For the seventh consecutive year, Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs will open football season where they hope to end it.
This time, Tommy Shoemaker’s team will square off against Arkansas Baptist at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2 in the First Security Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium.
The first regular playing date of the season is Friday, Sept. 5.
In 2008 and ’09, CAC faced Dollarway. In ’10 and ’11, the Mustangs opened with Pulaski Academy. The last two years, they played Stuttgart.
"I like opening early," Shoemaker said Sunday. "It’s so long getting to the first game anyway. I think it’s good to start in a neat venue like War Memorial. You’re one of the few games going on that night so you’ll get a lot of attention, even from people not associated with the school, and it gives us a chance to watch our next week’s opponent live on Friday night. That’s always good.
"It breaks up the routine a little bit. They always say you make the most improvement between the first and second games, and we’re able to evaluate and take a little extra time looking at ourselves and getting ready for our next opponent."
He said the Mustangs had had three good weeks of fall drills, pointing some of their work last week toward Tuesday’s scrimmage against Beebe and Harding Academy.
"It’s nice to be getting ready for somebody else," Shoemaker said. "We broke into 1s an 2s more than we’d done the first couple of weeks."
Junior Kayleb Scallon will get the nod as starting quarterback against Arkansas Baptist. He had been in a tight race with sophomore Noah Evans during fall drills until Evans twisted his left ankle and missed several days of practice last week.
"It was probably going to be that way anyway, but Noah really got set back," Shoemaker said Sunday. "I’m hoping he’ll get in the scrimmage. I think he’ll do well. Kayleb has had a really good fall. He’s been spot-on throwing the ball, and he was already a good runner. He’s improved a lot since fall practice started.
"Noah has always been a good thrower and a good athlete. He was having a good fall, too."
Shoemaker reiterated that he would feel comfortable with either as his starter.
"Noah’s probably more of a pure passer," he said. "He’s a good athlete, but Kayleb is a very elusive type of runner when things break down. He makes things happen. He gives us a little of the unknown. I think both of them are very capable quarterbacks. Things can always change, depending on how people perform in the scrimmage and in practices."
For the last two years, CAC and Arkansas Baptist were conference foes in the 7-4A, but both have moved with the 2014-16 realignment. CAC is now in the 2-4A; Baptist is in the 4-4A. The Eagles, who won nine games in 2010 and 11 in 2011, have won just five total in the last two years (three in 2012 and two in ’13).
CAC prevailed last year, 43-32. Six starters return on offense with nine back on defense.
"Typically, they’re very wide open on offense," Shoemaker said of the Eagles. "They have a new defensive coordinator, so their defense is going through some changes. Offensively, they’ve got their quarterback (Riley Perkins, who threw for 1,882 yards and 28 touchdowns before breaking his leg in Week 8 against Bauxite).
"They’ve got some nice skill kids. They’re obviously a threat to score from anywhere on the field. They like to throw it around, and they do a nice job of that. Obviously, there are some unknowns with them playing a different defense. They’re probably more familiar with us than we are with them at this point."
He said the Mustangs were in pretty good shape, health-wise, except for Evans’ ankle and senior offensive lineman Austin Bland’s possible slight concussion.
"We’re going through the protocol," Shoemaker said of Bland’s health. "He may be ready for (the opening game). If not, it’ll hopefully be the next week."