Central Arkansas Christian will face its first real road test of the season this week when Tommy Shoemaker’s Mustangs travel to Nashville for a 7-4A test.
CAC is 3-1 after knocking off Arkansas Baptist, 43-32, in the 7-4A opener last week. Nashville, one of Arkansas’s storied high school programs, is 2-2 and 0-1 after falling to Arkadelphia, the league favorite, last week, 28-19.
CAC will visit Arkadelphia next week.
Billy Dawson’s Scrappers beat the Mustangs twice last year, 49-21 during the regular season and 49-13 in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
"Nashville is a little younger than they were last year, but they’re very athletic and have good size up front," Shoemaker said. "They are a very talented football team, and it will be a big challenge for us going there."
Dawson is 77-9 at the school in two tenures, sandwiched around that of Tim Perry, who left CAC after a successful run to go to Harding University. After his foray into college coaching, he returned to the high school ranks at Nashville until returning to Alabama high school football last year.
Dawson then returned to Nashville and led the Scrappers to a 10-3 season, a tie for the conference title and a state semifinal finish.
Since 2006, Nashville has won 79 games, four conference titles and two state championships.
But just two starters returned on offense and four on defense from last year’s squad that lost in the state quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive season. Gone is Joel Hendry, the quarterback who threw for 3,653 yards and 47 touchdowns last year.
"We’re different than we were last year, and they’re different," Shoemaker said. "Their style of offense is a little different this year. They’ve changed a few things. It’s a different year, a different group of kids, different teams in many ways.
"You always look back at what you did last year, but from a team standpoint, it’s completely different."
He said the Scrappers had added a few wrinkles, including designing some packages for junior receiver LaMichael Pettway to play some at quarterback. Shoemaker said Pettway had drawn the attention of such programs as Nebraska.
"They move him around at quarterback and receiver and try to do some different things to take advantage of his ability," Shoemaker said. "He’s a really good athlete. They have another kid take snaps when they run more conventional sets."
Although the trip is a familiar one, with CAC having made it for several years in conference play and several more for playoff games, Shoemaker said its length would add to the challenge.
"But a lot of times I like playing on the road," he said. "It makes it a little easier."
He said he hoped his team was getting the Scrappers when they could be a little flat. Nashville lost the season opener to Hope and beat De Queen and Watson Chapel before opening conference play last week.
"We’ve got two of the best teams in the state back-to-back, and we’d like to get at least one of them," he said. "
Last week against Arkansas Baptist, the Mustangs won a battle that was back-and-forth early. Jack Thomas completed 22 of 31 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns; Adam Weiner caught two and Stephan Flanigan and Zack Pierce one apiece. After Braylon Harris ran for two TDs, CAC led by 22-19 at the break after Thomas and Flanigan hooked up for a 40-yard score and Weiner caught the two-point conversion pass seconds before intermission.
The Mustangs took advantage of three Eagle turnovers, including one early in the third quarter. Pierce’s 69-yard touchdown pass led to a 10-point CAC advantage, and Weiner caught scoring passes of 11 and 40 yards to put the game away.
"The thing I did like is in the second half when it was a close game, we were able to make some plays on defense and get a turnover, and offensively we executed a little better in the second half and made the plays when we had to make them," Shoemaker said. "I thought we played a lot better in the second half. We didn’t run as well as I’d hoped, and I stuck with that until it became apparent we had to throw, so that’s what we did."