The 2-4A conference defending champion Heber Springs Panthers clash with reigning 4-4A conference champion Pottsville tonight at Panther Stadium.
Due to Hurricane Isaac and its potential to bring heavy rain and possible storms, kickoff time has been pushed back 30 minutes to 7:30 p.m.
The visiting Apaches return 14 starters from a team that finished 11-1-1 last season, winning 11 straight before falling to eventual state champion Pulaski Academy in the state quarterfinals.
After tying Atkins (21-21) in last year's season opener, Pottsville won the remainder of its regular season game, including victories over Lamar (35-7), Clinton (42-21), Waldron (46-0), Booneville (49-21), Dover (42-12), Mena (69-42), Clarksville (40-18) and Subiaco Academy (48-6). The Apaches then defeated Newport (53-6) in the first round of the playoffs and Clinton (49-16) in the second round before falling to Pulaski Academy (65-13) in the quarterfinals.
"They are very physical," stressed Heber Springs Coach Steve Janski, who is entering his eighth season at the school with a record of 54-28, including six consecutive playoff appearances. "The biggest drawback to Pottsville is we don't really see that kind of offense (Dead T) and it doesn't really fit our scheme defensively. We have to play sound defensively, stay gap sound constantly and we can't take calculated risks like we would against a passing team or a multiple formation team. They line up in basically the same formation every time and they are going to run at you and run their plays no matter what."
Both teams take pride in the play of their offensive and defensive lines. "It's going to be a very physical game and it ought to be a very good game," said Janski. "They have two returning starters on the offensive line and they are really good. And they have some guys that have moved up that have size but all we have is the scrimmage film on them. They are 230 to 250 and they come off the ball low."
Pottsville's run-oriented offense revolves around junior quarterback Michael Perry (5-9, 170), who is a shifty, quick runner that has started since his freshman season. Perry rushed for 1,687 yards last season while passing for 621 yards. He also returned two punts for touchdowns.
Perry torched Booneville with 301 yards and four touchdowns on the ground last season. He also ran for 142 yards and a score while passing for three touchdowns in one of the Apaches' two wins over Clinton.
Perry uses his quick first step to jump-start the Dead-T. "When you talk about Pottsville everything starts with No. 5, their quarterback Michael Perry," Janski said. "He is probably going to be the best quarterback we'll see this year. He is athletic and can make you miss in a heartbeat and take it to the house.
Page 2 of 2 - "They keep you honest with the dive then they run a veer off that and a load option, a counter and play-action pass and he throws good enough to hurt you when your in there trying to stop the run. It's a very difficult offense to defend because it's methodical. They will lull you to sleep and then bust you."
Turnovers are a critical factor in nearly all football games. With wet weather a strong possibility, that could place even more emphasis on ball security. "Turnovers will be key," said Janski. "When you go against a team like Pottsville your possessions could get cut in half. Even if you get stops they will cut out about a third of our possessions. We are going to have to take advantage of every possession we get.
"Their offense is geared to control the football. And, then with the hurricane it could not only be raining but the wind will be a factor. Mike [Kramer] is going to have to be aware of where that wind is coming from and make adjustments," added Janski.
Janski said he thinks the teams are about even in all aspects. "I think speed wise and depth wise we probably match-up pretty good. They might have a little more depth than we do. Size…It looks like we are basically even up front. I think the only advantage we have going into this game is we have them at home. But, once the ball kicks off that really doesn't matter much anymore. It's going to be a good game."
Fans can listen to the game live on Z100.7 or myz100.com with Voice of the Panthers Billy Morgan and crew calling the shots. The broadcast begins 30 minutes prior to kickoff.