Ten days after opening football season, Central Arkansas Christian (1-0) will play its home opener Friday against Little Rock McClellan (0-1).
With a 48-40 win in the First Security Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 3, Tommy Shoemaker’s Mustangs avenged last year’s season-opening loss to Stuttgart, which would go on to win the Class 4A state championship. CAC went on to a 7-4 season that included the first playoff win since 2007.
McClellan, which fell to CAC in Week 2 last year, 16-0, finished 3-7. The Lions fell to Searcy on Friday, 38-13.
"We’re excited to get to play at home," Shoemaker said. "It’s always fun to play at War Memorial, but I think the guys are looking forward to getting back home and getting in more of a normal routine."
The Lions have a new coach, Maurice Moody, and return two starters on offense and five on defense. Offensively, they’ll run elements of the Single Wing as well as some Spread and Pistol. Their defensive scheme is 4-3.
"(The offense) is similar to a lot of the Spread stuff we see," Shoemaker said. "They have good speed, which is always a concern. We need to try to keep them from making big plays."
Shoemaker is familiar with Moody from several years ago when Shoemaker’s Harding Academy team faced Moody’s Earle squad in the playoffs. Moody came to McClellan over the summer from an assistant’s position at West Memphis.
"He’s a good, solid coach, and he’s going to do a good job," Shoemaker said. "It’s just a matter of time before he gets them going. I just hope they don’t do it this week."
McClellan fell behind by 17-7 at Searcy but rallied to within 17-13 shortly after halftime, but the Lions scored the game’s final three touchdowns.
Although they won, the Mustangs have some things on their improvement list.
"Last week we put the ball on the ground too much," Shoemaker said. "We didn’t give up any fumbles, but we did put it on the ground about five times. We can’t do that. We need to clean that up a little bit."
Little else went wrong, however, against Stuttgart last week.
The Ricebirds scored first, covering 47 yards in five plays on the opening possession, but the PAT failed, and the Mustangs took the lead on the ensuing possession. Senior quarterback Jack Thomas exorcised some demons from last year’s opener — when he went down with a shoulder injury in the first half — by making the first drive count. He capped the 55-yard drive with a 23-yard scoring pass to Stephan Flanigan — the first of six TD passes.
"We felt like we could be good on offense, but I don’t know that I thought we would throw six touchdown passes," Shoemaker said. "But we felt like we were ready offensively. We had a few holding penalties in the first half that really killed us from getting any momentum, but once we quit hurting ourselves with penalties, the second half was good for us."
Stuttgart took a 12-7 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter, but the Mustangs took a 15-12 halftime advantage when they took advantage of a short punt and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, setting up on the Stuttgart 21. A holding penalty backed them to the 40, but that just made the double reverse pass from Thomas to senior tight end Adam Weiner flashier. The pair connected again for the two-point conversion to give CAC the three-point lead with 3:52 left before the break.
The Mustangs never again trailed. They were almost unstoppable in the second half, and although Stuttgart was able to stay within two scores, the Mustangs answered every time. Thomas hit Weiner and Flanigan for two more TDs each (17 and 13 yards to Weiner; 13 and 14 to Flanigan).
"They’re a good football team, so they’re not going to quit," Shoemaker said. "We didn’t feel like they could stop us in the second half. We did keep answering when they pulled back, so that made it tough for them."
For the night, Thomas completed 26 of 44 passes for 352 yards and the six TDs with just one interception.
After missing the rest of the season at quarterback following last year’s injury, Thomas called the win "really rewarding, as a team and personally."
"We’ve been getting after it since November, and personally I’ve been waiting for that win since Aug. 27 of last year," he said. "That pain from that injury pushed me to a whole different level. All of the guys did a great job. Chandler Hamilton was a huge factor tonight. He unselfishly moved from quarterback to center two weeks ago, and he did a great job. Our receivers might be one of the best groups in the state, and they had a great performance tonight.
"It was all around a great night. It felt great to be back. Glory to God."
Jack Partlow caught 11 passes; Weiner had eight and Flanigan four. The Mustangs added 60 yards rushing.
Shoemaker called the evening a coming out party for Weiner and Flanigan.
"We had a lot of guys who contributed in a lot of ways," he said. "All around offensively, it was a pretty solid performance."
Unlike last year’s opener, the Mustangs came out relatively unscathed injury-wise, although they lost senior cornerback/wide receiver Billy Sullivan for the season to a knee injury on the second play of the scrimmage the previous week.
"I’m disappointed for him because he broke his foot last year and worked hard to get back and then had this happen to him," Shoemaker said. "Otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to stay pretty healthy. I hope that will continue because we’re not real deep."