Dardanelle surprised by winning nine games last year, the most since 2007.
Josh Price’s Sand Lizards finished 9-3 overall (5-2 for third in the 4-4A) and advanced to the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. They beat Pocahontas in the first round before falling to Stuttgart, the eventual state champion, 54-0.
“We overachieved by going 9-3 and hosting a first-round playoff game,” Price said. “We were expected to finish 5-5 or so, and fifth in the conference.”
A repeat of those lofty numbers would be a major accomplishment in 2013, though, with just three starters returning for the multiple offensive set and five on the 4-2-5 defensive scheme. Among the key personnel losses from 2012 are Evan Carter, an all-state quarterback who accounted for 2,200 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns, and all-state defensive end Ethan Sigle, who recorded 109 tackles and 16 sacks.
Dardanelle opened 2012 with four consecutive wins: over Danville, 33-0; Mayflower, 47-13; Clarksville, 27-13; and Dover, 44-6, before losing back-to-back games to the conference’s top two teams, No. 2 Pottsville, 39-10, and champion Booneville, 27-14. The Sand Lizards then reeled off five straight wins: Waldron, 42-0; Subiaco Academy, 17-7; Maumelle, 19-14; Mena, 45-34; and Pocahontas in the playoffs, 52-14, before the season-ending loss to Stuttgart.
In mid-July, Price said he had “no idea on starters yet,” but he will build around several key returners: senior linebacker J.J. Dunn (5-9, 180), who recorded 143 tackles last year; senior two-year, two-way starting lineman Hunter Tomlin (6-0, 230); junior receiver Parker Witt (6-3, 205) with 31 receptions for 300 yards and six TDs last year; junior running backs Gerardo Hernandez (5-7, 170) and T.J. Tucker, who combined for 11 rushing touchdowns last year; senior returning starter at center Garrett Haney (6-0, 235); senior Will Lawrence (6-1, 190), a returning starter at free safety and wide receiver; and senior Clint Smallwood (5-10, 175), returning starter and the team’s interception leader (four) at outside linebacker.
“Our strength will be that most of our linemen will only have to go one way,” Price said. “We should be able to spell some kids on the offensive and defensive lines with our depth. We will also have more speed at the skill positions than we have had since 2007.”
But the major weakness, he said, would be inexperience.
“We will start as many as four sophomores at any time,” Price said. “We only have 11 seniors on the team. We will start eight people on offense who have never started for us on a Friday night.”
Still, he is optimistic that the Sand Lizards can continue their playoff streak.
“If we can stay healthy, we have a great chance to finish in the top three of our conference again,” he said.
It’s a tough league, though. Price said he expected Booneville, Pottsville and Maumelle to join the Sand Lizards again to make up the top four, with Subiaco to round out the playoff contingent. The key game on the Lizards’ schedule, he said, should come at Dover on Sept. 27.
“That’s a tough place to play, and they will be much improved,” he said of the Pirates, who finished 1-9 last year. “We always need to win the conference opener.”