Lakeside and Jessieville each had a winning record supported by a playoff victory, about which no other Garland County football teams could boast this season.
Call those tangible rewards even if both teams were pitched in deep water in second-round postseason games Friday.
Little Rock Parkview or Pine Bluff in Class 5A, one asks? Call Lakeside coach Garren Rockwell as an expert witness for insights. Rockwell's eight-win team went down hard against the defending champion Patriots (42-7 at home) in midseason and fell 41-28 to the Zebras at venerable Jordan Stadium.
Jessieville, off to a good start in basketball, takes its skills inside after a 44-16 swamping from Salem in Fulton County. The Greyhounds improved to 11-0, showing no rust after a first-round bye. Jessievile can gauge its success against two conference rivals still standing, 3A-4 champion Glen Rose pasting Perryville 37-0 while Bismarck authored one of the biggest wins in program history, 35-27 at Charleston.
The third-seeded Camden Fairview Cardinals went on the road for a 47-30 decision over Southside Batesville, while over in Craighead County, Shiloh Christian suffered no ill effects of a long bus ride from northwest Arkansas in outlasting 5A-East champion Valley View 42-30.
Parkview, like Ol' Man River in the Great American Songbook, kept on rolling along, 35-6 over crosstown rival Mills, in the other 5A semifinal. Parkview gets Fairview at War Memorial Stadium -- without competition from the Razorbacks, a past WMS holiday tenant -- while Pine Bluff hosts Shiloh Christian. Seeded second in 5A-West, the Saints mercy-ruled Hot Springs 58-22 on Lindsey Field at Champions Stadium in the first round.
Pine Bluff, which won its first state football title with Woodrow Wilson in the White House, has not won another since 2015, Barack Obama's time, but these Zebras have the look of champions. Second-year coach Michael Williams said his team played through injuries, though "we think our second team is just as good as our first team." How's that for confidence?
A "laser-sharp" Landon Holcomb, with five touchdown passes, played pitch and catch all night with star receiver Courtney Crutchfield, whose five grabs went for 281 yards and three scores. Holcomb, said Williams, was "perfection himself," going nine of 13 for 469 yards. For those interested, his TD throws included 52, 67, 48, and 93 yards.
For the longest, Lakeside offered only Kyler Wolf's 81-yard kickoff return as scoreboard response. Jacob Hermosillo, completing a wondrous season, accounted for three fourth-quarter scores, one on a 79-yard scramble and two through the air. But unable to simulate the Zebras' quick-six stuff in practice, Lakeside could not keep Pine Bluff from improving to 10-2. A Parkview-Pine Bluff 5A final might be for the ages, though look for Fairview and Shiloh to deliver a dissenting opinion.
A word or two is in order about Class 4A, getting a new champion after Harding Academy popped Malvern 58-34 in Searcy. That was viewed as payback for a 64-39 loss to Jalen Dupree and the Leopards in last year's 4A final, though HA coach Neil Evans said only that "we beat a really good opponent in the second round."
Losing coach JD Plumlee opined that "I'm not sure that anybody can beat (the Wildcats, now 12-0) if they stay healthy. ... They're well coached and they play extremely hard." To its credit, HA exploited a revenge motive such a great program seldom enjoys, Malvern ending the Wildcats' streak of three straight state titles last December.
Wyatt Simmons, an Arkansas commit at linebacker, is something and quarterback Owen Miller is something special. Miller was nearly perfect, completing 16 of 18 passes for 237 yards and rushing 16 times for 124 yards while accounting for five touchdowns. He played cornerback on some downs, going one-on-one against Dyelon Caradine.
Like Malvern last year in Little Rock, Harding made a statement in the second half, which the Wildcats opened with a shaky 24-21 lead. Dupree scored three touchdowns in a 149-yard first half but was shut down (four carries for 23 yards) in the second half.
It is good to see such established programs as Pine Bluff, Parkview and Malvern in championship form. Harding Academy, private but fiercely proud, never went away.