You only get one chance to make a first impression, Tucker Barnard and the Shiloh Christian Saints made the most of theirs Friday night.
Shiloh Christian jumped out to a first-quarter lead, withstood a second-quarter comeback and leaned on running back Bo Williams in the second half to defeat Little Rock Christian 43-22 at Warrior Field in Little Rock.
Barnard became Shiloh Christian's head coach this summer when Jeff Conaway left to take a coaching job in Florida. Barnard joined the Saints after more than a decade with Stillwater, Okla., where he won a state championship last season. He previously was an assistant coach at Shiloh Christian from 2004-11.
His first game back with the Saints, the Class 5A defending state champion, did not disappoint.
"Winning never gets old. When it does, I'm going to go do something else," Barnard said. "The guys played their hearts out and did everything we asked them to do. Little Rock Christian made a run in the second quarter and were kind of giving us the business. We went in [at halftime], got our composure and came out and played a great second half."
Williams rushed 45 times for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. Hegot the Saints (1-0) started with a 17-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game.
The senior then scored touchdowns of 34 and 80 yards to give the Saints a 21-3 lead.
In the second quarter, the Warriors (1-1) scored two touchdowns on short rushes, including a 5-yarder by Trey Howard to make it 21-16 at halftime.
In the second half, Williams and the Shiloh Christian defense combined to break open the score. Williams rushed for three more touchdowns as the Saints shut out the Warriors until the final play.
"[The defense was] absolute unsung heroes because Bo is going to be the story, and it's well-deserved, but [Little Rock Christian] put up 63 Last week," Barnard said.
Williams rushed 45 times for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. But he said it wasn't until the final buzzer that he knew just how special of a night it had been.
"This game means so much to me," he said. "It's an escape, man. And when I get in that zone, I feel like I'm unstoppable. Truly, I don't think anybody in the state can stop me. So when I get in that groove, it's a whole 'nother world."
Without 2022 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year Eli Wisdom at quarterback, Williams said he and the offensive line are taking it upon themselves to make up for his absence this season.
"Eli left some big shoes to fill, I would say, and somebody's got to take over for the yards that he had," Williams said. "Having a confident line and having that chip on our shoulder, you know, it really fueled us to win this game."
Barnard goes back nearly two decades with Williams' family as his uncle and father both coached for the Saints. The pair are already relishing their lone year together.
"Coach Barnard is a hype man at heart," Williams said. "You know, he brings the juice to every game, every practice. I wish I had some more time with him, not going to lie, but I'm going to cherish this year with him."
"Even from Stillwater, I kind of watched him grow up on social media and stuff," Barnard said. "But when I got here, man, I mean he's just such an emotional leader. You just see the energy that he brings, and it's contagious."