I can’t begin to focus on championship games involving Fayetteville and Greenwood this week without a quick look back at some state finals I’ve covered through the years at War Memorial Stadium.
Here’s five that stand out to me for various reasons.
CLASS AAAAA, 1999
Fort Smith Northside 12,
I grew up in Michigan, so I don’t complain much about winter weather. But, my goodness, it was a miserable day in 1999 when Northside and Springdale met at War Memorial Stadium to decide the Class AAAAA state championship.
The weather was already cold and dreary when a storm rolled through the area and delayed the game for 30 minutes. Sleet continued to fall once play began and I remember players losing their footing often on the hard ground. Fumbles were plentiful and passes mostly fell incomplete, but Northside survived for a 12-6 victory.
More than one person said to me it was a shame the teams had to play such an important game in such miserable conditions. Those comments, of course, came mostly from Springdale fans.
Northside was OK with it, especially with a big, new championship plaque to carry home to Fort Smith.
CLASS 6A, 2020
Lake Hamilton 24
This game remains fresh in my mind not so much because Greenwood won its 10th state title, but for the fact the game was played at all.
There were serious questions whether we’d be able to complete the 2020 high school football season because of the vise grip Covid-19 had on the country in 2020. Many games were cancelled and there were some examples of teams finding replacement games.
Greenwood coach Chris Young summarized perfectly the struggles high school athletes had to endure in 2020 shortly after his Bulldogs defeated Lake Hamilton 49-24 to finish 14-0 on the season.
“This year has been a difficult year for teenagers and young people in general,” Young said at the time. “The rules for them has changed. They’re not able to hang out with their friends or be in large groups and just be kids. But for one time on Saturday night, they were able to not think about Covid, not think about social distancing and spreading out. They were able to celebrate a state championship with their buddies and just be kids.”
CLASS AAAAA, 2005
West Memphis 20
The headlights and a long line of cars.
That’s what I remember most after settling in at the press box at War Memorial Stadium and looking to the east at the long line of cars with people still trying to get to the game.
Over 25,000 fans eventually made their way into the stadium to see if the nationally-ranked Bulldogs could finish a dream season as the undefeated state champion in Arkansas’ largest classification.
They did, 54-20 over West Memphis.
The team led by Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams and coached by Gus Malzahn finished 14-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country by Student Sports magazine and No. 4 by USA Today in its final poll for 2005. Springdale was truly dominant that year in outscoring its opponents 664-118. It wasn’t just teams from Arkansas who Springdale whipped. The Bulldogs began to receive national exposure after dominating Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian 35-7 and Jenks, Okla., 44-0 in non-conference play.
Springdale 2005 is considered by many, myself included, as the best team in the history of high school football in Arkansas.
CLASS 7A, 2006
Fort Smith Southside 23,
If you like underdogs then you loved the Fort Smith Southside team of 2006 that entered the playoffs after finishing fourth in the 7A-West Conference.
Southside made its way to the championship game, where the Rebels (now Mavericks) met a Rogers team that was 12-0. The Mounties held a 22-20 lead until Southside drove 63 yards and won the game, 23-22, on a 34-yard field goal by Josh Davis with 10 seconds left.
The one-point loss in a championship game was particularly painful for Rogers, which has mostly struggled after the school district split the following year with the addition of Rogers Heritage.
CLASS AA, 1992
Pine Bluff Dollarway 34,
I worked at the Pine Bluff Commercial in the early 1990s and knew quite well the power of the Cardinals from Pine Bluff Dollarway.
So, I was not surprised when Dollarway defeated Booneville 34-7 at War Memorial to cap a 14-0 season. Dollarway was a powerful program back then under Lee Hardman, who left Dollarway after the season to coach at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Booneville has surpassed Dollarway as a small-school power, but the Bearcats couldn’t contain the Cardinals on that day in 1992.