Central Arkansas Christian won its first playoff game since 2007 last year when the Mustangs prevailed at Valley View, 37-27, and coach Tommy Shoemaker hopes to continue the momentum in 2013.
After falling to league foe Nashville in the second round, 49-13, CAC finished 7-4 overall. The Mustangs were 5-2 in the 7-4A, tied for third. The Mustangs, the league’s fourth seed, then knocked off the Blazers, No. 2 from the 3-4A, in the first round.
“We were pleased to win a playoff game, especially going on the road and coming from behind to do that,” said Shoemaker, starting his sixth season at Mustang Mountain. “In the regular season, we were essentially 10 yards away from getting a piece of the conference championship (in a 21-18 loss to Malvern).
“We played well at times against good football teams.”
The Mustangs lost their opener at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to Stuttgart, 49-22. The Ricebirds went on to win the Class 4A state title. CAC lost conference games to Nashville, 49-21, and Malvern, but knocked off Arkadelphia, which tied for the conference championship, 7-0.
“That was a big win, and we came close to a couple more upsets,” Shoemaker said. “We had some injuries (most obviously in the opener as quarterback Jack Thomas and the best lineman, Austin Nutt, went down), but we were able to bounce back real quick.
“We had different spurts. We had a spurt toward the end of the year when I thought we were playing some of our best ball. But we didn’t match up very good with Nashville, and we drew them in the second round. I felt like we could play with anybody.”
The Mustangs led both Stuttgart and Nashville (in the regular season) at halftime.
Four starters return for the Spread offense and six for the 4-3 defense from last season’s squad.
Thomas (5-10, 175), a senior, returns at quarterback after overcoming a shoulder injury.
“He’s been in the system; he knows the offense and how to run it,” Shoemaker said.
Other key cogs for the offense include junior Stephan Flanigan (6-2, 170), the only returning starter at wide receiver; sophomore running back Braylon Harris (5-10, 175); senior tight end Adam Weiner (6-5, 240); and senior linemen Seth Doremus (5-10, 200) and junior Austin Bland (6-0, 220).
“Braylon got to play quite a bit as a freshman after the junior-high season because of injuries,” Shoemaker said. “We expect big things from him. I think Seth Doremus will be our leader. Austin Bland has made great strides.
“Probably our biggest surprise is Adam Weiner grew 4 or 5 inches and added 40 or 50 pounds in the offseason. He’s gigantic — I don’t know how else to say it. He’s gotten some looks from some Division I schools.”
Defensively, Weiner returns at end. Shoemaker called him “probably our best defensive lineman last year.” Junior Daylan Moore (5-8, 165) returns at linebacker, as do senior Jack Partlow (5-10, 180) at corner, junior Zack Pierce (5-9, 150) at safety and Doremus on the line.
The senior class’ leadership is the team strength, and the weakness is the usual lack of depth.
Shoemaker said the Mustangs want to return to the playoffs, preferably with a home game.
“If we can compete in this league, we can compete with anybody,” he said. “We’re opening with the defending state champion, so that will give us a good idea where we are right off the bat.”
A two-game stretch at Nashville and Arkadelphia on Oct. 4 and 11 will also prove a measuring stick for the Mustangs.