By John R. Schirmer
“It was a special year with special kids.”
That’s how Coach Rick Baker describes the undefeated season which his Nashville Junior Scrappers completed Thursday, Nov. 2, with a 29-13 home victory over Arkadelphia.
The Scrappers ran their winning streak to 65 consecutive games and won the District 7-4A championship for the seventh straight year.
A sign hanging from the press box at Scrapper Stadium following the Arkadelphia game summed up the 9-0 season and the Streak: “65.”
“We knew we had a good chance from the eighth graders moving up to ninth grade,” Baker said. “We had size and speed, but we still had to compete on the field.”
The Scrappers began summer workouts in June. “We had 65 out of 75 showing up for weights. That’s good, especially for young kids,” Baker said.
When the season began, “We didn’t miss a beat.” The Scrappers picked up where they left off after the 2016 season and defeated Magnolia 35-0.
And so it went, with the Scrappers posting wins over Hope 41-21, Bauxite 34-7, Fountain Lake 49-12, Camden 34-12, Ashdown 21-20, Mena 29-8, Malvern 41-12 and Arkadelphia 29-13.
“The Ashdown game showed we could win even when faced with adversity,” Baker said. Ashdown scored late in the game and pulled to within a point at 21-20. “We found the guts to stop them on a 2-point conversion” and secure the victory.
Arkadelphia “is a real good team. Their quarterback was averaging 250 yards rushing. We held him to 98. I’m really pleased,” Baker said.
The Scrappers put up 308 yards total offense against the Badgers. “We had a lot of big plays by Keyshawn [Stewart] and Ty [Gordon],” Baker said. “Our O-line blocked well. I’m really pleased with the way our guys performed.”
Baker said he was glad to “look up and see so many people in the stands. It was a good atmosphere” for the district championship game.
Winning the district title was the team’s main goal. “It was nice to have [Principal Deb] Tackett and [Assistant Principal D.J.] Graham give us the trophy. The 65 banner was pretty neat,” Baker said.
He pointed it out to the players when he turned around and looked into the stands after the trophy presentation. “Look up there,” he told his team.
Students in Twyla Nichols’ art classes prepared the banner.
The season went by quickly, according
to Baker. “Once we hit September, it flew.”
As for the Streak, “We try to keep it in perspective. The biggest thing is to win district and go 9-0. That’s our ultimate goal. At the end of the year, the players can join the guys before them and say, ‘We’re part of it.’ They can say, ‘We’re part of something bigger.’”
The Streak began with the last 2 games of the 2010 season and includes the entire season in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
To put the Streak into perspective, Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and Donald Trump was host of “The Apprentice” back in November 2010.
Mike Beebe was governor of Arkansas.
Ninth graders on that team are now seniors in college, including Cameron Alexander, starting center for the Ouachita Baptist Tigers.
Three of the junior high coaches have been there for all 65 victories, including Baker, Kyle Slayton and Ted Green.
When Baker talks about the Streak and the district titles, he always comes back to the players. “I’m proud of our kids. I hope all 37 move up to high school. We want them to get into senior high and contribute.”
The Scrappers got off to a fast start, literally, against Arkadelphia when Stewart returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. Ronald Pineda kicked the first of 3 PATs, and Nashville led 7-0 only 13 seconds into the game.
Arkadelphia tied the score about 5 minutes later on a 14-yard run and successful PAT.
Gordon scored next for the Scrappers on a 1-yard run with 3:11 left in the first half, putting Nashville on top 14-7.
The Scrappers added to their lead with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a 9-yard TD run by Stewart.
Arkadelphia responded by running the ball in from 8 yards with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter, but the PAT failed when the Scrappers blocked the kick.
Stewart scored the final TD of the night on a 6-yard run with 3:45 to go in the game. Gordon ran for the 2-point conversion and a 29-13 victory.
Gordon was the leading rusher with 17 carries for 196 yards and a touchdown. Stewart had 13 carries for 112 yards and 2 TDs.
Gordon and Stewart passed for a total of 15 yards as the Scrappers relied on the ground game against Arkadelphia.
Stewart completed 1 of 2 passes for 13 yards. Gordon completed 2 of 4 passes for 2 yards.
Caiden Erwin had 1 catch for 4 yards. Austin Hanson made 1 reception for 13 yards.
Nashville had 323 yards total offense.
The Badgers had 128 yards rushing and 71 passing for 199 yards total offense.
The eighth grade Scrappers were 6-0 for the season and have a 20-game winning streak. They defeated Magnolia 16-14, Hope 32-6, Bauxite 12-0, Camden 30-20, Ashdown 32-8 and Mena 28-12.