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Wolves, 'Cats renew classic football series

by Bob Wisener | November 19, 2021 at 3:50 a.m.

The Lake Hamilton-El Dorado game tonight matches teams coached by Tommy Gilleran and Steven Jones in, respectively, their fifth and third seasons on the job.

For old times' sake, they should let Jerry Clay and Scott Reed toss the coin, yell "play ball" or something. Both men coached teams that created one of the best rivalries in south Arkansas football, twice playing at War Memorial Stadium for the state championship.

Lake Hamilton won 42-28 in 2008, Phillip Butterfield scoring twice on the ground and throwing two touchdown passes after getting knocked out of the previous year's Class 6A final against Texarkana on a fake punt. Butterfield, who said he liked few things better than watching game films with coach Clay, works on the Arkansas State University radio broadcast team. Redshirting as a freshman in 2009, he helped the Red Wolves win 36 games from 2010-13.

El Dorado, by 24-20, won the 2011 6A title rematch with Lake Hamilton. In itself, that avenged a 31-24 Lake Hamilton road victory over the Wildcats in the regular season. It is not a game that many Wolf boosters remember fondly.

Lake Hamilton, flush with talented seniors, never seemed to play with the assurance that characterized a 12-2 season in which its other loss came in a shootout with Pulaski Academy. A late interception on the El Dorado goal line swung things for the Wildcats, who added a state championship (the school's ninth) in 2013.

Teams coached by Clay and Reed played classics similar to that Reed's father, Bill Reed, waged against Hot Springs and Joe Reese, first as a Jonesboro assistant to Don Riggs and later as head coach at Jacksonville and Texarkana.

Reed is in his third season at Class 7A Cabot, where Mike Malham Jr. (another coach's son) won big for years out of the dead-T. The 8-3 Panthers, bouncing back from a November loss to North Little Rock, play at Fayetteville tonight in the second round of the playoffs.

Clay never got back to the finals, having coached Lake Hamilton to a 14-0 record and the school's first state title in 1992. He retired after the 2015 season, after which Lake Hamilton hired an Oklahoma man who took the Wolves to the playoffs but left after one season. That Lake Hamilton passed on Gilleran, an alum with a state title under his belt (2009 at Fountain Lake), remains a dizzying decision.

Gilleran, good sport that he is, said later it worked out for the best, that he might not have been ready to come home. Lake Hamilton is glad that he did and should reap the benefits for years.

The Wolves enter tonight's game 9-2, beating West Memphis 41-6 in a first-round game last week. Hootens.com favors Lake Hamilton by two points over 8-2 El Dorado, which enjoyed a first-round bye as 6A-East runner-up.

Generally a running team, Lake Hamilton gave El Dorado something else to think about after sophomore Easton Hurley passed for 219 yards against West Memphis. Those are space-age numbers for a team that runs it 84% of the time and gains 7.3 yards per carry behind a line averaging 279 pounds. Come to think of it, Gilleran's Fountain Lake teams, also ground oriented, were known to complete a clutch pass.

Gilleran jazzed up the Wolves' offense after Lake Hamilton did not complete a pass in its 35-0 Week 10 loss at Greenwood. That followed a 42-41 home loss to Benton, which spoiled a two-point conversion late. Tonight's winner in Union County plays the Benton-Marion winner in the semifinals, Lake Hamilton getting a home game if it and the Marion Patriots prevail tonight.

People close to the program say these Lake Hamilton players are exceptionally close and locked in on improvement. They are three wins away from a third state championship, weeks after the school won its 13th state title in boys cross country. Their fans, after repeated forays to northwest Arkansas this season, visit the state's southern tip next. Travel alert: Watch out for deer on the highways.

Both teams are working on a schedule that takes them to War Memorial Stadium in December.

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