Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs will take to the gridiron tonight for the 20th meeting of the teams since 1991.
Tonight's kickoff between the Wolves (2-0) and the Trojans (0-2) is set for 7 p.m. at Tommy J. Holt Field at Joe Reese Stadium.
Here are five things to watch:
Lake Hamilton has long held the edge on this rivalry, which dates back to when both teams were members of the Class 3A-South conference. The Wolves won the first three meetings of the teams since 1991, but Hot Springs evened the series with three consecutive wins, culminating in the 20-14 win over the Wolves in 1996.
Both teams remained conference rivals, though from 1993-97, they were members of the 3A-Southwest conference before moving up to the 4A-Southwest for the 1998-99.
Lake Hamilton moved up a classification the next year, joining the 5A-South while Hot Springs remained in the 4A-Southwest. Following the 2005 meeting, which Lake Hamilton won, 44-7, the teams did not play again until 2014, when the 6A-West Wolves defeated the 5A-South Trojans, 27-26, rekindling the long-standing rivalry.
The Wolves hold a 14-5 lead on the rivalry, winning the last two meetings of the schools -- 28-17 in 2016 and 35-7 last year.
"We never expect that," said Lake Hamilton head coach Tommy Gilleran said of the lop-sided victories. "We've got to play great every Friday night to give us the chance to play. And I hope our kids play like that. No, I don't expect anything like that. I expect a hard game from Hot Springs and a good physical game."
The Trojans last won in 2015, defeating Lake Hamilton, 18-14, but for Hot Springs head coach Darrell Burnett, it's just another game.
"I've got a drive to win every game," he said. "It doesn't matter who we play. I want to win every one. The coaches want to win, and the kids do, too. It doesn't matter who we play.
"The only thing is, it's a Garland County school, so you always want to win in Garland County. That's extra incentive. My mind will never change. I want to win every game -- no matter who it is, where it's from or what state it's in."
Gilleran said he feels the rivalry has more of an emotional tie due to the close proximity of the schools.
"I think it's still a big thing for our kids because our kids know their kids," Gilleran said. "There's still some (backbiting) and talking and all that kind of stuff because these kids know each other. I think it's a big deal for both schools, and I think it's a good deal because we're eight miles apart."
Lake Hamilton took a 31-27 season-opening win at Lakeside (0-2) before rolling over Malvern (0-2) at home, 56-10.
"Malvern is not as good as they have been in the past, but they're predominantly a good football program," Gilleran said. "Of course, Lakeside is, too. We played really physical that night to the point that I think we hurt quite a few of the Lakeside kids before the next week they played Fountain Lake."
Hot Springs started the season with a pair of losses, an 18-0 season opener to Fountain Lake (2-0) at home before falling, 19-0, last Friday at Mena (2-1).
Despite the rough start, Burnett said he feels his offense is making strides.
"Our offense is starting to click," he said. "It just takes time with them. The kids have only been running the offense a month and a half. It's all about timing.
"We're just using these games as our spring practices and spring game. Once we get everything clicking and everyone buying in, we'll be good, but it's going to happen. Unfortunately, it's bad timing, part of the process. It is what it is. I'm not going to make any excuses."
The Trojans have only allowed 27 points in their first two games. They struggled with penalties in the season opener, including one that called back the team's only touchdown due to a sideline infraction.
"I'm a defensive-minded guy," Burnett said. "Everything I've always done since 2011 has been based off defense. Any time you can play good defense and change the field position on offense, you have a chance to win. Offense is the extra once we get going.
"That's going to be the standard around here. We're going to always try to play great defense and be physical."
Gilleran said his team must work hard to overcome the Hot Springs defense.
"I think they fly around and try to make a lot of plays and cause turnovers," he said. "That's something that we've got to worry about. I think we've got to not turn the ball over, but maintain possession and do things right on that end.
"A lot of people have gotten down on the goal line and fumbled on the 1-yard line. Fountain Lake did, and so did Mena. That's never good to fumble the ball on your 1-yard line. I think they do fly around, and I think they play good defense."
Five Lake Hamilton players were suspended for the first game of the season against Lakeside, but Gilleran has his entire team back for the second straight week.
With the renewal of a rivalry after a 19-year hiatus, a small group of players took things a bit too far, leading to the school suspending them before the end of the week.
The Wolves still managed to hang on for the win, but Gilleran said he is pleased to see his offense back like he planned on it being during the spring and summer.
"I feel like it's pretty good," he said. "I can't say all cylinders, but I think it's pretty good. I think offensively, we scored on the first seven possessions (against Malvern). We were playing pretty good in the first half. Of course, the second half, I didn't play anybody. We played all of the backups from that point on. We thought in the first half we looked pretty good."
Hot Springs must now go up against one of the top offenses in the area.
"Any time you go against coach Gilleran, you've got to shut down the run," he said. "He's got his star running back back, but his little brother he had in the backfield, the little Brewer, he's good also. They do a great job running the ball, and, while you're sleeping, throw it over your head.
"We're going to what we always do -- try to be physical and stop the run. Everybody (has to) do (their) jobs and be disciplined. Any time you go up against the Wing-T, you'd better stop the run, or it's going to be a long night."
With two weeks of the season down, injuries are already becoming a concern for many teams all over the state.
Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs have been fortunate, however. Hot Springs has not lost a player due to an injury, while Lake Hamilton has just one player out.
"We've just got one kid that has a sprained ankle," Gilleran said. "He won't play Friday night. It's Austin O'Neal, one of our offensive tackles. Other than that, everyone else is fine."
Burnett credits his team's work in the weight room for the lack of injuries.
"We're injury-free," he said. "One thing I've always learned is you hit the weight room 4-5 times a week, it helps a whole lot with injuries. We're going to always do that.
"Right now, knock on wood, we're injury-free. That's always helped us out. Hopefully, it continues to stay put. We only have 54 guys out. They've got to stay healthy."
Other matchups tonight include Lakeside at Malvern, Dover (0-2) at Fountain Lake, Magnet Cove (1-1) at Mount Ida (2-0), Magazine (0-2) at Cutter Morning Star (1-1), Jessieville (1-1) at Dierks (0-2) and Centerpoint (1-1) at Mountain Pine (1-1).
Sports on 09/14/2018
Print Headline: 5 things to watch: Lake Hamilton at Hot Springs