The 7A/6A East produced two 7A quarterfinalists last season, an impressive showing for the central Arkansas region that has lagged behind northwest Arkansas in talent for a decade. If central Arkansas has indeed turned a corner, much of the improvement will be here.
There’s never been a shortage of hype in North Little Rock, from major D-I prospects to Nike sponsorships to back-to-back semifinal appearances, but despite all of that the Charging Wildcats have never won a state title. NLR was swept by Cabot last year and hasn’t beaten fellow 7A rival Conway since 2009. But if the Wildcats are going to change things, this is the year. Ten offensive starters return, led by all-state quarterback Heath Land (2,500 passing yards in 2013) and Arkansas commit KJ Hill (1,100 receiving yards in 2013), who is an also an electrifying kick and punt returner. On defense, only five starters are back, but a unit that held eight opponents to 14 points or fewer is still loaded with talent. North Little Rock still has to prove it can survive its own central Arkansas rivals, but may have the talent to challenge Bentonville and Fayetteville for the 7A title.
Cabot may have something to say about NLR’s dominance. The Panthers finished 12-1 in 2013, losing only in the state title game to Bentonville. Legendary coach Mike Malham (268-116 record at Cabot) has Cabot’s T-formation offense always running with brutal efficiency, to the tune of over 300 rushing yards per game. Cabot returns just nine total starters, but still boasts a hard-to-plan-for offense and salty defense.
Jonesboro is the top 6A program in the conference. The Hurricane finished 8-5 in 2013 and reached the 6A playoff semifinals. Fourteen starters, led by speedy running back Darren Veasley (800 rushing yards in 2013) on offense, are back. The Hurricane struggled to move the ball against Cabot and North Little Rock, scoring a total of 20 points in those two blowout losses, but should be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Little Rock Central roared to seven wins last fall, punctuated by a stunning 34-28 upset of Fayetteville. Coach Scooter Register inherited a program on a 22-game losing streak in 2010, and now the Tigers are poised to become a force in the 7A. Quarterback Cooper Westbrook (1,700 passing yards) commands Central’s spread offense, while Hayden McCarty (300 receiving yards in 2013) is a top target. The defense is completely rebuilding, however, and needs a lot of players to step up.
The Lenny Dauksch era ends at West Memphis, as the once-dominant 6A program struggles with life as a small 7A school in a mixed conference. The Blue Devils have the speed necessary to overwhelm smaller 6A teams, but need a new quarterback and some linemen to make any kind of playoff push. Searcy finished 4-7 in coach Jeromy Poole’s first season, but still lacks size. Quarterback Andrew Neaville is a key player for the Lions. Marion pounded Mountain Home and nearly upset Central, but new coach Jed Davis has just four total starters to work with. The Patriots will struggle with bigger schools. Mountain Home, the state’s biggest geographic anomaly, went winless last fall. The Bombers are bigger, especially on the line, but a defense that surrendered 40 points or more seven times in 2013 isn’t up to even 6A standards.
Make your pick for who will win the 7A/6A East title and check out THV 11’s 40 teams previews for North Little Rock, Cabot, Jonesboro, and Central.
40 Teams Preview: North Little Rock Charging Wildcats
40 Teams Preview: Cabot Panthers