out, so I was free every time," Eason explained.

Once again, Elmore's offense threw the kitchen sink at the opposition. It worked to perfection against Jonesboro because there was no scouting report for it. But now it's not catching the opposition by surprise.

The Blue Devils started with its conventional spread with McConnell at quarterback, but on the second possession they went with a wing and wildcat formations, this time putting senior linebacker Kendarious Moore on offense for the first time in his career.

He gained 21 yards from direct snaps in the first half.

"We've got some stuff to correct on offense, but we'll spend time on it next week," said Elmore.

Colin Clark (17) hits the first of his two field goals against Pine Bluff.

Blue Devil must win to keep pace with league leaders

By Billy Woods

WM School District

As for securing the No. 2 seed from the 6A-East Conference for the state playoffs, the West Memphis Blue Devils are holding up their end of the bargain.

However, they're going to need some outside help from here on out.

Jonesboro's 44-34 victory over Searcy last week threw a monkey wrench in West Memphis' plans for second place in league standings. With the win, Jonesboro now holds the inside track for first place. The Hurricane and Searcy are tied with 4-1 records, followed by West Memphis, Marion and Sylvan Hills all in a three-way tie for third with 3-2 marks.

The Blue Devils (4-4 overall) will try and gain even more traction Friday night when they play their regular-season road finale at Pine Bluff (2-6, 2-3).

The Zebras appear to be at least somewhat of a wild card in the conference race, according to West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore.

"Everybody says Pine Bluff is down," said Elmore. "But, I'm not really seeing that. They're in a real similar position from last year. You've had a (coaching) staff change and that's been a factor, but I know they play an incredibly tough non-conference schedule and now they're playing a lot better than they did earlier in the season."

Searcy and Sylvan Hills have the tie-breaker over the Blue Devils, but for once West Memphis will be rooting for Marion when the Patriots host Jonesboro in Week 10.

A Marion win over the Hurricane could be the key to help the Blue Devils to a second-place finish.

Provided, that is, they take care of the rest of their business.

Besides Pine Bluff, the Blue Devils host bottom-feeder Mountain Home in the regular-season finale on Nov. 7.

"We (as coaches) look at the standings," Elmore added. "We'd be lying if we said we don't. But every time I look at it I'm like 'hey let's go beat Pine Bluff."'

With two straight victories, the Blue Devils are gaining a little steam toward the finish line.

Although they bolted to a commanding 31-0 halftime lead at home last week against Jacksonville on their way to a 38-6 mercy-rule win, the Blue Devils weren't as impressive as the score indicates, according to Elmore.

"I know we were up 31-0 at halftime, but I really don't think we played that well," he stated. "In the film review, when you can slow everything down, I didn't feel like we played very well. I think if we'd have played Jonesboro last Friday night we'd have lost the game."

Pine Bluff's talented senior quarterback, Tyler Foots, is healthy now after missing last season with a knee injury. Foots is a dual run-pass threat.

"Foots is a problem," Elmore said. "He can beat you in multiple ways."

West Memphis' own offense has gotten a boost in the last two weeks with the emergence of junior running back Elijah Eulls, who made an impressive debut at Jonesboro before scoring the first touchdown of the night in last week's win over Jacksonville.

"He's really come on," Elmore said of Eulls. "That helps."

Elmore admits his offense's departure from conventional formations has been a desperation move to get the unit clicking. Sometimes the offense will utilize the wildcat formation with Cedric Loving or Dennis Dallas taking the direct snap or the single wing formation has been used.

"At some point, I guess you're going to accept it," Elmore said. "We've played eight ball games. In our run game we've had to go to some smoke and mirrors and try to disguise some things and hide some guys. It has been effective. We try to add something to that each week. As a coach I've had to go away from some of the things I've always done, but at the same time the things we've done have worked."

Cedric Loving (21) follows the lead block of junior Elijah Eulls (44) against Jacksonville.

Final game for historic Friendship Field set for Thursday

By Billy Woods

WM School District

William Ball says he was "born" on Friendship Field.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

The former West Memphis Blue Devil football star and longtime former head football coach at Wonder Junior High poured out his feelings, sweat and blood on that field as a high schooler and now he's sad to see Friendship's finale.

The oldest football field/stadium in West Memphis history will close the books on a storied legacy on Thursday night (Oct. 31) when the West Junior High Blue Imps take on Marion at 7 p.m.

The gridiron's swan song will have quite a send-off, however.

At 6 p.m. there will be grilled hot dogs and gathering for former athletes who played on that field and at 6:15 p.m. there will be festivities on the field for the athletes, band members and coaches.

The land on that field will be the site of the new West Junior High, which will soon begin construction on. The new school is set to be completed in time for the fall of 2022.

"That's going to be hard to imagine not having that field in West Memphis," said Ball, a Blue Devil from the early 1970s.

The list of greats is endless, but Blue Devils such as Terry McFarland, Jimmy Whisenhunt, Ike Harris, Greg and Steve Lackey, Chuck Skillman, just to name a few, carved out there legacy on Friendship Field.

Then there was the legendary Bill Kessinger, who coached one of the greatest Blue Devil teams of all time, the 1963 bunch that saw six players go on to play Division 1 ball.

Grafton Moore, widely recognized as Mr. Blue Devil or the Greatest Blue Devil, also played on that 1963 team and then coached West Memphis teams from 1978-2000, said he's also saddened.

"I'm a little sad to see it go, but I'm also not one that worries about the past," said Moore. "Things have improved so much facility-wise here that it's something that we need for our school district.

"It's going to look strange driving by there and not seeing the field that I played on ."

Friendship was a quaint venue for high school football in the 1950s and 1960s. It held a very small capacity.

It is planted by one of the most historical streets in West Memphis, Avalon.

Just across the street from the West end zone was Barfield's Grocery, a very popular small business that also served as a parking lot for football games.

Friendship gave way to Hamilton-Shultz Field in the fall of 1976 and has since hosted junior high games every Thursday night.

Former Blue Devil Bill Tennison also has a heart for the cathedral that hosted so many historical sports moments.

"It's a landmark in West Memphis. At the time, Friendship was the best, most elite football field in Northeast Arkansas," said Tennison. "It was the epitome of greatness on Friday nights. It was THE place to be in West Memphis on those Friday nights. Most of our home fans who got to the games late had to go sit on the visitors side. Of all the fields I played on back then, ours was the best-kept. Kessinger kept that field manicured. It tears my heart up to see it go."

Moore's coaching career was dotted by games played at Hamilton-Shultz, but on one particular night his Blue Devils had to play at Friendship Field at the last minute due to a power outage for the 1998 regular-season opener against state powerhouse Little Rock Central.

"The funny part about that night was at first the lights went out on the home side only and I told (Central head coach) Bernie Cox that either he can come back tomorrow and play or we can play on our junior high field," Moore recalled.

"He said, 'well, your lights are so good we can just play under one set of lights.' Then the scoreboard blew out and I told Bernie we don't have a choice but to play at Friendship. We ended up playing there and we beat them on the last play of the game. Two years later, Bernie and his bunch were scheduled to come back and play us here and I called Bernie and told him, kiddingly, we'd have to play at Friendship again. He shot back and said, 'No, we're not!"'

One of the great quirks about Friendship was that the fans were right on top of you, according to Moore. Unlike Hamilton-Shultz, there was no track surrounding the playing surface.

"It made for a very hostile environment for visiting teams," Tennison said. "It was a big home-field advantage for us."

One of West Memphis' best-known landmarks will have one last hurrah this Thursday and Ball, for one, will be in attendance.

"Last week, my niece's son played a seventh-grade game there for Blytheville," Ball said. "I went and sat on the visitors side, and I looked across toward the home side and the view from there looked so different. But it brought back real memories, precious memories. I feel like I was born on that field."

Blue Devil wash out outmanned Jacksonville

By Billy Woods

WM School District

As the hour-by-hour forecast became more foreboding on Friday, Billy Elmore couldn't keep from reminiscing to a year ago almost to the day.

Last year, the undefeated West Memphis Blue Devils faced an undermanned Jacksonville team on the road in a driving rain that Elmore himself admitted it was the "worst conditions" he'd ever seen for a football game.

His Blue Devils barely escaped, needing a field goal in overtime from Colin Clark to get a 3-0 win.

This time the rain wasn't nearly as bad and the playing surface went from natural grass to artificial and in the end there was just no need to worry.

It took the Blue Devils nearly 12 minutes to get going on offense, but when they did get going it was too much for Jacksonville as West Memphis easily dispatched the Titans 38-6 in a mercy-rule win at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

"I kept thinking all day about that game last year in Jacksonville because the conditions were just so bad," said Elmore. "This time at least we talked about how we'd be on the turf. And honestly, the conditions weren't nearly as bad as they were last year in Jacksonville. I don't think it affected the game all that much."

Playing in brand new all-gray uniforms with Forks Up on the back of the jerseys, the Blue Devils showed a renewed sense of urgency and energy.

After two offensive series that resulted in very little, the Blue Devils finally got on the scoreboard with a 38-yard touchdown by junior Elijah Eulls with 1:12 left in the first quarter.

From there, the Blue Devil offense was more forceful than the weather conditions.

By halftime, the team had run up a 31-0 lead and it seemed a foregone conclusion that a mercy rule was in the works.

It all started with a touchdown from Eulls, a hidden commodity until a week earlier when he got several touches on offense against Jonesboro. On Friday night against Jacksonville Eulls had a breakout.

"He's a kid who's lived here but he hadn't attended our school," Elmore said of Eulls. "He's here now, and it took him a little while, but I think he's catching on to what we're doing. You can see he's very quick and elusive."

This was the kind of night it was for Jacksonville.

After Eulls' TD, the Titans were flagged for offsides on the PAT as Clark was lined up to kick. Elmore then called for a two-point conversion, which was easy pickings.

8-0 Blue Devils.

After figuring the weather would slow down the offensive numbers for both sides, the Titans followed Elmore's lead in the first quarter by going for it on fourth down.

It didn't hurt Jacksonville the first two times.

The third opened the flood gates.

Titan quarterback Deorius Cobbs was sacked for a two-yard loss on fourth down from the Jacksonville 36 and the Blue Devils took over from there. On the very first play, with the Titan safeties playing very shallow, Blue Devil quarterback Owens McConnell took advantage and connected with a wide open Dennis Dallas for a 36-yard touchdown pass just 20 seconds into the second quarter.

"Dennis streaked wide open and we really thought all week that if we had time to throw that, it would be tough for (Jacksonville) to cover it," said Elmore. "They lined up defensively the way we thought they would."

If that wasn't bad enough for Jacksonville, Cobbs watched a snap soar over his head into the end zone for a safety and a 17-0 West Memphis cushion.

The Blue Devils then had to go only 41 yards for their next TD, which came on the leg strength of Cedric Loving for the first of his three touchdowns on the night.

Just two minutes later, Loving scored his second touchdown and Jacksonville was buried in its own misery.

West Memphis (4-4 overall, 3-2 in the 6A-East Conference) is now in a three-way for third place in league standings with Marion and Sylvan Hills. Jonesboro has now taken over first place after taking down Searcy. The Hurricane and the Lions are tied atop the standings with 4-1 records, but JHS has the tie-breaker over Searcy.

Blue Devil cornerback Julious McGruder (4) defends pass against Jacksonville.

Blue Devils hope momentum continues at home Friday night

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils' 24-21 victory at Jonesboro did a bunch of things for the team last Friday night.

It gave the team a 38-27-2 edge in the all-time series between the two teams.

It sorely disappointed a bunch of former Hurricane players from 1979 who were honored before the game for their state championship from that year.

It gave Searcy a commanding lead in the 6A-East Conference standings.

But more than anything it made the Blue Devils relevant once again in the league standings.

A loss to Jonesboro and you're looking at a 1-3 conference record and most likely a road game in the Class 6A state playoffs.

But with the victory, thanks to the right leg of senior placekicker Colin Clark, the Blue Devils are now in control of their own destiny in terms of gaining a first-round playoff home game. In fact, with a three-game sweep of the remaining games in regular-season play, the Blue Devils could very well finish with the league's No. 2 playoff seed.

The first order of business, however, is winning the next game, and that is against Jacksonville on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

There are now four 6A-East teams tied for second with 2-2 records: West Memphis, Marion, Pine Bluff and Sylvan Hills. Jonesboro is in second place with a 3-1 record behind 4-0 Searcy.

Jonesboro travels to Searcy this Friday night in a game that could either bring West Memphis' conference picture clearer, or it could further complicate it should the Hurricane win.

If Searcy wins, then it opens the door for the Blue Devils (3-4 overall) to make a charge for a second-place finish because they'll have the tie-breaker over the Hurricane.

"We try not to look at (the standings) too much, but with that win at Jonesboro we kind of played our way back into relevancy," said Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore. "I don't think there's much chance to anybody catching Searcy, but we are playing for a high seed now."

All of the aforementioned possibilities, however, won't come into play without a West Memphis win against Jacksonville, which is 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the 6A-East. The Titans lost last Friday night to Sylvan Hills 37-12.

Besides Searcy, the only other conference team with a tie-breaker edge on West Memphis is Sylvan Hills, but the Bears still must play Jonesboro and Searcy.

The win over Jonesboro, its fourth in as many years, gave West Memphis a huge shot of momentum.

"The win we had over them the first year came on the last play of the game, and last Friday night had the same sort of feel to it," said Elmore, in reference to Clark's 29-yard field goal as time expired. "We were considered underdogs, I believe, and winning it the way we did was reminiscent. I was glad to see our kids play well."

Though the Titans have struggled for most of the season, they still present a challenge for the Blue Devils. Running back Devin Ford averages 100 yards rushing per game.

Plus, Jacksonville has two star defensive linemen in 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior Tyas Martin and fellow junior Ryan Ready (6-1, 230).

"Jacksonville is kinda known for having good defensive linemen," Elmore said. "Last year we beat them in a driving rain storm and that really was a big advantage for them because of their big defensive linemen. (Martin) is a really good player. They can be a handful for anybody in our conference. They haven't had too much success in the win-loss column, but they're close in almost every game. What scares you is you don't want them to have a break-out game."

Before last week's game at Jonesboro, Elmore lamented the fact his team hadn't been able to defend the run or run the ball on offense themselves. Against the Hurricane, however, the Blue Devils rushed for over 320 yards, with 236 of it coming from senior Cedric Loving.

And after Jonesboro's first touchdown of the game, which came on a long run, the Blue Devil defense got stiffer against the Hurricane's ground game as the contest progressed.

"A lot of that success we had against Jonesboro was because we went very unconventional on offense, going with a single wing and using the wildcat formation," said Elmore. "We committed to throw the ball early and that opened up some things for us later in the game. On defense, we used an odd front and our defensive coordinator (Butch) Gray had a great game plan. Some of it was based off formation from Jonesboro."

Blue Devils celebrate after Colin Clark's field goal lifted the team over Jonesboro last week.

Clark's kick gives Blue Devils big win over Jonesboro

By Billy Woods

WM School District

JONESBORO --- Nursing a 21-14 and looking at a chance to put some heavy pressure on Jonesboro late in the third quarter, West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore faced a dilemma.

Fourth and goal from the Jonesboro 4, Elmore decided to go for the throat instead of giving his placekicker Colin Clark a chance for a chip shot field goal.

For one of the very few times all night, the Hurricane stopped West Memphis running back Cedric Loving cold for no gain and the hosts took over.

"I was kicking myself when we went for it down there," said Elmore. "I didn't like the angle from that tight. It was probably a mistake."

Elmore didn't hesitate when the perfect time came to use Clark's clutch right leg, when the senior split the uprights on a 29-yard field goal as time expired on Friday night at Cooksey-Johns Field to lift the Blue Devils to a crucial 24-21 win over the Hurricane.

The victory pushes West Memphis (3-4 overall, 2-2 in the 6A-East Conference) back into the upper division of league standings. With Jacksonville at home, a road game at Pine Bluff and the regular-season finale at home against winless Mountain Home, the Blue Devils will be the favorites for their final three contests.

Searcy (4-0 in league play) has a commanding two-game lead in conference standings.

Win out and the Blue Devils will get a first-round home playoff game.

And Clark, who has two game-deciding field goals in his career, answered the call at Jonesboro.

Set up at the left hash, Clark endured an icing timeout from Jonesboro head coach Randy Coleman.

"I prefer the middle of the field or from the right hash, but in a situation like this it doesn't matter," said a beaming Clark after the bedlam at midfield. "You don't have time to think about such things. It just feels great."

West Memphis' winning drive began at its own 41 with just 42 seconds to play and no timeouts left.

The key play was a 46-yard pass reception from quarterback Owens McConnell to senior wideout Jamual Crayton, who outleaped the Jonesboro defender on third and 10.

It gave the Blue Devils possession at the JHS 12 with 28 seconds to go.

"They told me they were going to put the ball in my hands and I just had to make a big-time play," said Crayton. "I knew the defender was going to be under me, so I had to go up and get it."

McConnell waited until two seconds before clocking the all, bringing on Clark.

"Man, (Clark's) hit a couple of big ones over the years, hasn't he," Elmore said, beaming.

Clark won a game for the Blue Devils last year on a muddy field in overtime at Jacksonville.

It was deemed a must-win clash by Elmore before the game.

Thus, he and his coaching staff were swinging from the heels, trying some things that are atypical for his team, such as an odd front and frequent blitzes on defense and several offensive series with the wildcat formation that totally threw Jonesboro off the scent.

"We went in last Sunday as coaches game-planning for this one, and to be honest there was nothing that we did tonight that was normal for us," said Elmore. "I told our coaches we are going to be big underdogs in this and we went in with the idea we have nothing to lose."

Blue Devil senior running back Cedric Loving was unstoppable all evening, especially from the direct snap. He rushed for 170 of his 236 yards in the first half.

All from 34 carries on the evening.

West Memphis battled back from deficits of 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half to take a 21-14 halftime lead. Dennis Dallas scored two Blue Devil TDs while Tyrique Thomas had the other.

The Blue Devil defense kept Jonesboro (5-2, 3-1) at bay, limiting the Hurricane to 133 yards on the ground in the first half.

WMHS will return home this Friday night to take on Jacksonville.

This kick from Colin Clark gave the Blue Devils a 24-21 win at Jonesboro.

The field goal set off a Blue Devil celebration on the field.

Blue Devil lineman Morris commits to Texas A&M

By Billy Woods

WM School District

In a video released Wednesday morning, West Memphis Blue Devil Chris Morris said he "never thought I'd see this day."

The 6-foot4, 300-pound offensive tackle revealed his college commitment on Wednesday through a video on Twitter.

It's Texas A&M.

Morris, in his first year as a Blue Devil, is added to what was already a top 10 national recruiting ranking for the Aggies. He is rated a four-star prospect, the nation's No. 3 offensive guard prospect and the No. 97 overall recruit in the 2020 recruiting cycle by 247 Sports Composite Rankings.

Morris said he chose A&M after narrowing his college choices to the Aggies, Tennessee, Oklahoma, LSU and Miami.

Morris said he visited A&M "eight or nine times."

"I was able to develop a real tight relationship with the coaches there," said Morris. "Each time I visited I would see something different. It just got to feel like it was home."

By 2:14 p.m. on Wednesday, Morris' recruiting video, in which he officially announced his decision, had garnered 79,600 views.

Morris is coming off an official visit to College Station for the Alabama game, which was last Saturday.

"The recruiting process was fun for me," said Morris. "You have people calling your home late at night, blowing your phone up to where you can't go anywhere without someone wanting to talk to you about football."

He said the pressure of football recruitment "has its ups and its downs."

"I'm the number one offensive guard in the nation...I mean, who doesn't want to be number one?" Morris added. "For some reason I'm listed as a guard, but I definitely think I can play tackle in college."

Morris runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, he bench presses 415 pounds and he squats 680 pounds.

Morris said he's loved his time in West Memphis, especially after scoring the winning points in overtime against Marion. The Blue Devils threw a backwards lateral to Morris, who ran for a two-point conversion in the team's 41-40 win over the Patriots on Sept. 27.

"I've had a chance to bond with several players," he said. "It's been pretty fun here for me. It's been a blessing."

Morris said he wants to eventually play in the NFL, but first there's college, where he said he'll major in criminology at Texas A&M.

"I want football to take me as far as it can," Morris stated. "I'm just going to do the best I can with it."

Blue Devil lineman Chris Morris (75) gets instruction from head coach Billy Elmore in a game earlier this season at Searcy.

Sylvan Hills upends Blue Devils on homecoming

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With league-leading Jonesboro on the horizon, the West Memphis Blue Devils could have considered Friday night's clash against Sylvan Hills as a swing game.

Win and you look at the next game, at Jonesboro, as a huge opportunity, which would put you in position for a top two-position for 6A-East standings with a win.

Lose, and it puts you behind the 8-ball.

The Blue Devils dug themselves a 21-0 hole in the first half, then enjoyed an electrifying spurt in the second quarter only to see their offense flatten out in the second half as Sylvan Hills went on for a 31-23 victory at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

The loss drops West Memphis to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the 6A-East Conference heading into the game at Jonesboro, which overpowered Pine Bluff 37-14, next Friday night.

Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore was philosophical after his team's defeat.

"We haven't been able to get this fixed yet," he stated. "Right now it's just not good football. There's no other way to describe it."

The biggest factor in the last two losses has been turnovers. West Memphis' offense has turned it over seven times in the last two games and five of those miscues have been converted into touchdowns. The third turnover against Sylvan Hills came in the third quarter and it turned into a Bears field goal.

The West Memphis turnover ratio is 7-1 in the last two games.

Against Sylvan Hills, the Blue Devils turned it over twice in the first half, and it ended up being the difference in the end.

"Just one mistake after another," Elmore commented.

Despite the early three-touchdown deficit, the Blue Devils put on a fierce rally in a short burst of time in the second quarter to cut the Bears' lead to 21-20, which turned out to be the halftime score.

Which was all good for Blue Devil faithful, which have seen their team play mediocre in the first half, but turn it around in the second half and play much better.

Not so this time.

The West Memphis ground game, which was held to 35 yards in the first half, was even worse in the second half, going for only 21 net yards.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devil defense couldn't stop the Sylvan Hills rushing attack. After giving up 142 first-half yards on the ground, the Blue Devils had to change their look in the second half just to slow down the Bears.

"We went to a cover-zero look in the second quarter and didn't even play with a safety," said Elmore. "We felt like we had to do that to slow down the running game."

Sylvan Hills (2-4, 2-2) rushed for 110 yards in the second half.

After allowing Sylvan Hills to rush out to the 21-0 lead at the 8:52 mark of the second quarter, the Blue Devil offense found renewed life.

The spark came from a 34-yard pass completion from quarterback Owens McConnell, who was 12 of 25 for 163 yards with one interception and one touchdown, to Nathan Watson.

It gave the Blue Devils a first down at the Sylvan Hills 29.

McConnell then rushed for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 21-7 after Colin Clark's PAT.

The Bears' lone turnover came on a fumble, which was recovered by West Memphis' Terry Carter at the Sylvan Hills 35.

Four plays later, McConnell lofted a beautiful pass to Jamual Crayton for a 36-yard TD pass.

On West Memphis' next possession, Cedric Loving, working out of the wildcat formation, scored a 7-yard touchdown, giving the Blue Devils all the momentum going into halftime.

But the Blue Devil offense went stagnant in the final two quarters, while the Bears got a second TD from sophomore quarterback Corey Washington and a 36-yard field goal from Matthew Riley.

West Memphis' only points in the second half came on a 25-yard field goal from Clark.

"You can't get in a hole to anybody in our league like we did," said Elmore. "The disappointing part was we fought back, but we missed some opportunities in the second half. Seems like right now we're finding a way to lose instead of finding a way to win."

Cedric Loving finds running room against Sylvan Hills

J'Marious Rogers (29) makes catch against Sylvan Hills

Personnel changes dot lineup for Devils' homecoming game

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Billy Elmore hinted there would be personnel changes for his football team this week, and it looks like he'll follow through on that.

Visibly frustrated with his team's effort last Friday night in a 54-21 loss at Searcy, the West Memphis head coach said there may be some changes in the lineup for this Friday night's homecoming game against Sylvan Hills.

"We had a team discussion in (Sunday's) film session," said Elmore. "We laid some a few things out and explained some things to some guys. And they responded very well on Monday of this week with maybe the best practice we've had in a long time."

Elmore said fans can look for some starting spots to be reassigned, both on the offensive and defensive lines.

"It's gonna require some guys playing both ways, and it was really hard to do that when it was real hot," Elmore added. "You ask a kid to go out and play 120 or 150 snaps, and that's hard. I know people say, well they do that in Double A and Triple A every week, but I don't think they're doing it with the same intensity that we've got to have our guys give. With it being cooled off I think guys will be able to play more snaps and we'll get more out of them."

Elmore said, even immediately after last week's loss, that he was displeased with the overall effort of the team, and not necessarily in one area. The Blue Devils (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the 6A-East Conference) have been plagued by turnovers all year and at Searcy they committed four miscues, which gave the Lions three touchdowns.

"We were deficient at all positions," he commented. "Some of that, I'm going to take the hit for. We lost 20 starters from last year, and (Monday) we had a candid conversation about it. We haven't been successful at going out and doing the job. It's been a lack of focus in some ways, and maybe I've been giving them too much leeway in that regard. But that's over. Either they're going to be focused in on Fridays and during practice or you're going to be asked to leave."

The Blue Devil defense had a hard time keeping up with the lightning-quick pace Searcy's offense displayed. Although the Blue Devils ran 37 offensive plays to 36 Searcy plays in the first half, the Lions played keep-away from West Memphis in the second half.

Searcy ran 35 plays in the final two quarters to West Memphis' 12.

"Sometimes I think it's focus, sometimes I think it's effort," said Elmore. "I think, honestly, it's a commitment to winning. Hopefully, we've had a reset now that we're halfway through the regular season."

In that vein, the Blue Devils still can accomplish all their goals for the season, as they stand 1-1 in the conference.

"Now's the time to do it, though," Elmore said.

Sylvan Hills, last year's postseason darling, advancing to the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs, is off to a 1-4 start. But the Bears have shown some promise. Marion had to come from behind to beat them a week ago.

"(Sylvan Hills) is talented," Elmore said. "The fact is, they've had some hard-luck losses. Pine Bluff beat them just 14-7. Last year they got it together and made it to the semifinals. The scary part about that is, against Marion you could almost see them coming into their own in that game. If they're going to put it together, let them put it together next week."

Homecoming festivities begin Friday with a chili supper at 5 p.m. in the Academies of West Memphis cafeteria. The homecoming royalty ceremony will begin at 6:30 with kickoff at 7.

J'Marious Rogers makes diving catch against Searcy.

Searcy's lightning-quick offense too much for Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

SEARCY --- The Searcy Lions didn't come into Friday night's game with West Memphis averaging 48.5 points per game by playing a middling tempo.

Searcy's frantic pace was too much for the Blue Devils as the Lions scored a 51-24 victory, but the pace was also too much for its own offense at times as four procedure calls on its first two possessions attest.

Not only were the Lions fast, but their sleight of hand was perfect. Searcy forced four West Memphis turnovers and suffered none themselves.

"This was a pretty typical pace for what we do," said Searcy head coach Mark Kelley, whose team improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the 6A-East Conference. "We do two things once one of our plays is over. We make sure we get lined up and into our formation. We did a good job getting there, but we had a few penalties when we got in to big a hurry."

Searcy quarterback Bryce Dixon completed 5 of his first 8 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown on the Lions' first possession, and from there Dixon had his way with the West Memphis secondary.

The Blue Devils (2-3, 1-1) never laid a glove on Dixon due to his quick release and the secondary was peppered with intermediate routes with a couple deep passes thrown in for good measure.

Dixon was 23 of 34 for the night for 334 yards and no interceptions.

"We weren't able to score with them and we weren't able to stop them," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "When you add all that up it ended up being the kind of night it was for us."

Two Dixon TD passes gave the hosts a 14-0 lead before the Blue Devils got things going on offense.

Quarterback Owens McConnell, who was 15 of 30 for 167 yards and three interceptions, engineered a 58-yard touchdown drive that was culminated by him connecting with Jamual Crayton on a 8-yard scoring strike with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

The Blue Devils were actually within shouting distance of the Lions for the entire first half, although the hosts took a 34-21 lead into the lockers at halftime.

Cedric Loving scored a 1-yard touchdown with 7:38 to play in the first half and then added a 13-yard TD with just 16 seconds left in the second quarter.

The difference in the game, however, came down to four West Memphis turnovers, three of which turned into Searcy touchdowns.

"You can't beat anybody doing that, especially good teams," Elmore stated. "We put ourselves in bad situations, and (Searcy) just continued to score."

It was all Searcy in the second half.

The Blue Devils failed to take advantage of the first possession of the second half, and they proceeded to get shut out the rest of the way.

All the while, the Lion offense moved at a breakneck pace.

Searcy's ground game gained traction in the second half with senior Johnson Guthrie rushing for 57 of his 94 yards on the night. Guthrie also scored one of his team's two rushing TDs in the second half.

It's time to reevaluate, according to Elmore.

"We're going to go to work on fixing this," he said. "We haven't shown the ability to fix it 100 percent yet. We have fixed it at times, in flashes. At a certain point you have to start evaluating effort, and not necessarily potential. We may set playing time according to those things now. Quite honestly, if some of the older guys aren't giving the effort, we may start looking at some younger guys that are giving that effort. I think you'll probably see some of that going forward."

Pass to Blue Devils' Nathan Watson (12) is broken up by Searcy.

Blue Devils try to put Marion behind them, focus on Searcy

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Sometimes euphoria is a difficult thing to let go.

So, after the West Memphis Blue Devils scored their indescribable 41-40 overtime victory over Marion last Friday night, twice coming back from seemingly insurmountable odds, the coaching staff decided to let the players bask in the glow for a little longer than normal.

Before the team takes to the road this Friday night at Searcy, Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore let his players celebrate all weekend long before focus turned to the Lions.

"(The coaching staff) talked Sunday before our video session and we decided to let the kids celebrate," said Elmore, whose team improved to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the 6A-East Conference. "Once we watched the film, we asked them to move on. And it's not the kids that make it difficult to move on from a game such as the one we had against Marion. Some people won't let it go on social media, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, people putting out videos.

"I have zero problems with players or coaches from Marion. It was a hard-fought game...someone had to win, someone had to lose. We have a lot of respect for what they're doing and the way they're doing it over there now. Some people just can't let it go. As players and coaches we try to move on and put it behind us, but some, it just doesn't die."

The record of their next opponent begs the Blue Devils to pay attention, however.

Searcy is 4-0 on the season and its offense is running with the ferocity of a freight train, averaging a whopping 48.5 points a contest.

The Lions have had just one game this season in which they scored less than 40 points and that came in a 39-7 white-washing of Sheridan in Week 2. Included in those totals is a 62-42 win over Batesville.

"It will be a challenge to get our kids focused on Searcy," said Elmore. "I look back on our first two or three years here and we lost to Searcy and I think it was because the game always comes after our game with Marion. Searcy has a good program and has had good teams, but we have had trouble getting our kids refocused after Marion."

Elmore said the Lions are similar to the same outfit his team has seen in the last few years.

"They probably have a lot more athletic quarterback this year," Elmore said of Searcy. "He was listed as a wide receiver at one time on their roster. He's probably a little bit more of a running threat than we've seen from their quarterbacks in recent years. But, again, they're going to be big up front and defensively they're going to be in an odd front."

After years in sub-mediocrity, the Lions have things turned around under head coach Mark Kelley, who has compiled a record of 36-16 in four-plus years at Searcy.

"They don't beat themselves," Elmore added. "You have to prepare to play Searcy."

The Blue Devil offense, which has been plagued by turnovers this season, overcame three turnovers in the fourth quarter to beat Marion. Elmore said, however, the unit churned out a smooth third quarter, which he said he's hoping sticks this week.

"Even in the fourth quarter, we didn't play great, but we played well enough to win," said Elmore. "Third quarter we were hitting at a pretty good lick. I'd certainly like to think we're getting it together, but I can't say 100 percent for sure."

Quarterback Owens McConnell (14) has a conference with head coach Billy Elmore and offensive coordinator Brian Hembree.

Amazing!! Blue Devils stun Marion with comeback for OT victory

By Billy Woods

WM School District

His eyes gazed all around the mayhem that surrounded Hamilton-Shultz Field. Senior offensive lineman Chris Morris had never played a football game before this many folks. He also had never played in a game with such an exciting ending.

"Oh my this real?" Morris said, his eyes still rolling. "We gotta be dreaming brother. Is this...oh my gosh. I'm amazed right now y'all."

The play has a name, but West Memphis Blue Devil coaches are sworn to secrecy for some reason.

Today, they can just call it Give It To The Big Fella.

Morris, a first-year Blue Devil, lined up at offensive tackle, took a swing pass from quarterback Owens McConnell and then proceeded to steamroll through two Marion defenders for a two-point conversion in overtime which gave West Memphis a most improbable 41-40 victory over its Crittenden County rivals on Friday night.

How the Blue Devils did it, surely some of their fans don't even know.

They very nearly got run right out of their own stadium in the first half.

Marion rushed for 185 yards and took a 20-6 haltftime lead, surely leading the Marion faithful to think this was their year to finally break through after 15 straight losses without a win against the Blue Devils.

And it wasn't just the number of rushing yards. It was how the Patriots did it.

Marion rides with its junior quarterback Daedrick Cail's right arm. He threw just two passes in the first half.

He didn't even have to.

Because the Patriots and running back Anthony Price just lined up and ran right through the middle of the Blue Devil defense and there was nothing the home team could do about it.

It set off a firestorm in the Blue Devil locker room at halftime, although head coach Billy Elmore would have you know it was mild.

Comparatively speaking, that is.

"It wasn't the butt-chewing that everyone would have thought," said Elmore. "It was you're going to remember this second half. You're either going to remember it in a positive way or in a negative way."

Must have worked.

It took 12 minutes and 21 seconds for the Blue Devils (2-2 overall, 1-0 in the 6A-East Conference) to take their first lead at 26-20 on McConnell's second of three touchdown passes, this one to Cedric Loving.

Then, they came within two minutes of running enough time off the clock to ensure a victory.

That's when McConnell, a sure-to-be goat, became the GOAT.

Nursing that 26-20 lead inside five minutes to play in the fourth quarter and after just having crossed the 50-yard line, McConnell was wild high on his pitch to Loving on a sweep play.

And Marion's Dylan Chappel scooped up the fumble and returned it to the West Memphis 23.

"The air went out of the stadium," McConnell said afterward.

Cail responded on the first play following the fumble with a 23-yard TD strike to sophomore Kaleb Catt, a transfer from the West Memphis School District, the starting catcher on the Blue Devil baseball team just last spring.

Dylan Pieri then kicked the PAT for a 27-26 Marion lead with 4:27 to play in regulation.

If that wasn't enough to damper Blue Devil hopes, what happened next surely doused all of it.

McConnell threw a pick-6 with a mere 1:48 to play. Not much was made of the Blue Devils blocking the PAT, making the score 33-26, but had the kick split the uprights, it would have been game over.

The Blue Devil signal caller just refused to call it a night however, even though he had every reason to.

Starting on their own 20 with zero timeouts left, McConnell connected on two short passes against the Marion prevent defense to get the Blue Devils to the 41.

A key facemask penalty on Marion against McConnell may have won the game for West Memphis because it came on an incomplete pass on fourth down.

But it gave the Blue Devils an automatic first down to the Marion 49 with 54 seconds to play.

On third and four, McConnell lofted a perfect pass over the Patriot defense and into the soft hands of J'Marious Rodgers, who outran all defenders for a touchdown with 18 seconds left.

"You've got to have short-term memory when you're playing any kind of sport," McConnell explained. "We still had time. It wasn't like the game was over or anything. That (interception) was a bad play on my part, but I mean I just gotta do what I've gotta do for my team. I wasn't just going to go to the sideline and break down. We still had time left on the clock to score."

After originally deciding to go for the win in regulation by going for a two-point conversion, a Blue Devil procedure penalty negated that thought, which brought on placekicker Colin Clark, who sent the game into overtime with the PAT.

Game tied 33-3, the Patriots got the ball first in overtime and they wasted no time replicating their last offensive touchdown when Cail hit Catt on the same play for a touchdown.

Pieri added the extra point for a 40-33 Patriot lead.

West Memphis' OT possession was not at all promising when McConnell faced fourth down from the 3.

But once again the senior quarterback, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 300 yards, threw over the Marion defense again, this time to tight end Jaylen Shephard for the touchdown.

On the play, a Marion defender was down on the sideline suffering from cramps. It took two to three minutes to tend to him, which gave the Blue Devil coaches enough time to decide two things:

1. Whether to go for the tie, sending the game into a second OT.

2. Which play to call for the two-point conversion.

"I actually had to argue with the official to buy us time on the fourth-down play," Elmore admitted. "I told the coaches on the headsets that I was going to argue with that call to give us time to think about it. On the two-point call, we were actually going to use that play before we got called for procedure. We practice that play almost every day for Chris Morris. He knew what to do with it once he caught it."

Blue Devil fans flooded the field after Morris crossed the goal line, setting off an epic celebration to an epic chapter in the Marion-West Memphis series.

"I don't see how there's any better than this," Elmore added. "It's got to be one of the closets, no question."

Cedric Loving runs over Marion's Brandon Hayes (4).

Blue Devil QB Owens McConnell signals the game-tying TD.

Blue Devils-Marion ready to get it on

By Billy Woods

WM School District

A trip to St. Jude Children's Hospital, a program hosted by ASU Mid-South and a press conference.

The West Memphis-Marion football game has gone beyond its normal forcefulness this year thanks to several local entities.

The Blue Devils and Patriots, both with identical records heading into their 6A-East Conference opener, tangle for the 16th time in history on Friday night at 7 at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

And if you think two sub-.500 records will temper excitement among the fan bases, then consider what Fred Leonard and Grandon Gray have already done on behalf of this year's game.

Those two were the brainchildren of the Hometown Showdown, which began Tuesday with four players from both teams, their head coaches, their cheerleaders, representatives from both schools and more benefactors melded together for an entire day of celebration of the biggest sporting event in Crittenden County.

Leonard and Gray headed up the St. Jude Day of Service, which found the players and school reps spending an entire morning touring St. Jude Children's Hospital.

The reps were then driven back to West Memphis and the campus of ASU Mid-South, where the school and the Sonny Weems Foundation sponsored a program celebrating the big game and then an honest-to-goodness press conference, which featured media from both sides of the rivalry.

And the pre-game activities don't end there.

In the last five to six years West Memphis-Marion pregames have increased in size and activities, but they will all pale in comparison to Friday night's Hometown Showdown, which Leonard said will feature music and live entertainment as well as more food than in previous years.

The teams' visit to St. Jude was especially memorable for the players, three of whom had never experienced.

"We pass by it all the time when driving to Memphis, but to actually see all the buildings and facilities it really brings it home," said Blue Devil quarterback Owens McConnell. "The people there are very special."

One Blue Devil, senior offensive lineman Chris Morris, actually had visited St. Jude before.

"I've been before, but it just gets even more special," he said. "Our tour guide was asking questions and I knew some of the answers. That was pretty cool."

The Patriots will be looking to defeat the Blue Devils for the first time in history. They've been blown out on a few occasions, but they've also just missed on upsetting the Blue Devils, particularly last season when West Memphis held off Marion when Curtis Hill knocked away a two-point conversion pass by Patriot QB Daedrick Cail with 3:39 to play in the fourth quarter.

The Blue Devils held on for a 22-20 victory en route to their 6A-East Conference championship and undefeated regular season.

Despite their record, the Patriots are not without big-time firepower, particularly with Cail, who returns as a junior this year. Cail is one of the top overall athletes in Arkansas after being tabbed the state's Sophomore of the Year in both football and baseball.

"I think it's his ability to not do anything to beat them that is most impressive," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "Cail has the ability to beat you with his arm or his feet, and he gives his team a good chance to win each week."

Wynne holds off Blue Devils in the fourth quarter

By Billy Woods

WM School District

WYNNE --- It wasn't the total yardage.

It may have seemed the Wynne Yellowjackets, and their option offense, was churning inconceivable yards on the West Memphis defense. But it came down to mistakes, in the end, for the Blue Devils.

Wynne senior quarterback Holden Parker threw for a touchdown, ran for a two-point conversion, kicked two field goals and saw two of his kickoffs leave the end zone as the Yellowjackets outlasted the Blue Devils 21-14 here Friday night.

Looking to gain some steam heading into their 6A-East Conference opener next Friday night at home against Marion, the Blue Devils kept charging back, twice taking the lead after falling behind.

But some dropped balls in the second half burned the Blue Devils (1-2)

"We made too many mistakes, but give Wynne the credit," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "They made the plays when they had to make them. We had the opportunities to win, but didn't get the job done."

The execution, overall, was better for West Memphis as the two comebacks attest. But Parker did it all, throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass with 10:38 to play in the fourth quarter to Devin Holmes to bring his team back from a 14-13 deficit.

Parker then ran for the two-point conversion to provide the final points.

"Holden played like he's capable of playing," said Wynne head coach Van Paschal. "He'd been playing good, but not as good as he's capable. He runs the option almost to perfection and when he needs to he can throw it. And you saw what kind of leg he has."

Parker gave his team a 3-0 lead on the 'Jackets' first possession of the night when he booted a 29-yard field goal.

But the Blue Devil offense looked its best all season on the running of Cedric Loving in the first half.

Loving gave his team its first lead when he bowled into the end zone from a yard out with 6:13 left to play in the second quarter. Colin Clark's PAT gave West Memphis a 7-3 lead.

"I think our offense looked better tonight, and we played harder," said Elmore.

Wynne put up 165 yards rushing in the first half, which is a season high given up by the Blue Devils in one half of play. But the defense kept Wynne out of the end zone through the first two quarters.

The visitors led 7-6 at halftime after Parker kicked a 46-yard field goal that probably would have been good from 56 yards.

Wynne took its second lead of the game at 13-7 when Marterius Ross ran 14 yards for a touchdown with 9:51 left in the third quarter.

But once again, the Blue Devil offense came charging back, this time with a different back carrying the load.

Dennis Dallas, who rushed for 71 second-half yards, was unstoppable through his first six carries. His first five carries of the second half went for 45 yards, but teammate Tyrique Thomas got the end zone honors when he scored a 2-yard TD with 6:42 left in the third quarter.

Clark once again split the uprights for a 14-13 West Memphis lead.

For the second straight week, the Blue Devil defense rallied in the second half to slow down a potent rushing attack.

The West Memphis defenders limited Wynne to only 86 yards on the ground in the second half.

But Parker, facing third and 1 from the West Memphis 15, threw to a wide open Holmes for a touchdown.

For the game, Parker was just 2 of 5 passing for 30 yards.

"It is what it is," Elmore added. "We're 1-2 heading into conference play next week. A new season starts, so we hope to be ready for it."

Dennis Dallas (24) had 71 yards rushing in the second half against Wynne.

Kendarious Moore (10) chases down a Wynne running on Friday night.

Blue Devils look for improvement at Wynne

By Billy Woods

WM School District

West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore feels like it's Week 2 of the football season.

With a 1-1 record heading into Friday night's game at Wynne, Elmore said his Blue Devils' biological clocks may be off, considering the team had a 17-day layoff after a very early-season-opening game Aug. 27.

"It almost feels like Week 2 for us with that long break," said Elmore. "We've got to do a better job if we're going to have that long a break between games in getting the team ready. The improvements that teams make between Week 1 and Week 2 will hopefully hold true for us this week."

Wynne also comes in 1-1 with a season-opening victory at Marion and a 51-31 loss last week at Arkadelphia. The Blue Devils will serve as the Yellowjackets' home opener.

Head coach Van Paschal's team will throw a traditional option offense at West Memphis, which will mean assignment football for the Blue Devil defense.

"And thus far we haven't show we can do that," Elmore added. "Defending the option will be a challenge in itself."

There won't be any carryover effect either. The Blue Devils won't play another option team until the final week of the regular season at Mountain Home.

"We've got to do a better job of tackling," said Elmore. "There were a number of things defensively we didn't do well last week."

The Blue Devil defense gave up 109 yards on the ground in the first half last week against Blytheville, but it rallied to hold the Chicks to just 23 yards rushing in the second half.

"We need to be better securing our gaps because we try to be a gap-sound defense," Elmore commented. "It wasn't a good thing, but we went to zero coverage. We went to man coverage and put an extra man in the box. That's one thing teams have had to do against us in the past and we've never had to do that."

Wynne will present a different challenge to the West Memphis defense.

"I love trying to defend the option, if you play it well," Elmore admitted. "If you don't play it well, it can make for a long night."

The Blue Devil offense also came alive in the second half last week against Blytheville as senior quarterback Owens McConnell fired two touchdown passes and senior running back Cedric Loving had nearly 200 all-purpose yards.

But the team suffered an injury to back-up sophomore quarterback Tevin Carter, whose knee cap popped out of place in his only series of the night. He was helped off the field after it snapped back into place, but he is listed as questionable for the game at Wynne.

This week, McConnell's back-up figures to be senior Eric Burks, who has shown aptitude in running Elmore's spread offense last spring and during summer competition.

Friday night's game will also mark the launch of the Blue Devil Sports Network, which will stream the game online using a student-led staff.

The website for the stream is

Blue Devils hold on to defeat Blytheville

By Billy Woods

WM School District

After giving up two scoop-and-scores for touchdowns over 75 yards, being limited to minus 1-yard rushing and trailing at one point 17-0 in the first half, West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore figured his Blue Devils couldn't have played much worse.

And that it just had to get better in the second half.

Elmore was right on both counts.

An 0-2 Blytheville team, which lost to Class 3A Osceola just a week earlier, held a 17-7 halftime lead, and you don't have to be a football analyst to know the Blue Devil locker room was loud and colorful at halftime.

But the Blue Devils mustered enough mettle to outplay the Chicks in the final two quarters and hold on for a 34-31 victory on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

"The only thing I can say positive is that we came back out after halftime and played harder," said Elmore, whose team evened its record at 1-1. "It was not a good football game and it was not at the level at which our fans and our team expect to perform. We're going to go back and address that as early as Sunday afternoon."

In the first half, if it could go wrong for West Memphis, it did go wrong.

On only their second offensive snap, a high snap went over the head of quarterback Owens McConnell and Blytheville's Kylen Wells scooped it up and raced 85 yards for a touchdown.

Lightning struck again with just 57 seconds left in the game as the Blue Devils were a play or two away with a 10-point lead from getting into victory formation. A fumbled snap was recovered by the Chicks' Kentorious Dotstry, who outran everybody for a 75-yard touchdown to give the visitors a glimmer of hope with just inside a minute to play.

Curiously, the Chicks used an intermediate kick instead of an onside kick and it allowed the Blue Devils to successfully cover it and run out the clock.

As Elmore alluded to, the first half was ugly for the hosts.

The rushing attack was below freezing level, the Blue Devil defense gave up 101 yards on the ground and the visitors controlled the line of scrimmage.

"We gave (Blytheville) 14 points just on stupid mental mistakes," Elmore added. "Honestly, right now it's just not real good football we're watching."

The script flipped, though, in the second half.

The Blue Devils received the second-half kickoff and senior Cedric Loving, who rushed for 109 yards in the final two quarters, returned it 64 yards to put the hosts in business at the Blytheville 17.

Three plays later, Loving fittingly charged into the end zone from 11 yards out and gave the Blue Devils the momentum for the first time all night.

"We went into our power package after the second-half kickoff and we were just trying to make a statement," Elmore commented.

McConnell, who started and played all but one series because sophomore quarterback Tevin Carter was injured on his only offensive series and was held out the rest of the game, completed 8 of 13 passes for 103 yards, threw for two touchdowns, the second of which went to Jaylen Shephard with 4:31 left in the third quarter to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the game at 21-17 after Colin Clark's PAT.

The lead got as high as 10 points twice in the second half, but both times the Blue Devils cracked open the door for the Chicks.

Loving, who also had two TDs, bolted into the end zone from 9 yards out with 1:33 left in the third quarter for a 27-17 West Memphis cushion.

Blytheville quarterback Jeremiah Northern, who has a big arm, but no touch, connected with Willie Bell for a 14-yard touchdown to slice the Blue Devil lead to 27-24 with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter.

But the Blue Devils answered back with Loving's second touchdown, from 3 yards, to make it 34-24 and seemingly out of reach for the Chicks.

"The two positives you take away from this game is, No. 1 we won the game," said Elmore. "And two, although we kept making mistakes, we played with more heart in the second half."

Cedric Loving (21) scored two TDs and rushed for 109 yards in the second half against Blytheville.

Nathan Watson gains ground after making a catch.

Blue Devils entertain Chicks seeking first win

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It will have been 17 days since the West Memphis Blue Devils last played a football game.

During that time, college and high school football played two regular-season games, the calendar flipped to September and Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore could not wait to play the next game.

Finally, the next game is on the horizon.

The Blue Devils will try and shake off the dust and maybe even the rust from their Aug. 27 season opening loss to Little Rock Central on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field when they take on Blytheville.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The time off seemed longer, Elmore said, "simply because we got beat."

"It seemed like a long time off," the Blue Devil boss added. "But we had a good week of practice last week. It seemed like a pretty long time, but it also gave us a chance to take care of some house-keeping like photo day and our coaches going out to watch some of the other schools play."

West Memphis got off to an unsettling start with the 24-18 loss to the Central Tigers at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Elmore said he thinks his players responded to the loss properly and that they are ready to play the Chicks.

"I think we are ready to go play somebody else," he stated. "I think we had a really good film session after (the Central game). You gotta have thick skin to come into our film sessions. I say that, but we as coaches are not out to put all the blame on the players. We made some mistakes in coaching and they made some mistakes playing. We addressed all those issues. Either way, you gotta be able to handle constructive criticism. I think our guys really responded to that."

In the interim since playing Central, Elmore said there hasn't been any drastic changes to personnel, except for one spot on the offensive line.

However, it appears the Blue Devil coaches will continue to go with a time share at quarterback, where incumbent senior starter Owens McConnell and sophomore Tevin Carter took a fairly equal amount of snaps against Little Rock Central.

"I think the job will work itself out," Elmore commented. "Both will play and we'll see who gets the hot hand and we'll go from there. We've told both kids it'll play itself out. Ironically, both players do a lot of the same things very well. I don't think it's a bad problem to have. I do not think we have a quarterback controversy. We just happen to have two quality quarterbacks who both deserve playing time."

The Chicks will also be trying for their first win of the season. Blytheville fell 44-14 at Marion in Week 1 and then lost last week at Osceola, 33-18.

Elmore said the Chicks are a capable bunch on offense.

"They're struggling a little right now, but they've had a coaching change late in the year and they have some playmakers on offense, especially at quarterback and running back," he stated. "They have some new coaches, and it takes them a while to adapt to that."

Friday night's game not only serves as West Memphis' home opener, but it is also the annual Double Devil Feast. For $10 fans can enjoy a steak dinner with baked potato, roll and slaw in the Academies of West Memphis cafeteria from 5-6:30 p.m.

Get your tickets from any West Memphis Athletic Booster Club member or pay at the door.

Central tags opening loss on Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

LITTLE ROCK --- After watching his team miss opportunities on both sides of the ball in Tuesday night's disappointing 24-18 loss at War Memorial Stadium to Little Rock Central, Billy Elmore can take consolation in that his team has the next 17 days off before it plays again.

Little Rock Central, 1-8 a year ago, played relentlessly on defense, holding West Memphis to just 68 yards rushing and picking off two Blue Devil passes.

"I'm disappointed in the way we performed," Elmore said, bluntly. "Now, give Central some credit for that, but I'm really disappointed."

Defensively, the Blue Devils gave up 265 yards rushing and 386 overall.

Missed opportunities and muscle cramps were among Elmore's biggest concerns from Tuesday night.

After heading to the locker room at halftime down 17-6, the Blue Devils scored on their first possession of the second half as senior running back Cedric Loving, who led his team with 47 yards on the ground, scored a 1-yard touchdown with over eight minutes left in the third quarter to make it 17-12.

Soon after, the Blue Devils had the Tigers backed up inside their own 5, where the hosts faced a third and 8 from the 6. Central quarterback Lawson Gunn, however, dug his team out of the hole by completing a 31-yard pass to Toine Westbrook to the 37.

Gunn completed 10 of 16 passes for 97 yards.

"Honestly, we lead the world in giving up third and 15's," Elmore said. "We did not handle that very well."

And then the cramps kicked in.

Several Blue Devils were on and off the field in the second half due to muscle cramps. It caught Elmore's attention.

"We pride ourselves in being in being in shape and being physically tough," he said. "Cramps are just not preparing your body the way it should be. I've never had that many guys cramp in 25 years of coaching. I felt like we were in better shape than that, but obviously we're not. As head coach I'll own that."

The Blue Devils' inability to run the ball against the Tigers wasn't exactly offset by their passing game. West Memphis quarterbacks Owens McConnell, a senior, and sophomore Tevin Carter, both of whom played equally, combined for only 5 completions in 19 attempts for 142 yards.

McConnell, last year's Most Valuable Player in the Bank of England Mortgage Kickoff Classic presented by 103.7 The Buzz, gave the Blue Devils some early hope after Central took an early 7-0 lead.

McConnell connected with Draylon Brown for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 1:12 left in the first quarter to cut the Tigers' lead to 7-6.

McConnell finished 3 of 10 passing for 75 yards. Carter was 2 of 9 for 67 yards, the last completion of which came on the last play of the game when he found Jamual Crayton for a 43-yard touchdown pass.

Another area Elmore took issue with is his defensive front's problems with stopping the Central ground attack.

"If you would have told me before game that Little Rock Central was going to have as much success running the ball as they did on our defensive front seven, I would have told you you were crazy," Elmore added. "But they did. We'll go back and regroup. We're not going to hit the panic button just yet."

One of the two interceptions West Memphis gave up led to a Central touchdown.

After Keeling Baker hit a 28-yard field goal to give Central a 10-6 lead in the second quarter, a Blue Devil pick led to the Tigers scoring on a 2-yard touchdown by Samuel Franklin with 53 seconds left before halftime.

Franklin led all rushers with 175 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. The effort earned him the game's Most Valuable Player award.

The Blue Devil defense was led by Davion Eason, who recorded 8 solo tackles and 8 assisted while senior Tulane University commit Kendarious Moore had 6 solos and 3 assists. Moore had two tackles for lost yardage.

The Blue Devils will have plenty of time on the practice field the next 17 days before hitting the field again on Sept. 13 in the home opener against Blytheville.

Dennis Dallas (24) evades Little Rock Central defense.

Owens McConnell (14) lowers his head in first-half action.

Blue Devils ready to get it on Tuesday against LR Central

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils get another early start to their football campaign, and head coach Billy Elmore said it's been good for the program.

For the second consecutive season the Blue Devils open more than a full week ahead of most of the rest of Arkansas as they take on Little Rock Central on Tuesday night at War Memorial Stadium in the Bank of England Mortgage Kickoff Classic presented by 103.7 The Buzz.

But there is a big difference this time out.

The Blue Devils and the Tigers will kick off at 5 p.m., thus giving their fans a chance to get home at a decent hour. Last year the two teams played in the nightcap of a doubleheader and actually kicked it off at 8:15 p.m.

Elmore thinks his team is ready to start the season.

"I think our kids are ready for the challenge of a season," said Elmore, whose team went 11-1 last year in winning the 6A-East Conference championship and advancing to the semifinals of the state playoffs for the second straight year.

"They've worked really hard all spring and summer and we feel good about where we're at from a competitive standpoint."

Elmore said he would have liked to have gotten more of a look from his team in last Tuesday's preseason scrimmage at Batesville, but a thunderstorm brought lightning, heavy winds and rain as the two teams were near the end of the first of two 12-minute periods.

"I was hoping to get in more during the time when it was really hot because we know we're going to be playing in probably the hottest part of the day (against Little Rock Central)," said Elmore. "But you can't do anything about the weather."

One of the things that jumped off the page in the Batesville scrimmage was the running of senior Cedric Loving, who spent last season as a rarely used back-up. He scored the game's only touchdown from 11 yards out and also added some explosive runs during the untimed portion of the scrimmage.

Central will be trying to turn around from a 1-8 campaign a year ago under head coach Kent Laster.

The Blue Devils blitzed the Tigers last year 35-0.

"They have a lot of kids back from last year and they're explosive," said Elmore. "You gotta remember that they played in 7A against the likes of Bryant, Cabot, North Little Rock and Conway. We're going to have to play well to beat them."

Loving will be paired in the backfield with another senior, Tyrique Thomas, who rushed for 134 yards also in a back-up role last season.

The Blue Devil offense will be under the direction of senior quarterback Owens McConnell, a starter last year who was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2018 game against Central by completing 14 of 25 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

On defense, senior linebacker Kendarious Moore leads a mostly untested group of Blue Devils. Moore was the team's leading tackler a year ago for lost yardage and he has made a verbal commitment to sign with Tulane University after getting offers from Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt.

"Kendarious' coverage skills translate to the next level," Elmore said of Moore. "I've probably had bigger and more physical linebackers, but not any that are as smooth in coverage and the things he does with the RPO game. In practice we cannot read him."

Storm ends scrimmage prematurely for Blue Devils

By Billy Woods

WM School District

BATESVILLE --- It was hot. One hundred-fifteen degrees worth on the field.

Believe it or don't, that's what Billy Elmore wanted.

As the heat reached its peak, sauna-like conditions disappeared. Just barely over an hour into Tuesday's scrimmage here a strong thunder storm moved through and ended the evening prematurely.

Still, the Blue Devil head coach saw enough as his football team readies itself for next Tuesday's early regular-season opener against Little Rock Central at War Memorial Stadium.

The Blue Devil offense scored the scrimmage's only touchdown with just under four minutes remaining in the first period of what was supposed to have been a full half of timed football.

"Actually, I wanted it to be hotter than it was when it ended tonight," said Elmore. "I wanted to condition us for next week because we start at 5 p.m. and it should be pretty hot at that time."

After several series of scripted offensive and defensive units on the field for both teams, starting with junior varsity, the Blue Devils and the Class 4A Pioneers readied themselves for some real football.

On their second offensive possession, the Blue Devils, under the guidance of senior quarterback Owens McConnell, marched 67 yards, capped by an 11-yard touchdown run by senior running back Cedric Loving.

Senior Colin Clark kicked the PAT for a 7-0 Blue Devil lead that stood up for the next few minutes before the storm clouds chased everyone out and referees signaled the end to the preseason skirmish.

"It is what it is," said Elmore. "God decided we'd played enough football tonight. It might have prevented an injury, so that's how it works out sometimes."

Loving and his backfield teammate, senior Tyrique Thomas, showed some toughness and breakaway speed.

"I've been saying that Cedric has a chance to be an explosive runner for us this year," said Elmore. "He's got the ability to be one of the best we've had since I've been here."

Defensively, the Blue Devil varsity gave up very little in the two Batesville offensive possessions, but Elmore said that there were some of his defenders out of position.

"I told our coaches you gotta realize that several of these kids it was there first time out there in varsity situations," said Elmore. "We'll take it and get better and move on toward our first game."

Fall camp opens for Blue Devils amid optimism

By Billy Woods

WM School District

He has to replace 20 starters this season, but the look on Billy Elmore's face is not the one of worry.

After the West Memphis Blue Devils graduated 20 senior starters from last year's conference championship team which went undefeated in the regular season and then advanced to the semifinals of the state playoffs, it would certainly be understandable for some panic in the team's preseason camp.

Not so.

Let the head coach himself explain.

"Well, we had a really good summer, for one thing," Elmore said. "Plus, I think we've got the program where we want as far as seniors manning most of the spots in the starting lineup. We'll have another large group of seniors as our core this season. Typically, you'd like for all your sophomores to play in JV games on Monday nights, a few juniors mixed into the rotation on the varsity and then mostly seniors lining up every Friday night."

The Blue Devils are well into their first week of fall camp, ahead of the team's early start to the regular season. For the second straight year, the Blue Devils will play their season-opener a week ahead of most of the rest of the state.

West Memphis will face Little Rock Central on Aug. 27 at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium in the Bank of England Mortgage Kickoff Classic, presented by 103.7 The Buzz.

And because of the early start to the regular season, Elmore's club will also have to play its preseason scrimmage a little earlier, too. The Blue Devils will travel to Batesville on Aug. 20 to take on the Pioneers for the fourth straight season.

The outstanding summer, which included some testy team camps against top Class 7A schools, has carried over smoothly into the fall camp, according to Elmore.

"We don't know what's going to happen when these guys go out for the first time and play," he said. "Hopefully, however, we're at the point in our program where we're saying this every year because we're playing so many seniors every Friday night. In our conference and in our classification, if you're starting a bunch of sophomores and could be in a lot of trouble. Unless they're just a bunch of exceptional players. Last year we felt like we had good back-ups in all the positions where the seniors were starting."

West Memphis is operating on a roster of 90 players, which Elmore said is the number he wants to keep every season.

"Hopefully next year we have to replace 18 or 20 starters again," he said candidly.

The two returning starters should be very familiar to Blue Devil fans. On offense, the returnee is senior quarterback Owens McConnell, who was the game's Most Valuable Player in last year's Bank of England Mortgage Kickoff Classic in which he completed 14 of 25 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns in West Memphis' 35-0 win over LR Central.

On defense, senior linebacker Kendarious Moore, a University of Tulane commit, will be the ring leader after leading the Blue Devils in tackles in 2018.

Blue Devil Thomas becomes third signee with Lyon College

By Billy Woods

WM School District

There is a solid pipeline of talent from West Memphis being funneled into Batesville and Lyon College.

On Monday at the Academies of West Memphis' Performing Arts Center, the third Blue Devil football player in the last two years signed on to play for the Scots of Lyon.

Cornerback Jaden Thomas inked with the school, surrounded by family, friends, teammates and coaches.

"Yes, it looks like we've sent some of our best kids over there recently," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "This one came late, for whatever reason. But it was a great offer. Anything that isn't Division 1 isn't always a full scholarship, but they got really close on this one. It made it an easy decision for Jaden."

In 2018 for the 12-1 Blue Devils, Thomas stood out in the secondary with two interceptions and seven pass break-ups. Thomas also registered 31 solo tackles and 6 assists.

He said the familiarity to Lyon with former teammates Michael Troxler and Amaurius Stinnett already in the fold helped seal the decision.

"It was a factor, for sure, because I already know a couple people there already," said Thomas. "It'll definitely help me get ready for the college experience."

Thomas, who said he expects to continue to play in the secondary at Lyon, wants to major in biology on his way to becoming an occupational therapist.

Elmore said he sees a solid future in store for Thomas at Lyon.

"I think he can play," said Elmore. "He's a smart kid and he played some great receivers in our league every week. Did a good job of covering them. When (Lyon's) coaches started calling me I told them he'd be an outstanding addition to their team."

Signing Day yields six Blue Devils going on to college

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Football signing day at West Memphis is becoming a huge event.

On Wednesday, the first day of college football's National Signing Day, six West Memphis Blue Devils signed scholarship papers with various colleges. This, after last year's seven signed.

"This is something our whole school can take pride in," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "It's not just a football activity."

Two Blue Devils, linemen Mark Robinson and Hasani Adams, signed with North Alabama while tight end Marcus Whitaker inked with Prairie View, speedster Devin Olloway signed with Arkansas Tech, defensive lineman Allen Henry signed with Coffeyville (KS) Junior College and defensive back Ty Barbee signed with Missouri Baptist.

"One of our coaches said we make signing day extra," Elmore remarked. "And I said dang right we do. It's something we take pride in and we don't hide from. We've seen 13 kids sign college scholarships the last two years. And we tell them, if you do your part with academics and you're good enough to play for West Memphis, then you can play in college."

Robinson, a defensive end, helped the Blue Devil D with four sacks and he had 13.5 tackles for lost yardage. Robinson compiled 45 solo tackles with 19 assists.

Joining Robinson at North Alabama will be Adams, who pulled two-way duty the last two years on offense and defense. Defensively, Adams had 30 solo tackles and 14 assists to go along with one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Olloway was the Blue Devils' biggest offensive weapon in 2018 with 28 receptions for 851 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also rushed 25 times for 142 yards and two more touchdowns. Olloway was one of the most electric kick-off return men in the state in 2018, returning two kicks for touchdowns.

Whitaker, at a rangy 6-foot-5, caught 6 passes for 72 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Henry teamed with Robinson and Adams to form a fearsome Blue Devil front line on defense. Henry had 46 solo tackles and 21 assists to go along with 18 tackles for lost yardage and he led the team in quarterback sacks with 7.5.

Barbee had 24 solo tackles and 8 assists and 2 tackles for lost yardage. He finished 2018 tied for the team lead in interceptions, along with junior Kendarious Moore, with 4.

The six seniors led the Blue Devils to an 11-1 record, which included its first conference championship since 2011 and a berth in the Class 5A state playoff semifinals.

Three Blue Devils tabbed for All-Star Game

By Billy Woods

WM School District

On the heels of an 11-1 campaign, the West Memphis Blue Devils will be heavily represented at the annual Arkansas High School Coaches Association football all-star game in June.

Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore will be one of the East assistant coaches and two of his top players, Devin Olloway and Mark Robinson, will be on the East roster.

"We're well-represented, but there's also a chance we may get another player or two for the game because nowadays, depending on whether colleges will let their signees play in the game, there may be a shift in the final roster," explained Elmore, whose team won the 6A-East Conference championship, won its first 11 games and advanced to the state semifinals for the second straight year.

"The rule is that no school gets more than two players, but that rule could get waived because of the college issue. Our two players are very well deserving and I am excited for them."

Robinson, a defensive end, led the Blue Devil defense with 4 sacks and he had 13.5 tackles for lost yardage. Robinson compiled 45 solo tackles and 19 assists.

Olloway was the Blue Devils' biggest offensive weapon in 2018 with 28 receptions for 851 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also rushed 25 times for 142 yards and two more touchdowns. Olloway also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Elmore said he is excited about the opportunity to coach in the all-star game.

"I think the most fun thing about the all-star game is working with the different kids and coaching with other coaches from different schools," said Elmore. "With the kids staying in the dorms all week it's like a college atmosphere. Making new friends, both players and coaches, are a big part of it."

Mark Robinson

Devin Olloway

Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore

Blue Devils' Devin Olloway breaks a tackle against Benton

West Memphis QB Owens McConnell lets one fly against Benton.

WMHS' Latavian Thomas turns the corner on Benton.

Receiver Jimmy Phillips (8) knocks ball loose from Benton defender.

Blue Devils Kendarious Moore (10) and Curtis Hill (32) bring down a Panther runner.

Blue Devils bow out, fall to Benton in semis

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It was a scenario the Blue Devils had thrived in before.

Close game at halftime.

They receive the second-half kick.

They score and go on to win.

It happened one week earlier against Pine Bluff and a couple other times this season.

It would not happen this time.

Tied 3-3 at halftime, the Blue Devils would receive the second-half kickoff from Benton. A pooched onside kick was recovered by Benton's Terry Jones at the West Memphis 37.

Instead of the Blue Devils scoring the go-ahead touchdown, it was Benton's Peyton Pallette that scored off a direct snap from 13 yards out, and after the same thing repeated itself, the Blue Devils just couldn't recover.

Benton eliminated West Memphis from the state playoffs 30-17 in a semifinal game Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

West Memphis' historic run at perfection ends at 11-1, which marks only the third time in school history that the Blue Devils have hit the 11-win mark.

"We didn't play the way we felt we were capable of playing, but you gotta give credit to Benton for that," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "They did an outstanding job, and their kids deserve credit for winning tonight."

After both teams traded field goals in the first half, one by Blue Devil kicker Colin Clark from 21 yards out in the first quarter, and after the West Memphis defense put the clamps on Benton's offense, limiting the Panthers (10-2) to just 57 yards rushing and only 61 yards passing through the first two quarters, the Blue Devils were poised to set the tone for the second half.

Benton's Garrett Eason pooched a kick that could have just been best described as a short kick rather than an onside. The Blue Devils fielded it, but fumbled and Benton's Terry Jones pulled Part I of a two-part play with the same script.

"I don't know if the first one was an onside kick or a squib or what," said Elmore. "Whatever it was, it was the difference in the game."

Benton's outstanding running back, Zak Wallace, who had been battling injuries for three weeks, looked very ordinary in the first half. But he rushed for 161 second-half yards.

He put the Panthers in position for Pallette's touchdown to give Benton a 10-3 lead.

And then it happened again.

Benton's second kickoff was definitely onside.

Eason topped the ball, it bounded high in the air and it deflected off a Blue Devil upman. Jones was there once again to recover it. He ran full stride and caught the ball in no traffic.

This time Wallace did it all by himself.

His 4-yard touchdown with 6:50 left in the third quarter silenced the Blue Devil crowd.

"We thought all week that the weather was going to be nasty enough that we didn't want to kick it deep against the wind," explained Benton head coach Brad Harris. "We saw a vacant spot and we thought it would be a great time to take advantage of it. We felt like if we could get it past those first guys we'd have a chance."

The closest the Blue Devils could get after that was 17-10 when quarterback Owens McConnell hooked up with senior receiver Jatavius Tucker for a 32-yard touchdown pass with 10:38 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Still plenty of time for the Blue Devils to rally.

But Wallace was just too much.

His 12-yard touchdown with 8:10 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the visitors a 24-10 lead, put even more pressure on the West Memphis offense.

"I think Zak missed some seams to run through early in the game," Harris admitted. "He got his eyes refocused in the second half. He missed three games for us this year, but it's great to see him back."

Wallace sealed the deal with 1:44 to play in the game when he scampered 27 yards for his third TD of the second half, making it 30-10.

West Memphis scored its final TD when the McConnell-Tucker combo struck again with 11 seconds to play in the game, this time from 17 yards.

"(The Panthers) were the better team tonight, I don't think there's any question about that," Elmore said. "Good luck to them next week."

Benton will face Greenwood for the Class 6A state championship on Saturday at noon at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Greenwood defeated Sylvan Hills 31-10 in the other semifinal game Friday night.

Charging Blue Devils one win away from title game

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's a different feeling this time around.

The West Memphis Blue Devils are set to play in the Class 6A state semifinals for the second year in a row when they host Benton on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

What's different about this time?

Last year the Blue Devils lost their only regular-season game handily at Pine Bluff and they faced the monumental task of beating a juggernaut Greenwood team on the road in the semifinals.

They then lost that game handily to end their season.

This year it feels different.

Head coach Billy Elmore's team is 11-0.

It is riding a wave of momentum after last week's 34-6 shellacking of Pine Bluff in the quarterfinals at Hamilton-Shutlz Field.

It is awaiting a good, but not great, Benton team in the semifinals. One that had to pull off a miracle finish to defeat Jonesboro last week.

It is playing at home instead of on the road.

All that adds up to what feels like the best chance West Memphis has had to reach the championship game since 2005.

"You always want to tell your kids each round of the playoffs gets more exciting, and that's what we're feeling right now," said Elmore. "Each game gets a little bigger. This Friday night's game is bigger than last Friday night's game."

Playing in the 6A-West, Benton (9-2) was easily the second-best team behind Greenwood, which clobbered the Panthers 62-33 earlier this season.

"They are big and physical," Elmore said of the Panthers. "They won the 6A weightlifting (championship) last year. That just shows they do have some really strong kids. They have a good running back back from last year. You don't want him running downhill because he can explode through a hole."

Last year, Benton also visited West Memphis and fell to the Blue Devils 39-21 in a quarterfinal game. Both teams battled to a 21-21 tie at halftime before the Blue Devils used a fierce wind advantage in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.

"Defensively, Benton is very aggressive," Elmore added. "They blitz a lot. When someone blitzes, that can give you trouble, but if you pick those blitzes up that's a big advantage to you as well."

Benton will have to figure out a way to slow down West Memphis' biggest offensive factor: inside receiver Devin Olloway, whose elite speed has caused extreme problems for Blue Devil opposition all season, but especially the last five or six weeks.

Last week against Pine Bluff, Olloway scored three touchdowns, which gives him five against the Zebras in two games this season.

"We're finding creative ways to get him the ball," Elmore said. "We feel like if he's double-teamed, our other receivers can catch the ball and go score, too. It's hard to focus so hard on Olloway when you've got Jimmy Phillips on the other side in single coverage who can catch the ball and run with it. He's capable of doing the exact same thing. And if you widen out your coverage, our running game has been on point at times this season."

Blue Devil Thanksgiving open to the fans

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Before the giblets and gravy are put on the stove, all Blue Devil football fans are invited to spend Thanksgiving morning at Hamilton-Shultz Field as the team goes through final preparations for its state playoff game against Benton.

West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore said the public is invited to watch the team's practice on Thursday at 10 a.m.

"It'll be kind of neat for our kids to have (fans) at practice," said Elmore, whose team battles Benton on Friday in a semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Hamilton-Shultz Field. "Last year we did this before our game at Greenwood, where we fed them potluck. This year I think our kids want to eat Thanksgiving dinner with their families later in the day. We'll probably practice until about noon and then let them go home and be with their families.

"We'd love to have as many folks out here watching us practice as possible. Thursday practices aren't the most exciting thing in the world to see, but it just shows our kids that the community is excited about what they're doing."

For the second straight year the Blue Devils (11-0 this season) are one win away from playing for the state championship;.

Benton comes into Friday night's game riding a wave of emotional momentum after rallying from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Jonesboro last week 38-37.

West Memphis man-handled Pine Bluff 34-6 behind three touchdowns from senior receiver Devin Olloway.

Elmore also revealed team activities for Friday, since West Memphis Schools are out for Thanksgiving week.

He said the players will report to the fieldhouse around 11 a.m. that day and hang out with various activities.

"We'll have a TV in here for us all to watch the Memphis-Houston game," said Elmore. "That'll be a big game. Go Tigers!"

Olloway does it again to Pine Bluff; Devils move on to semifinals

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Given a second try to devise a scheme to keep West Memphis’ Devin Olloway from game-breaking plays, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding and his staff still weren’t able to solve the Blue Devil speedster.

Olloway, by far the biggest factor for the West Memphis Blue Devil fortunes in the postseason, took off with the ball in his hands relatively few times, but on three of the seven occasions he touched it Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field it went for home-run distance to lead the Blue Devils to a 34-6 victory over the Zebras in a quarterfinal game of the Class 6A state playoffs.

The Blue Devils, 11-0 for the first time since 2005, will once again play host this Friday night for the semifinals. They’ll play Benton, which stunned Jonesboro in overcoming an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 38-37 victory.

On the other side of the 6A bracket, Greenwood shut out Searcy 35-0 and Sylvan Hills upset Marion with a fourth-quarter comeback of its own, 17-14.

Olloway scored three touchdowns against Pine Bluff, now giving him five in two games against the Zebras. The five touchdowns, by the way, went for 257 yards. In the most recent game, Olloway had 7 touches for 152 yards.

As you might expect, Blue Devil coaches tried creative ways to get the ball in Olloway’s hands, including a Wildcat Formation package near the goal line. However, it was further away from the goal line that Olloway made the biggest impact.

He took a snap out of the Wildcat for his first touchdown, from 6 yards out, but then used the jets to speed past Zebra defenders on a 45-yard touchdown on a receiver screen pass, and then plunged a knife into the Zebras hearts on the first play from scrimmage in the second half when he took another screen pass from quarterback Owens McConnell for an 83-yard touchdown.

“I guess I just open up the playbook for us,” Olloway said, succinctly. “It was designed to have a one-man block (on the 83-yard TD) and the coaches believed in my speed enough, so I took it to the house…touchdown.”

At least Pine Bluff (5-7) was successful in one of its methods of stopping Olloway.

The Zebras did not kick it deep, where Olloway waited like a coiled snake. And where he took a kickoff 82 yards in the first meeting between the two teams just three weeks earlier.

West Memphis had built a 21-6 halftime lead on the strength of two Olloway scores and another dazzling long ball from McConnell, this one to senior receiver Jatavius Tucker that went for 57 yards.

“But we talked at halftime about needing to put (Pine Bluff) away early in the second half,” Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore admitted. “I think we felt too good about ourselves at halftime. That definitely helped to pop that play to open the second half. That didn’t end it, but it definitely took some wind out of (Pine Bluff’s) sails.”

Interestingly enough, it was Pine Bluff that put the Blue Devils into an early hole, taking the short kickoff to open the game and then driving it just 54 yards on seven plays, capped by a 35-yard touchdown by Elisha Taylor for a 6-0 lead after the PAT failed.

And West Memphis’ first score was modest enough, a 25-yard field goal by junior placekicker Colin Clark, who is perfect on his last three field-goal attempts, to slice Pine Bluff’s lead in half.

“We missed a few tackles on Pine Bluff’s first drive,” Elmore added. “I don’t know if it was rust from the week layoff or maybe it was the speed of the game that we had to get caught back up on. Maybe it was a wake-up call for us, though.”

The play that got the Blue Devils going, however, was a beautifully thrown deep ball from McConnell to Tucker, who outraced the Pine Bluff secondary for a 57-yard touchdown on the final play of the first quarter and a 9-6 West Memphis lead.

“We hadn’t shown (Pine Bluff) that look on that play,” said Elmore. “It was very well-executed.”

Olloway’s first TD of the game was set up by a key interception from junior linebacker Kendarious Moore, who earlier in the week was given recognition by Whole Hog Sports for being a D-1 under-the-radar prospect.

Olloway’s 6-yard score gave the Blue Devils a 15-6 lead.

Elmore said his offensive plan was to attack Pine Bluff laterally through the air, and it paid off when McConnell flipped a screen for Olloway for a 45-yard touchdown with 1:13 to play before halftime.

“We hadn’t shown some of the things we were doing tonight,” said Elmore. “Pine Bluff was loading the box and they were playing man coverage. We had an extra week to work on it because honestly we felt Pine Bluff was going to win that first-round game. We put some different things in that put them into a bind. I give our offensive coaches a lot of credit for that. They had an outstanding game plan coming in.”

For McConnell, it was about quality over quantity.

He connected on 7 of 8 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns.

Running back Latavian Thomas, who had been a workhorse in the backfield down the stretch of the regular season, averaging over 30 carries per game, had a much lighter load to carry against Pine Bluff. But he also got in on the big-play fun when he scampered 30 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to effectively put the Zebras away.

The Blue Devil defense also put the clamps on Pine Bluff after that first TD drive of the game. West Memphis’ defense had one take-away and allowed just 96 more total yards.

Devin Olloway (25) was once again too much for Pine Bluff to handle.

Mason Kearney (6) was an early pass target against Pine Bluff.

Blue Devils' Tyquerious Barbee (4) reaches for a Pine Bluff reciever.

Jerrodeus Wade (28P) stops Pine Bluff's Braylon Moody.

Blue Devil Kordell Fenner (5) corrals Pine Bluff's Moody.

Blue Devils all set to take on postseason, Zebras

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's been a while since the West Memphis Blue Devils have played football, but it's only been three weeks since they last played the opponent they'll face on Friday night.

The 10-0 Blue Devils, 6A-East Conference champions, will return from a 15-day layoff from game action to play Pine Bluff (5-6) in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Kickoff at Hamilton-Shultz Field is set for 7 p.m.

Only two opponents ago, the Blue Devils clinched the spot they're in right now, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs from the East, when they edged out Pine Bluff 24-23 on Oct. 26 at Hamilton-Shultz.

They are champing at the bit right now to play anybody after a first-round bye in the playoffs last week.

"I think our kids are definitely ready to play, but more so because it's the playoffs rather than a layoff," said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. "I think there's a little different feeling in the air this week because it's the playoffs. At this point if you lose, you're done, so there's a little extra bit of energy."

Elmore characterized his team's practice on the off week as "unbelievable."

"We didn't try to grind them last week, but we went out and tried to stay sharp, and I felt like we did that," Elmore added.

The Zebras earned the right to play the Blue Devils with their 21-15 first-round victory last week at El Dorado.

Despite the win, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said his team "played terrible. Absolutely terrible. The only reason we won is because (El Dorado) played worse. It was like both teams had money on the other team losing."

Furthermore, Bolding despite playing the Blue Devils to a one-point game three weeks ago, said that "West Memphis is definitely the best team we've played all year. Not even close."

Three plays decided that game for West Memphis.

First, junior placekicker Colin Clark provided the eventual winning points when he kicked a 26-yard field goal with 7:53 to play in the third quarter.

But more notable were two electrifying touchdowns by West Memphis senior speedster Devin Olloway, who reversed his field for a 41-yard TD in the second quarter and then opening the second half with an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say that (Pine Bluff) won't kick to (Olloway) on Friday night," Elmore deadpanned.

Which begs the issue of trying to find creative ways to get the ball into Olloway's hands the rest of the postseason because teams will be targeting him whether it's on kickoffs or from the line of scrimmage.

The Blue Devils could line up Olloway in the wildcat formation or install some other sort of razzle-dazzle at the line of scrimmage.

"With an inside receiver it's kind of hard to just focus on him," Elmore said. "We feel like we've got some guys at the other (receiver) spots that can do some damage as well. I think it's harder to design a defensive game plan around an inside receiver than an outside receiver."

Elmore went on to say the Zebras did some things defensively that the Blue Devils weren't ready for.

"This time we'll be prepared for anything they throw at us," he added.

The Blue Devil chief said he wants to eliminate the big play from the Zebra offense this time around.

"We feel like Pine Bluff has some speed, and because of that the big play is going to happen sometimes," he commented. "We feel like defensively we allowed some things to happen that we shouldn't have. Whether that was not taking good angles or making plays in the hole when we were supposed to. We also didn't play their screen plays very well."

Elmore has touted the strength of the East Conference all season and his words were vindicated last week as the East won all three playoff games over the West, including the East's No. 6 Sylvan Hills defeating West No. 3 Russellville.

"Six out of the eight still left are from our conference," Elmore stated. "It's kinda hard to expect your 6-seed to got and beat the 3-seed. It wasn't totally unexpected, but (Sylvan Hills) had the lead the whole game. It wasn't like it was a fluke. I think it just goes to show that our conference is balanced. At this point it's a good look for our conference."

Zebra coach Bolding awaiting Blue Devil rematch

By Billy Woods

WM School District

If Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding is happy about his Zebras being in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs, you sure couldn't tell it by the tone of his voice on Monday.

Bolding, whose 5-6 Zebras travel to West Memphis Friday night to play the 10-0 Blue Devils, was neither complimentary of his squad nor optimistic about his team's chances in the quarterfinals.

When asked about his team's 21-15 victory last week over El Dorado in the first round of the state playoffs, Bolding said "We were absolutely terrible."

"(El Dorado) just played worse than us," he added. "It looked like both teams had money on the other team."

It will have only been three weeks since the Blue Devils and Zebras last played, on Oct. 26 at Hamilton-Shultz Field. West Memphis came out on top 24-23 as placekicker Colin Clark kicked a 26-yard field goal with 7:53 left to play in the third quarter which proved to be the winning points.

But the difference in that first meeting between the two teams was the speed of West Memphis receiver Devin Olloway, who electrified the crowd with two touchdown runs, one on a 41-yarder that saw Olloway reverse his field and then skate down the Pine Bluff sideline.

The other was an 83-yard kickoff return to open the second half, snapping a 14-14 tie.

Bolding said he and his staff were not caught off guard by Olloway's speed.

"We knew he could run," said Bolding. "We let him loose on that first touchdown and then he pops one on the kickoff. We don't have anyone who can run that fast. Not even close."

Taking the cautious route with the big rematch upcoming, Bolding was mostly tight-lipped about what his plans were to defend Olloway this time. But he did say his defense would be better prepared to contain the Blue Devil speedster this time around.

"(West Memphis) is by far the best team we've played this year," Bolding said. "And it's not even close."

For the rematch, Bolding said the 5-6 Zebras would have two starters back that were held out in the first game with West Memphis due to injury. He said middle linebacker Colby Davis and safety-wide receiver Isaiah Mays will return to the starting lineup against the Blue Devils.

Elmore and staff have developed a 'Money' receiving corps

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The transition from the wing-T to a spread offense wasn't easy for the West Memphis Blue Devils.

When Billy Elmore was hired in late April of 2014 to replace Lanny Dauksch as the team's head coach, the learning curve was pretty steep, going from a ground-oriented offensive attack that was so good that Dauksch's teams won eight consecutive conference championships and an electrifying three straight trips to the state championship game.

Elmore's version of the spread isn't quite as reliant on the pass as other high school football coaches', but he wants to balance the run and the pass between about 60 offensive snaps per game.

That meant about 20 more pass plays per game than the athletes from West Memphis were used to.

Elmore's task was defined the first day he worked the team out in spring drills. Balls were plunking the receivers in the face.

Now, in the last two seasons, the Blue Devils' offensive strength lies in the team's deep and talented receiving corps.

It was on full display last week at Mountain Home as junior quarterback Owens McConnell needed only 7 completed passes to churn out 225 yards and 4 touchdowns in the team's 35-7 win which clinched West Memphis' first 6A-East Conference championship since 2011 and its first unbeaten regular season since 2009.

The team will enjoy an off week on Friday night as the Class 6A state playoffs get underway with four first-round games. The Blue Devils (10-0) will host the winner of Friday night's Pine Bluff at El Dorado game on Nov. 16 in the quarterfinals.

It was a slow process to develop receivers capable of catching passes off difficult routes, but after year two of Elmore's tenure it became quite clear that progression was being made.

"Our guys didn't rep catching the ball as much as we're used to now, and that's understandable," Elmore explained. "The wing-T was very successful here, but our system is just different is the only way I can explain it. The more a kid catches the ball, the better he becomes at it. So we repped it a lot then and we rep it a lot now."

Last season, the Blue Devils' go-to receiver was without question Steven Stone, who walked on at the University of Memphis this season. Stone caught 25 passes a year ago for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns.

No one receiver will have that kind of yardage this season, but it's because the Blue Devils' strength is in quantity. Seniors Jimmy Phillips, Devin Olloway, Jatavius Tucker and Mason Kearney can all burn opposing defenses with their sure hands and their route efficiency.

"If you key on one of those guys, that leaves someone else in single coverage and that would be very dangerous," Elmore stated.

The turnaround took time, but the work put in during practices made it all possible.

"I think the biggest thing was we have a couple of JUGS machines that spit that ball out there extremely fast," said Elmore. "Our kids utilize that tool well, even on their own. Our junior highs are also throwing the ball more during practices and in games.

"I don't think kids on their own don't go outside and play like they used to, but I also think I can honestly say that athletes put more work in on their sports. The difference is it's supervised now, whereas in the past kids did it recreationally and without adult supervision."

Elmore's development of his receivers has reached a competitive point.

"It's to a level now that if you don't catch a ball very well you go over to play defense," he added.

The receivers' 32.14 yards per catch last week bears that out.

"The proof's in the numbers," Elmore said. "Obviously, something's going right."

The Blue Devils' receivers coach, Rashad Jones, in his third year on the staff, started the receivers' own Twitter handle @GMGWideouts (Get Money Gang).

"That's kind of like our brand and we use that to motivate ourselves in practice," Jones said. "Every time we catch a touchdown pass we scream out 'Get Money!' The kids love it and we even have our own Get Money flag we hold up during games."

Like Elmore, Jones loves his group's upside.

"I got four solid wideouts that can catch the ball," Jones added. "I've got full faith in them. They know the plays, they know the routes and they can catch the ball. Besides all that, they can get money for us."

Unbeaten conference champs! Devils do it at Mt. Home

By Billy Woods

WM School District

MOUNTAIN HOME --- The table has been run, the title has been claimed, now the West Memphis Blue Devils can focus on the ultimate goal.

Quarterback Owens McConnell needed just 7 completed passes for four touchdowns and 225 yards on Thursday night to lead the Blue Devils to a 35-7 mercy-rule victory over Mountain Home.

The win makes this Blue Devil squad just the fifth in school history to complete a regular season unbeaten and untied. Now, all that's left for head coach Billy Elmore's unit is to accomplish its final goal on the rung --- state championship.

"It's a big deal, it really is," Elmore said of going 10-0 in the regular season. "I think, though, it's a bigger deal at the end of the season when you can look back and reflect on it. Right now, though, we've got three more games to win. But for the immediate time being we've got an off week coming up and we can sit back and be proud of our accomplishments."

The victory also clinched the team's first 6A-East Conference championship under Elmore and the first overall since 2011. As Elmore alluded to, the Blue Devils (10-0 overall, 7-0 in the conference) have clinched a first-round bye and will await the winner of a first-round game between the No. 4 team from the West Conference and the No. 5 from the East.

The Blue Devils will play in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs on Nov. 16 at Hamilton-Shultz Field. They will have home-field advantage through the semifinals.

The unbeaten feat was not lost on some of the Blue Devil players after the early disposal of Mountain Home.

"It means a lot to me, to this town, to our coach...everybody," said senior defensive lineman Mark Robinson. "I love it, but I'm not satisfied yet. I want to be on the first team to ever win a state championship in West Memphis. Period."

McConnell, just a junior, also weighed in on the accomplishment.

"We worked super hard last off season to get to this point," he said. "We all worked as a team for it. Historically, it'll come into play after the season is over. We're still playing for a bigger goal, but I would imagine when it's all over and people start talking about this, it'll start meaning a little more."

In a town full of Bombers, no bomber was bigger on Thursday night than McConnell, who was 7 of 8 passing with the 4 TDs and the 225 yards.

After being slowed a bit the previous two weeks in a 3-0 overtime win at Jacksonville in a monsoon and a 24-23 win over Pine Bluff, the Blue Devil offense came back to life against Mountain Home (0-10, 0-7). They scored early and often, with their final two touchdowns coming in less than two minutes.

The Blue Devil receivers beat Mountain Home's secondary on deep patterns all night.

However, West Memphis' first touchdown came on the ground when senior Latavian Thomas, the team's workhorse in the backfield all season, plowed two yards for a touchdown with just 2:35 to play in the first quarter.

With the issue of Mountain Home's deliberate triple-option offense possibly limiting the Blue Devils' own offensive possessions, the visitors made sure that each one of their series counted.

They scored four touchdowns in the second quarter alone, and they did it in quick strike fashion as McConnell had the arm strength and the touch to drop the ball into open receivers downfield.

The receiver to benefit most from McConnell's aerials was senior Jatavius Tucker, who caught two TD passes, the first of which came with 10:41 left in the second quarter from 26 yards out.

"Owens had a good night," said Elmore. "We have some receivers who can get themselves open and Owens did a great job getting them the football. It was a big night for us offensively in the first half. I was worried about (Mountain Home's) offense and our defense staying on the field for a long time."

McConnell's next strike came with 6:54 left in the first half when he connected with senior Jimmy Phillips for a 21-yard touchdown pass for a 21-0 lead.

Looking to secure the mercy rule even before halftime, the Blue Devils struck hard and fast in the final 1:29 of before intermission.

Tucker snagged a McConnell pass near the Blue Devil sideline, broke a tackle and then tight-roped his way into the end zone from 79 yards out to make it 28-0.

"That was a big play for Jatavius to keep his balance and then outrace everyone else to the end zone," Elmore commented.

Finally, with the ball at their own 39 and just 59 seconds remaining, McConnell was flushed out of the pocket on first down and he ran out of bounds, gaining 8 yards on the play.

On second down he let Devin Olloway's speed take care of the rest.

Olloway followed up his electrifying performance against Pine Bluff, in which he scored two dazzling touchdowns, with a 53-yard touchdown reception to ensure the mercy rule, a quick second half and some extensive playing time for Blue Devil reserves.

Devin Olloway outraces more defenders at Mountain Home.

Blue Devils' Latavian Thomas takes off downfield at Mountain Home.

Kelvin Love (19) wriggles free from a Bomber defender.

Senior Jatavius Tucker (2) scores the second of his two touchdowns.

Quarterback Owens McConnell had a four-touchdown night at Mountain Home.

Blue Devils go for perfection in regular season

Oct. 31, 9:26 a.m.

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The objectives are all now in sight for the West Memphis Blue Devils, and after checking off one of their boxes last week they are ready to check off two more this week.

With the No. 1 seeding from the 6A-East Conference secured after last week's 24-23 victory at home over Pine Bluff, the Blue Devils can, with a victory Thursday night at Mountain Home, clinch the conference championship outright and at the same time become the seventh team in school history to finish undefeated in the regular season.

The undefeated teams in school history include 1958, 1988, 1996, 2005, 2008 and 2009. The '58 and '08 teams had one tie each in their respective seasons.

Kickoff at Mountain Home Thursday night is set for 7.

The team's ultimate goal, as is most any team's before the season begins, is to win the 6A state championship, which would be the first in school history.

But first things first.

A conference championship would be the school's first since head coach Lanny Dauksch's 2011 team, which was Dauksch's eighth straight league title.

But it sounds like, from current head coach Billy Elmore's comments, that the undefeated regular season would be the most coveted between that and the conference championship.

"It means a lot," Elmore said of the undefeated season. "It's one of those things that puts you into history. It's not like a state championship, but it will make people talk about you for a long time. Honestly, I think it would mean more to me than it would our players. I don't think they fully grasp the meaning of an undefeated regular season."

"I've never been on a team, playing or coaching, where my team has gone undefeated," Elmore added. "Hopefully, we've raised the bar on the standard that we as a program we want to reach. I think it's a big deal to win conference championships and I definitely think it's a big deal to go undefeated in the regular season."

While the Blue Devils are busy trying to run the table in the regular season, the rest of the East Conference will be playing for playoff seeding. The most important game on Thursday night will take place in Jonesboro as the Hurricane take on Marion in a game that could force a three-way tie for second place.

West Memphis (9-0 overall, 6-0 in the conference) will be overwhelming favorites to beat Mountain Home, which is winless on the season. The Bombers are winless in their last 11 games and their last victory came on Oct. 20 with a 49-6 decision over Little Rock Hall.

Mountain Home's closest game this season was a 22-15 loss to Jacksonville.

Still, Elmore is well aware of the kind of problems Mountain Home could pose to his Blue Devils.

The reason is simple.

The Bombers' triple-option offense can be hard to defend.

Elmore stated last year after Mountain Home gave his team fits in the first half before the Blue Devils charged back for a 42-23 win, that his defense may always have trouble defending a triple option.

"It's so different," Elmore said of the triple option. "I think we're probably better suited to play this year than we were last year. Playing Mountain Home is very similar to playing Wynne. They're going to be big. They're going to run right at you. In their offense a three-yard gain up the middle is what they'll take every time. It allows them to go for it on fourth down, whereas normally your defense gives up a three-yard gain and you're like 'that's a good play for the defense.' You've got to be very disciplined to defend a team like Mountain Home."

The last time West Memphis visited Mountain Home, the favored Blue Devils were allowed just six offensive possessions for the entire game, and they scored on four of them, but three of the touchdowns got called back because of penalties and the Blue Devils ended up losing 14-7.

"I think we'll be dialed in this time," said Elmore.

Receiver Jimmy Phillips turns into defender to prevent Pine Bluff interception.

Devin Olloway (25) left Pine Bluff defenders in his dust all night long.

Once again, Latavian Thomas (39) was a workhorse for the Blue Devils.

Colin Clark's 26-yard field goal proved to be the winning points in the Blue Devil win.

All the way with Olloway in Blue Devil win

Oct. 27 (4:26 p.m.)

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With the West Memphis Blue Devil offense seemingly stuck in neutral at various times this season, its surest bet has emerged in a most electrifying manner.

The feet of fleet Devin Olloway has just become too much for opponents and his latest string of highlight reel plays gave the Blue Devils a 24-23 victory over Pine Bluff on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

When asked to give a one-word description of his teammate, Blue Devil junior quarterback Owens McConnell had this to say about Olloway:

"He's fast man!," McConnell said.

OK, that's three words, but there has been no way to economize the value Olloway has for the Blue Devils as the season is winding down.

He ran for a 41-yard touchdown in the first half and then Pine Bluff made the mistake of kicking to him to open the second half. Olloway returned that boot 83 yards for a touchdown in 12 seconds.

"He's a great player," West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore said. "It's not just his speed. It's his ability to do different things. "

The Blue Devils (9-0 overall, 6-0 in the 6A-East Conference) clinched the No. 1 seed from the East in the Class 6A state playoffs. With it comes a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the semifinals. On Nov. 16, the Blue Devils will play the winner of the first-round game between the No. 5 seed from the East and the No. 4 seed from the West.

The games are getting closer each week with the Blue Devils. After eking out a 3-0 overtime win in bad weather a week earlier in Jacksonville, they held off Pine Bluff (2-6-1, 2-4) with key defensive stands and, for a second straight week, the right leg of placekicker Colin Clark, who kicked a 26-yard field goal with 7:53 left in the third quarter.

However, the night belonged to Olloway.

Midway through the second quarter, West Memphis ran an end around for Olloway, but the Zebra defense was waiting for him on the left side. Olloway, however, reversed his field and then left Pine Bluff defenders puzzled as they only swiped at air as he breezed by him.

The 41-yard touchdown gave the hosts a 14-7 lead.

"One of our linemen missed a block, so I turned around and saw nothing but green grass," Olloway explained. "I always got another gear for them."

Then Olloway blew past Pine Bluff once again as he returned the second-half kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown which snapped a 14-14 tie at halftime.

When asked which touchdown was more electric, Elmore said, "I would say the kickoff return was most impressive. Maybe it was that one, but the one he took down the sideline (the 41-yarder) was obviously a big play."

On the kickoff return, Pine Bluff kicker Eddie Tee was waiting on him and the only guy who had a shot at Olloway once he crossed midfield.

With a simple shimmy, Olloway made Tee fall down.

"That wasn't intentional," Olloway said with a laugh.

Elmore said he anticipated a kickoff return for a TD from Olloway coming into the game.

"We honestly felt we were going to pop a kickoff return because Pine Bluff will kick it deep," said Elmore. "We haven't had too many kickoffs to return this year. But Pine Bluff is going to kick the ball to you, so we felt like one of those kicks was going to be returned deep. We didn't necessarily know it was going to be that one, though."

The game came down to Pine Bluff's final offensive possession, which began at the 5:38 mark of the fourth quarter, starting at its own 10 and the Zebras still with two timeouts left.

It was a timeout by Elmore, though, that preserved the win for West Memphis.

Facing a fourth and eight from the West Memphis 44, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding called his team's final timeout.

When play resumed, however, Elmore saw the alignment and raced down the sideline to alert the official for another timeout, also the Blue Devils' final timeout.

"I didn't think we had the tight end covered," Elmore explained. "We were in a two-man coverage, and I didn't think our kids recognized it. I didn't want the tight end running up the seam."

The adjustment worked.

Pine Bluff quarterback Shauwn Howell threw incomplete to Kentrell Murry, which gave the ball back to West Memphis with 1:09 left. The Blue Devils ran the clock out from there.

Earlier, a 24-21 West Memphis lead was trimmed to 24-23 when Blue Devil sophomore punter Caden Smith chased a snap well over his head near his own end zone. He kicked the loose ball out of the end zone, resulting in a safety.

Smith's play may well have saved West Memphis' undefeated season.

The Blue Devils will now work with a short week in preparation for their Thursday night regular-season finale at Mountain Home.

Blue Devils go for No. 1-seed clincher

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The West Memphis Blue Devils are all dried out from their harrowing, but victorious experience in the Mud Bowl that was Jacksonville last Friday night.

On that night they could have gone by the moniker Wet Memphis Blue Devils (no typo).

Now, they are focused in on their most meaningful game of the season on this Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field against Pine Bluff.

A victory would secure the No. 1 seed from the 6A-East Conference for the Class 6A state playoffs. A win would also clinch at least a tie for the league championship.

"This (conference championship, No. 1 seed) is what we've been working toward for a long time," West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore admitted. "It's taken us Week 9 to get here. It's not a must-win game, but it's a big game as far as what we want to accomplish as a team."

They'll be going up against a Zebra team that has lost its last three games and a team that is ravaged by injuries to key players. Last week, the Zebras lost at home to Marion 28-20.

There are even more goals to accomplish before the regular season ends for West Memphis (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the conference). The Blue Devils can finish undefeated, which would make this team only the fifth squad in school history to run the table in regular-season play.

Coming with the No. 1 seed from the East would be home-field advantage all the way through the semifinals, not to mention a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Blue Devils got to this point by enduring an arduous trial with the weather last week in Jacksonville. The by-product of the 3-0 win, which was earned by junior placekicker Colin Clark's 24-yard field goal in overtime, is a victorious outcome soaked in adversity, which could pay dividends once the postseason gets here.

"It's almost like it wasn't real football," Elmore said of the torrential down-pour at Jacksonville. "In the fourth quarter we were telling ourselves just try to survive this thing. I think the good execution and trying to keep the game crisp...all that went out the window at halftime. It was just let's find a way to survive.

"The mental part of that we can hopefully carry over to the rest of the season. Chips were down and we had to make a couple plays, and we made a couple plays."

Last season's conference champions, Pine Bluff (2-5-1, 2-3) are just looking to get things back on the rails.

"The reality is we've played some teams this year, namely Sylvan Hills and Jacksonville, where everybody in the world expected us to go in there and win big," Elmore commented. "And both of those teams have better records than Pine Bluff has right now. In the meantime, Pine Bluff is still Pine Bluff. They're still a quality program and their kids play hard. They've definitely got our respect with what they do. They haven't had the type of year that's become standard over there now, but that happens sometimes. They've had some injuries, but I also know they're still Pine Bluff."

It'll also be Senior Night for 34 Blue Devils and four managers.

"It's a big night to send them off," said Elmore. "But it won't be their last home game. It's a shame to see these guys graduating, but that's part of life, and they'll move on to their next chapter."

'Mudder' of all wins as Clark's OT kick does it

By Billy Woods

WM School District

JACKSONVILLE --- The West Memphis Blue Devils bid farewell on Friday night to Jan Crow Stadium, the site of only one loss in the last 25 years, and to the current campus of Jacksonville High School.

Their last game at The Crow will be remembered for a while for many reasons.

But the biggest reason is because junior placekicker Colin Clark won the game 3-0 with a 24-yard field goal in overtime. The second is because senior standout defensive lineman Hasani Adams recovered a fumble on the ensuing overtime possession to secure the Blue Devil victory.

It could have been a devastating night for the team which is the overwhelming odds-on favorite to win the 6A-East Conference championship. With most observers thinking the Blue Devils would have an easy time of it in Jacksonville, the weather had other ideas.

Rain began at a steady pace about an hour before kickoff and it did not let up one bit as The Old Crow's natural grass surface took a pounding. Jacksonville's new high school, which may or may not be open for business in the 2019-2020 school year, will also include a brand new football stadium equipped with an artificial surface that will be much more conducive to withstand the type of pounding Mother Nature threw at it on Friday night.

Because of all that, however, it was almost impossible for either team to generate any semblance of an offense.

Puddles were everywhere.

Footing was treacherous.

Uniforms bore the evidence.

West Memphis (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the conference) churned out a pedestrian 159 yards of offense, all of it on the ground, while Jacksonville (3-5, 1-4) barely stayed out of the negative range with 11 total yards.

In fact, Jacksonville garnered minus 2 yards of rushing.

"Conditions were horrible," Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore said, succinctly. "I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish, but I wasn't proud of the way we went about it. These were about as bad a field conditions and weather conditions as I've ever played in or coached in."

After only the first few minutes it was apparent that the game was destined to overtime, although West Memphis had two apparent touchdowns melted away.

Early in the third quarter, senior speedster Devin Olloway, who was uninvolved in the offense in the first half as both teams figured the best option was to run it between the tackles and avoid costly turnovers, had his number called.

Olloway sped 59 yards for a touchdown, but the score was wiped off due to a block in the back at the line of scrimmage.

Second, Latavian Thomas, who was flat-out fatigued at the end of the game and his uniform caked with mud, was in the clear and racing toward the end zone, but he bobbled possession at the Jacksonville 15 and just fell on the ball.

The Blue Devils couldn't push it in from there.

"Honestly, I don't think that was a block in the back on the first one," Elmore said. "I think the (Jacksonville) guy rolled into it. The other one, on the fumble, that's just a kid trying to make a play and the ball just slipped out of his hands. I mean, the kid wanted to score worse than anybody."

Thomas rushed it 35 times for 135 yards.

Jacksonville's best chance to score in regulation came on the first snap of the second quarter when Mason Wallace intercepted an Owens McConnell pass and was free down the sideline. But West Memphis junior linebacker Kendarious Moore used his speed to knock Wallace out of bounds at the Blue Devil 25.

In overtime, the Blue Devils had the first possession and it stalled at the 3 after three downs before a procedure penalty scooted the ball back to the 8. That's when Elmore called on Clark to win it.

Clark said a Jacksonville defender may have gotten a finger on his kick, but that it had plenty of steam to get over the cross bar.

"It was nerve wracking for sure," Clark said. "I was just trying to tell myself to lock my ankle and follow through. I think somebody got a finger on it, but all I wanted to do was keep my head down."

Adams' play sealed the victory when he recovered a bobbled snap out of the shotgun by Jacksonville's Isaac Johnson, operating out of the Wildcat.

"It was a defensive game all the way," said a very winded Adams after the game. "I don't even remember seeing the snap fumbled. I just saw the ball on the ground and I went after it."

The Blue Devils can now focus on Pine Bluff at home this week. The Zebras lost at home Friday night to Marion 28-20. A win over Pine Bluff would clinch at least a tie for the conference title.

Jonesboro, now 4-1 after a 41-17 win over Searcy, has one league loss, but the Blue Devils own the tie-breaker.

Kelvin Love (19) looks for running room against Jacksonville.

Blue Devil defender Curtis Hill (32) and R.J. Parker (75) battle in the mud at Jacksonville.

Elmore: Keep on improving as Devils travel to Jacksonville

By Billy Woods

WM School District

With a 35-14 victory over Jonesboro in the rear-view mirror and just three weeks left in the regular season, the West Memphis Blue Devils are in the driver's seat for the 6A-East Conference championship.

And their own coach admits it.

All that's left for the Blue Devils (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the conference) are Friday night's game at Jacksonville, Oct. 26 at home against Pine Bluff and Nov. 1 at Mountain Home.

They have a one-game lead and the tie-breakers over Searcy and Jonesboro and two-game leads over Pine Bluff and Marion. All four teams are the nearest competitors for West Memphis in the race for the title.

"We are (in the driver's seat)," Elmore said, matter of factly. "We're happy to be 7-0. But we have more work to do. Our standards for wins are higher. We want to keep winning. We want to keep improving and we want to keep moving toward competing for the state championship."

Two of West Memphis' remaining opponents (Jacksonville and Mountain Home) own losing records and only Pine Bluff presents a real threat. The Zebras, however, have lost their starting quarterback for the season to an ACL injury and have lost their last two games.

Meanwhile, the team from West Memphis keeps rolling toward the inevitable.

It's interesting to watch the Blue Devils go about their business. For every less-than-impressive victory (Sylvan Hills and Marion), there are wins like the 56-21 decision over Searcy and last week's muscle-flexing job against Jonesboro.

All of which begs the assertion: The Blue Devils play when they have to.

Once again, Elmore doesn't disagree with the notion.

"One thing that bothers me is we've had several opportunities in games this season to put teams away," said Elmore. "If you're a fan sitting in the stands you're thinking, 'OK, we've got a three-touchdown lead and it's safe.' As a coach, though, you're thinking 'they're a touchdown, an onside kick and some crazy things happening to getting back in this game.' We haven't done that in a couple of games this season. But every time it's been needed, our offense has scored. We're happy about that. But we're still a little unhappy about how we weren't able to run the ball (against Jonesboro). The O-line took that kind of personal this week in practice."

The Blue Devils, whose quarterback, Owens McConnell, threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns against Jonesboro, were held to just 19 yards on the ground in the first half in that game and only ended the evening with just over 100 yards rushing.

The next hurdle, Jacksonville, has had its problems off and on the field this season. The Titans' roster has taken on attrition due to injury and other reasons. Still, it took a last-second field goal for Sylvan Hills to beat them last week 10-8.

Offensively, the Titans have had a rough go at it. They've been shut out in regulation in four games this season. It took them 10 overtimes to beat Little Rock Hall 6-0 earlier this season.

"They've had their struggles," Elmore commented. "It probably hasn't been as fun a year as they wanted. They've seen some of their players leave the program, but sometimes in a situation like that it's addition by subtraction. Since then it looks like they're having more fun out there. They are still a scary team because they're still in the playoff hunt."

In other 6A-East games Friday night, Jonesboro hosts Searcy, Marion travels to Pine Bluff and Mountain Home hosts Sylvan Hills.

Win puts Devils in driver's seat for conference

By Billy Woods

WM School District

A third straight win over Jonesboro.

A leg up on the competition for the 6A-East Conference championship.

Their unbeaten streak kept alive for the regular season.

After his team's 35-14 victory over the Hurricane on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field, West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore couldn't say which of the aforementioned check-boxes he thought was more important.

"The biggest thing for us is we want to be the No. 1 seed (in the state playoffs)," Elmore finally said.

The win over Jonesboro puts the Blue Devils (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the conference) ever closer to the driver's seat in the 6A-East race. Even though three weeks still remain in the regular season.

West Memphis travels to Jacksonville this Friday night before hosting Pine Bluff, which lost to Searcy on Friday night, and closing the season at Mountain Home.

WMHS has a two-game lead on Jonesboro and Pine Bluff and owns a one-game lead and the tie-breaker over Searcy.

"We have beaten three of the four traditionally tough teams in our conference," Elmore stated. "We just got to keep our focus and keep trying to get better because we've got high expectations for this team."

As they've done all season the Blue Devils relied on a stout defense which took the Hurricane (4-3, 3-1) out of anything they wanted to do through the air. Offensively, it was a slog when it came to running the ball.

But quarterback Owens McConnell hit on two big pass plays and four touchdown passes on the night.

McConnell threw touchdown passes of 83 and 68 yards to Devin Olloway, who outmatched Jonesboro in terms of speed.

After Latvaian Thomas gave West Memphis a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, McConnell hit Olloway over the middle from his own 17 and Olloway left the Hurricane defenders in the dust.

In the second half, McConnell and Olloway hooked up again for a 68-yard touchdown pass.

"Our coaches did a great job picking out plays and doing what we need to do to get wide open," Olloway said. "The middle was wide open all night. I ran a post route...home free."

The Blue Devils had a hard time generating any threat from the ground, rushing for only 19 of their 92 total rushing yards in the first half. That figure prompted the Blue Devils to air it out in the second half.

"In the first half, the curls were open, but (Jonesboro's) safeties weren't getting in position when Devin ran the post plays," McConnell explained. "But when you're as fast as Devin it's hard for anybody to get over the top."

Leading only 14-7 at halftime, the plan was to attack the Hurricane through the air.

It led to McConnell hitting seldom-used Montique Hill with a 5-yard TD pass with 9:18 to play in the third quarter to make it 21-7.

Jonesboro sophomore quarterback Cross Jumper was only 10 of 26 passing for 121 yards with one interception, but he connected with Kendrick Bates for a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-14.

That's as close as Jonesboro would come the rest of the night.

McConnell's 68-yard strike to Olloway gave the team a 28-14 lead and then McConnell, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 312 yards and two interceptions, cinched the game for his teammates with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Phillips with 6:34 to play in the fourth quarter.

Jatavius Moore hangs onto ball against Jonesboro.

Kendarius Moore (10) breaks up pass to Jonesboro's Tate Lutes.

Devin Olloway (25) was a big problem for the Jonesboro defense on Friday night.

Quarterback Owens McConnell runs for a first down against Jonesboro.

Blue Devil lineman Hasani Adams vies for loose ball against Jonesboro's Albert George.

Blue Devils brace for Jonesboro

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It's the biggest game of the season thus far, and Billy Elmore just can't wait. For a number of reasons.

First, his West Memphis Blue Devils can seize first place all by themselves in the 6A-East Conference by beating the Jonesboro Hurricane Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Second, a win would be the third straight over the powerful Hurricane.

Third, cooler weather looks like it will arrive in time for kickoff.

First place is up for grabs between these two traditional powers from the East. Jonesboro is 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference. After losing back-to-back non-conference games against Conway and Little Rock Catholic, the Hurricane answered positively by defeating Mountain Home, Jacksonville and Pine Bluff.

West Memphis is a perfect 6-0 and 3-0 and eagerly waiting on the opportunity to win its first conference championship since 2011.

Perhaps the Blue Devils have been peaking down the road at Jonesboro the last couple or three weeks. Elmore, the team's head coach, broke from coaching protocol to acknowledge as much.

"I think that anybody who says they don't look down the road at the schedule is not being truthful," he said. "I mean, you don't spend much time on it, but you know what each win does for you."

A win over the Hurricane would be the first time West Memphis has beaten them three straight years since earlier in the 21st century. The Blue Devils beat the Hurricane 32-17 last year at Cooksey-Johns Field and in a 40-38 thriller at Hamilton-Shultz in 2016.

"I think we've got (Jonesboro's) respect, and I know we've got a lot of respect for them, too," said Elmore. "It's just a good rivalry game. Our program was down there for a little while and their's was really up. Now I think it's leveled off."

After struggling offensively in their two losses earlier this season, Jonesboro has rebounded with point totals of 35, 40 and 29 in its last three wins.

"They are pretty similar to what they have been on offense the last few years, but they may be more run oriented because they have a sophomore quarterback," said Elmore. "He probably runs better than the quarterbacks that they've had. They aren't going to be like a Searcy where they drop back and throw it 60 times."

If the Blue Devil defense can slow the Jonesboro ground game, something it has had no trouble doing in the last two seasons, the Hurricane could find the going rough in a Plan B-type situation because West Memphis has been a terror forcing turnovers through the air.

The Blue Devils have forced 17 turnovers this season, a gaudy 15 of which have come via interception. The defense has been so stout against the pass that even two of its linemen have pick-sixes.

"(Pass defense) has been a sore spot for us the past few seasons, but our defensive backs have done a great job covering and breaking on the ball," Elmore commented. "But it's a total team deal because we've put pressure on the quarterback and he's gotta put something up that he doesn't want to put up."

After weeks of game-time temperatures hovering near 90, it looks like football weather will finally arrive for Friday night's game.

Not a moment too soon to suit Elmore.

"I don't know about anybody else in Crittenden County but I'm sick and tired of the 90-degree weather," Elmore said straight-faced. "And then you add football practice on top of that and I'm just about sick and tired of it."

Blue Devils pull away in second half

By Billy Woods

WM School District

SHERWOOD --- Despite leading only 13-10 at halftime, rushing for only 18 yards and the Blue Devils playing goal-line defense for several minutes, head coach Billy Elmore insisted that his halftime speech wasn't nearly as colorful as the Sylvan Hills public address announcer.

The West Memphis defense, however, came to the rescue in the second half, scoring as many touchdowns as the team's offense in the first half en route to a 34-10 victory here Friday night.

"It wasn't that colorful at halftime, I just challenged them," said Elmore, whose team improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the 6A-East Conference. "I kept saying all week that Sylvan Hills had a good football team and I just couldn't get that message across to our team. But, no, the halftime speech wasn't one of the classic Elmore (speeches)."

The Sylvan Hills PA man was almost as entertaining as the Blue Devils in the first half, announcing penalties with a different rhetoric each time such as "There's a potholder on the Ponderosa...that will cost them an Abe Lincoln."

A slow-moving offense in the first half got on the scoreboard on its second possession of the night, immediately after the defense bent before forcing the Bears (1-5, 0-3) to turn it over on downs.

Blue Devil junior quarterback Owens McConnell pounced on the opportunity by lofting a perfect deep pass over the Sylvan Hills secondary to a speedy Devin Olloway for a 60-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 to play in the first quarter.

The 7-0 lead lasted only momentarily after a 29-yard field goal and a Sylvan Hills touchdown by Nathaniel Floyd to give the hosts a 10-7 lead.

"We had no focus coming in," Elmore admitted. "I think it took getting punched in the mouth for us to wake up. It maybe helped us a little bit."

As has been the case often thus far in the 2018 campaign, the Blue Devil defense provided some crucial points that wound up igniting its offensive mates.

A 25-yard pick six by senior West Memphis lineman Allen Henry with 9:39 to play in the game gave the visitors the breathing room they needed, making the score 27-10 after Olloway ran for a two-point conversion.

The Henry interceptions gave the defense at least one in all six games this season.

"That's something I wasn't aware of," a surprised Elmore said when informed.

In fact, Henry's interception was the second this season in which a Blue Devil lineman returned one for a touchdown.

"Our defensive front is strong enough where we can usually put six guys in (pass) coverage," said Elmore. "That's a big key for us on defense."

Before that, however, Blue Devil senior running back Latavian Thomas, who had only 16 yards rushing in the first half, scored a pair of touchdowns that proved pivotal.

As he did a week earlier against Searcy, Thomas turned his stats around in the second half, rushing for 13 times for 94 yards, 36 of which came on a touchdown run with 4:30 remaining in the game for West Memphis' final points of the evening.

Overall, Thomas rushed for 107 yards and three TDs.

"It wasn't a whole lot of adjustments at halftime," said Elmore. "It was just...let's play better."

The Blue Devils won't be able to afford any missteps this week as they host Jonesboro, which defeated Pine Bluff 29-12 on Friday night.

"I think this game proves that when you're in a game like this where you're playing a 1-4 team, and you're not as focused as you should be...sometimes that can eventually work out in your favor," Elmore added. "Because in this league any team can beat on any Friday night. Sylvan Hills had a 1-4 record against some pretty good teams. We'll learn from this and then get ready for Jonesboro this week."

Jimmy Phillips (8) turns upfield after a catch against Sylvan Hills

Marcus Whitaker (1) plows over two Sylvan Hills tacklers.

Kendarious Moore (10) corrals a Sylvan Hills ball carrier.

Keylen Malone (38), Kordell Fenner (5) and Tyquerious Barbee crunch a Bear runner.

Devils want a repeat performance at Sylvan Hills

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It finally all came together for the West Memphis Blue Devils last week.

The undefeated Blue Gang dominated a previously undefeated Searcy team 56-21 in every phase of the game. Now, says head coach Billy Elmore, the trick is to not only repeat that type of effort, but to up the game even more.

It all will start for West Memphis on Friday night when it travels to Sherwood to take on the Sylvan Hills Bears in the first true 6A-East Conference road trip of the season.

"Not only did we play well offensively, defensively and on special teams, but we played well all four quarters," said Elmore, whose team enters the Sylvan Hills contest 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference. "We still have a few things to fix, though. We've said all year, though, we're going to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It was a good game, but I certainly hope it's not the best game we play all year."

A couple of areas that came to the front in the Searcy win included the secondary picking off five passes, marking the second time this season the Blue Devils have compiled four or more interceptions.

Plus, it was a break-out game for senior tight end Marcus Whitaker, who had been a seldom-used target for passing through the first four games. Whitaker caught two touchdown passes against Searcy.

"This year we're starting four seniors in the secondary, and typically we end up starting seniors back there," Elmore explained. "Early on (in the season) we were playing a lot of zone and the (opposing teams) were completing a lot of passes. Then we went to man coverage and actually a two-man coverage, where we had two safeties over the top and we didn't feel like we were getting enough pressure on the quarterback, so we just went with straight man coverage, which means just one safety back there. We started bringing more pressure in the second half of the Searcy game and I think their quarterback was 4 for 19 after we did that. I think this year we have some kids who are better at man-to-man coverage."

This week's opponent has had a hard time scoring. Sylvan Hills' highest-scoring game is 16 in its only win of the year, a 16-14 decision over Arkadelphia. Since then the Bears have scored 2, 14, 10 and 7 points respectively, all of them coming in losses.

"Sylvan Hills' record is a little deceiving because both of their conference losses have come against two of the top teams in the league (Marion and Pine Bluff)," said Elmore. "I don't know if because they just came into our conference that they're considered upper echelon, but they're certainly able to beat you."

This week's 6A-East schedule figures to shape the league standings with Marion traveling to Searcy and Jonesboro hosting Pine Bluff.

"One of those teams will come out that with two losses," Elmore stated. "I'll be very interested in seeing how both of those games come out. It's an interesting week and I think the next two weeks, actually, will be big weeks."

1988 Blue Devils reunite at Hamilton-Shultz

By Billy Woods

WM School District

It was a night reminiscent of one glorious evening in October of 1988.

As the current Blue Devil football went about its way dismantling a pretty good Searcy team 56-21 last Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field, the crispness of the night air and the optimism of a banner season felt just like it did when the 1988 Blue Devils took on Helena-West Helena with an undefeated season, midway through the campaign.

As the ball left the strong right arm of junior quarterback Nat Haston and spun through the darkness, it didn't take long for the Blue Devil faithful to realize it would wind up in the sure hands of the speediest football player in Arkansas that year --- Anthony Hampton.

The 50-plus-yard touchdown pass with just seconds left in the game, ensured a 21-16 West Memphis win. And it just happened to be one of the biggest miracles to ever occur at Hamilton-Shultz Field since its inception in 1976.

Helena-West Helena had the Blue Devils beaten.

Until Haston connected with Hampton.

Many of the players on that 1988 Blue Devil team had a reunion at Hamilton-Shultz Field last Friday night. Some of the top names weren't there such as Haston, Lance Berry, David Eaglin, Lavester Beard and Tyrone Bullins, but many were there including Darrin McCollum, Eric Whittier, Hampton, Chris Smith, Lorenzo Parker, West Memphis School Superintendent Jon Collins, Tony LaPradd, Glynn Stephens and Eric Clark.

"I think this (reunion) kinda goes along with the slogan we've used here at West Memphis the last few years, Once a Blue Devil, Always a Blue Devil," said McCollum, the starting center on that West Memphis team.

One of the most loaded West Memphis rosters ever, the Blue Devils ran the table in the regular season and then pummeled two more opponents in the state playoffs before falling at Fort Smith Northside in the semifinals amidst tornadic weather conditions.

The team finished 12-1.

"Being a Blue Devil is something that puts some pride in you," McCollum added. "You always want to come back and celebrate. We were a team then and we still are today. We're all still proud to be called Blue Devils."

Legendary head coach Grafton Moore admitted the 1988 Blue Devils were a special bunch.

"Those kids did a heckuva job," said Moore. "They wanted to go undefeated in the regular season, and they did. They were a lot of fun.

"They were probably the closest-knit group I ever coached. And they had a lot of talent."

Members of the 1988 Blue Devil football team at the reunion included (from left) Eric Clark, Glynn Stephens, Darrin McCollum, Jon Collins, Eric Whittier, Tony LaPradd, Lorenzo Parker and Chris Smith.

Blue Devils put it all together against Searcy

By Billy Woods

WM School District

The Blue Devil coaches coached their players hard, as if the game hung in the balance right from the opening kickoff.

When it was over, even the coaches would have to admit their players put on quite a show.

On defense, the night was defined by five interceptions and scant yardage from the ground. On offense, eight touchdowns.

Four TDs and 125 yards rushing by senior Latavian Thomas.

Another 204 yards passing from senior quarterback Owens McConnell.

Add all of that up and it came to a 56-21 West Memphis homecoming victory over Searcy on Friday night at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

Head coach Billy Elmore, after prodding his team the whole night, admitted what was very obvious.

"We played a great game offensively and defensively," said a happy Elmore, who had quite a busy night. He drove his youngest daughter Keely, the WMHS homecoming queen, in the parade at 3:30 p.m. and then escorted her across the field in pregame ceremonies before changing into his coaching gear in quick fashion.

"We played great in every area, even special teams," he added. "Everything was good tonight."

Searcy's only shot at beating West Memphis (5-0 overall, 2-0 in the 6A-East Conference) was to chuck the ball all over the yard, which is what the Lions' approach is anyway. But even that blew up in their collective faces.

The five interceptions included a 75-yard return on one for a touchdown by Tyqueerious Barbee, who had two picks on the night.

"We actually started out slowly defending the pass," said Elmore. "But we made some adjustments. That was a big part of it, but yes, the secondary was right where they were supposed to be most of the night."

Furthermore, the Blue Devil passing game finally included 6-foot-4 senior tight end Marcus Whitaker, who after coming into the game with only a few catches, snagged two touchdown passes from McConnell, who completed 10 of 15 on the night.

Searcy (4-1, 1-1) was undone by six turnovers, the first of which was a fumble that appeared to keep the Lions from heading into the end zone on their first possession of the night.

West Memphis, however, was at its opportunistic best.

The Blue Devils turned all but one of the turnovers into touchdowns.

Barbee's pick-six gave the hosts a 21-0 lead before Searcy climbed back into it on the strength of senior quarterback Peyton Wright, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 197 yards in the first half alone.

The Lions were within sniffing distance of the Blue Devils, trailing only 28-14 at halftime, but West Memphis went to work on its first two second-half possessions.

Its first series turned into a 10-play, 88-yard drive in which Thomas carried seven times, resulting in a 16-yard TD pass from McConnell to Whitaker for a 35-14 lead.

West Memphis' next possession effectively proved to be the knockout punch it needed.

Searcy head coach Mark Kelley inexplicably went for it on fourth and 10 from its own 24 and Wright's pass fell harmlessly to the ground.

Working with a gifted short field, the Blue Devils smelled blood in the water.

On the sixth play, Thomas found the end zone from a yard out on fourth down. It gave the home team a 42-14 lead.

"Latavian did a great job running the ball hard and Whitaker had a break-out game," Elmore commented. "We expect that type of game from Latavian. He's going to be a workhorse for us and he's going to get the ball a lot."

After an interception by Jerrodeus Wade early in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils went to work putting the mercy rule into effect.

Thomas collected his fourth TD of the night, this one from 21 yards and with 4:23 to play in the fourth quarter, McConnell hooked up again with Whitaker for a 27-yard touchdown pass to make it 56-21.

The Blue Devils visit Sylvan Hills, new to the 6A-East, this coming Friday.

Devin Olloway (25) finds running room against Searcy.

Marcus Whitaker (1) gets congrats from teammates Devin Olloway (25) and Kedarious Glaspie (56) after snagging TD pass.

Jerrodeus Wade defends against Searcy receiver Tanner Leonard.

Latavian Thomas had four TDs and 125 yards against Searcy.

Blue Devils await Searcy challenge

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Every time he looks up, Billy Elmore says, the Searcy Lions are 4-0 on the week they face his West Memphis Blue Devils.

True Enough.

In 2016 and 2017 the Lions were indeed sitting at 4-0 on West Memphis week, and in 2015 they were 3-1. So here Searcy is once again 4-0 as they invade Hamilton-Shultz Field Friday night for the Blue Devil homecoming game.

"Typical Searcy team," Elmore said. "They're good defensively, they're good offensively. They're solid."

And they once again are 4-0 after winning those games by no less than three touchdowns. Plus, the Lions offense, is averaging 41.2 points per game.

For the third straight year the two teams will battle for some early supremacy in the 6A-East Conference. Kickoff Friday night is set for 7. Pregame homecoming festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m. with Elmore's youngest daughter, Keely, being crowned homecoming queen.

Last season, the vaunted Blue Devil defense went up against strong, sturdy Searcy quarterback Mason Shuck, who sliced up the West Memphians on the Lions' first drive last year which ended with a touchdown.

But, after that first drive, the Blue Devil front four brought the heat and the slow-footed Shuck was never the same as West Memphis defeated the Lions 36-21.

No Shuck this year, but the Lions have found ample ways to find the end zone. They own victories of 46-26 over Morrilton, 42-0 over Sheridan, 40-15 over Batesville and 37-0 last week over Jacksonville.

"Over the last five years or so they've got their program going in the right direction," said Elmore. "They made the semifinals of the playoffs last year, getting beat by Pine Bluff. They've got a solid commitment to their football program and it shows."

Despite the absence of Shuck at quarterback, Elmore said there's not much difference in the Searcy offense this year.

"They may have a little bit better running game this year, but most of their offensive line is back," said Elmore. "They're huge up front. Both of their offensive tackles are 6-foot-6 and the quarterback is 6-foot-4. They look a lot like last year's team offensively."

The Blue Devils are also 4-0 after last week's 22-20 win at Marion.

And the West Memphians look a lot like they did last year, at least on defense where the front line is the marquee attraction. In fact, it was the defense which came up with one of the key plays in last week's triumph at Marion where senior linebacker Curtis Hill knocked away a potential-tying two-point conversion pass with just three minutes and change to play in the game.

Elmore will have double duty Friday night, escorting Keely to midfield in a suit and then changing into his coaching togs in short order.

"It'll be a Superman change for sure," Elmore joked. "But I've got experience doing this. My oldest daughter was homecoming queen at Stuttgart, my middle daughter was a homecoming maid here and Keely was a homecoming maid as a sophomore.

"I've talked to our coaches and told them that I'm a father first, so it's a big day around our family. I'm actually going to drive (Keely) in the homecoming parade. I did that with my other daughters, and kids keep score, so I've got to do it this week. But don't worry about me at 7 o'clock. My mind's going to be where it's supposed to be."

Big play at the end spur Blue Devil win

By Billy Woods

WM School District

West Memphis senior Curtis Hill saw Marion's Josh Green enter the game and knew the play call right away.

After Marion's Anthony Switzer took a pitch from quarterback Daedrick Cail and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kenta Jones with 3:39 to play, all it took for the Patriots to tie the game was a two-point conversion.

Hill would have none of it.

The 5-foot 7, 225-pound Blue Devil senior knocked away a pass intended for Green and the Blue Devils ran out the clock to escape with a 22-20 victory at Marion on Friday night.

"We practiced for the H-back dump all week in practice and we saw (the receiver) come into the game," Hill explained. "I saw him coming out of the backfield and Mark (Robinson) got a finger on the pass, I think. That helped."

The win was West Memphis' 15th in a row without a loss against its Crittenden County rival, but it was the closest game ever in the series history.

A light rain fell for about a half-hour before the game, but precipitation held off once the game began. Despite the rain, both stands were filled to capacity to watch two undefeated teams lock horns.

The two teams didn't disappoint, in terms of entertainment value.

Marion (3-1 overall, 0-1 in the 6A-East Conference) led West Memphis (4-0, 1-0) twice in the first half before a blocked punt by Blue Devil senior Devin Olloway swung the momentum back West Memphis' way.

Down 14-7 with just 2:07 left before halftime and the Patriots threatening to take their first-ever lead over West Memphis into the locker room, Olloway came flying through the left side of the Marion line and blocked Dylan Pieri's punt.

Olloway's deflection was so solid that it caromed 25 yards into the Patriot end zone, where Pieri covered it for a safety.

Just four plays after the free kick, Olloway struck again, snatching a 22-yard touchdown pass from West Memphis quarterback Owens McConnell to give the Blue Devils a 15-14 halftime lead.

"Obviously the blocked punt was the difference in the game," Blue Devil head coach Billy Elmore admitted. "It was our night to make the big plays."

The two plays sucked some life out of the Marion charge until late in the fourth quarter.

"We really honestly felt like we were going to (block) a punt," Elmore added. "They do all these fancy punt formations and a lot of shifting. We felt like they were leaving a gap unblocked. We just happened to hit it at the right time because it was a momentun-swinger for us."

Olloway's TD was a third-and-eight call that swung the senior receiver to the Marion sideline, where he caught a quick out from McConnell. Olloway juked one Patriot defender and then West Memphis' fastest player outraced everyone else into the end zone.

Marion struck first, only five plays into the game when Cail, a sophomore, fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Chase not even two minutes into the game.

The Blue Devils were more methodical with their approach, but they answered on their first possession of the night with the aid of two pass interference calls on Marion.

McConnell, who completed 7 of 17 passes for 89 yards, bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out with 4:20 left in the first quarter and a 7-7 tie.

Cail, who connected on his first 7 passes of the night for a whopping 121 yards, was only 5 for 16 for only 26 yards and two interceptions the rest of the way. But Cail's fifth pass of the night went to Malik Talbert for a 6-yard touchdown pass and a 14-7 Marion lead.

"I credit our secondary and really the rest of our defense for making the adjustments on the passing game after the first quarter or so," Elmore stated.

It looked as though the Blue Devils were primed to put some distance between themselves and the Patriots when Latavian Thomas' 1-yard touchdown with 3:30 to play in the third quarter gave the visitors a 22-14 lead.

The Patriots were only one play from the sending the game into overtime, which would have been a first in this series of contests.

But the hosts called timeout, which Elmore said, helped the West Memphis defense.

"The timeout gave us a chance to set our defense," he added. "We gave it to (defensive coordinator) Coach (Butch) Gray, who is a master with the chalk board. It gave him time to set the defense, and we talked about the H-back slipping out, and sure enough that's exactly what happened."

Blue Devils' Jayden Thomas (46) snags interception away from Marion's Joyrion Chase (4).

West Memphis' Matthew Wigginton (77) sacks Marion QB Daedrick Cail.

Running back Latavian Thomas (39) finds a hole into the end zone against Marion.

Marion's Kentreal Jones (28) caught by Blue Devils' Mark Robinson.

Blue Devils' Devin Olloway (25) takes off in open space against Marion's defense.

It's a battle of unbeatens Friday

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Both teams are 3-0.

Both teams have played Blytheville and Wynne. If you want to compare scores, feel free.

But, as West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore will tell you, some teams match up differently than others.

So, it's Marion vs West Memphis, Part XV.

The scoreboard currently reads West Memphis 14, Marion 0, as in games played. The Patriots are still looking for that elusive first win over the Blue Devils and their new coaching staff will no doubt have their players believing.

It all happens once again, the biggest sporting event each year in Crittenden County, on Friday night at Marion.

Kickoff for both teams' 6A-East Conference opener is set for 7 p.m.

The Patriots, under new head coach Keith Houston, edged out Wynne 24-23 in overtime and then eked past Blytheville last week 37-35.

The Blue Devils shut out Wynne last week 21-0 and then sped out to a 35-0 lead over Blytheville before the Chicks scored two meaningless touchdowns to make it a 35-15 final.

"I think you have to think about how both teams match up against (Blytheville and Wynne)," said Elmore. "Wynne's offense is a lot different than either of the offenses Marion or us run. It's hard to compare some of that because some teams just match up differently."

Marion's offense has held its own through the first three weeks with sophomore quarterback Daedrick Cail, a promising two-sport athlete who also excels in baseball. His first three starts as a high-schooler have caught Elmore's attention.

"He's a good player," Elmore said of Cail. "We knew when he was in junior high he was a good player. He doesn't really play like a sophomore. With that being said I don't think he's had as much pressure put on him as our defensive linemen have shown they can put on a quarterback. That'll be an interesting match-up to see how that works out."

Elmore said Marion's offense has done a good job of mixing the pass and the run and that so far the Patriots have grasped the new offense that's been installed in such a short period of time.

"With a new coaching staff there's always a lot of excitement and they haven't lost yet, so I'm sure there's a positive vibe going on," Elmore said of Marion.

Despite the 21-0 victory over Wynne last week Elmore was critical of his team's offensive performance, which saw the Blue Devils rush for a pedestrian 215 yards.

"We actually ran for about 275 yards, but we had so many plays for lost yardage that it knocked that total down quite a bit," Elmore explained. "I don't know if (the negative yardage) was a focus issue, but I think some of it was. We all thought we were mentally focused when we left the locker room because it seemed like one of the better preparations on Friday that we've had. For some reason, though, we got out and there were some things we made mistakes on that weren't typical of what we've been doing. We've addressed that this week. I think going into conference play will definitely help with that, too."

Another sell-out crowd is expected between the two teams, so fans should be warned about heading to the game early in order to not only enjoy the tail-gaiting but also to claim a coveted parking spot.

Defense stiff again in victory over Wynne

By Billy Woods

WM School District

Just after he'd accomplished a defensive lineman's dream, it took West Memphis senior Hassani Adams several seconds to fend off congrats from his teammates and catch his breath on the sideline.

Adams had just snatched a tipped Wynne pass and ran approximately six feet into the end zone for West Memphis' final touchdown to put the crowning touch on a 21-0 victory over the Yellowjackets Friday night at Hamiltoln-Shultz Field.

The win improved the Blue Devils to a perfect 3-0 on the season as they prepare for their annual Crittenden County rivalry at Marion next week and the start of 6A-East Conference play.

Adams, who typified the defensive unit's effort on the night, was philosophical about his heroics. After all, he was the recipient of teammate Allen Henry's play that deflected the ball into his opportunistic hands.

"We were in a scheme called 'Nut' and Allen Henry tapped the ball right into my hands. Really nothing to it," said Adams. "It's not my first touchdown, though. I scored one on offense my sophomore year against Pine Bluff. The one tonight was sweeter, though."

The Blue Devil defense was once again dominant, giving up only 143 yards, all of them coming on the ground.

But head coach Billy Elmore was clearly not pleased with his team's offensive effort that saw just 115 rushing yards in the first half and a choppy passing attack.

"It was a pathetic offensive performance," Elmore said. "We gotta give a lot of that credit to Wynne, but we're going to work on Monday, I can promise you that."

The lag on offense was due to West Memphis not being able to establish the run, which then carried over to the passing game. The Blue Devils rushed for 215 yards on the night.

"If we can't run the football we're not going to be very good," said Elmore. "We didn't run it like we thought we should. It was not a good performance by our offensive line and we're going to challenge them all next week. We're going to put a better product on the field than what you saw tonight."

Unable to cash in on a Wynne fumble on its opening series, the Blue Devils got another opportunity just moments later when cornerback Jerrodeus Wade pounced on an errant pitch from Yellowjacket cornerback James Parker at the West Memphis 25.

Six plays later senior running back Latavian Thomas burst through a huge hole and dusted the Wynne secondary for a 50-yard touchdown with 2:48 to play in the first quarter and a 7-0 West Memphis lead after Colin Clark's PAT.

Later, the Blue Devils collected their third turnover of the game when Jayden Thomas outleaped a Wynne receiver near the end zone for an interception. But the Blue Devil offense stalled.

The offense's best and most productive drive of the night came just moments later when junior quarterback Owens McConnell engineered a 57-yard drive in workmanlike fashion, covering 13 plays and capped by Kelvin Love's 7-yard touchdown, which gave the home team a 14-0 cushion at halftime.

McConnell finished the night completing 14 of 26 passes for 178 yards and two interceptions.

But back to the defense.

It bent a little.

But it produced eight plays for lost Wynne yardage, thanks to the efforts of senior Mark Robinson and junior linebacker Kendarious Moore.

"The defense did an outstanding job, although there were times we didn't think we did a very good job," Elmore stated. "In the end, however, we got a shutout and a touchdown from our defense."

Kendarious Moore (10) corrals Wynne's Kavion Alston.

Blue Devil Allen Henry (52) pounces on a Wynne fumble.

Jatavius Tucker (2) caught some key passes for the Blue Devils in the first half.