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Mitchell says NLR carries weight of central Arkansas

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Photographs by Starkville (Miss.) Daily News

North Little Rock football coach Jamie Mitchell

North Little Rock Coach Jamie Mitchell is in his third year as a head coach in Arkansas after spending the first 18 years of his career in Mississippi.

But Mitchell, who is 31-6 at North Little Rock and 194-67 overall, understands the drought of central Arkansas teams in Class 7A not winning a state championship since Little Rock Central in 2004. Springdale won the Class AAAAA state title in 2005 -- which was then the state's largest classification -- and Bentonville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith Southside and Springdale Har-Ber have also won titles since in Class 7A.

"We carry that burden. It's a heavy one," said Mitchell, whose Charging Wildcats face Bentonville in the Class 7A state championship game at noon today at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. "You find at this time of year that all of your archrivals that hate you so much in the year are now your biggest fans, which is really neat. We know there's a lot of people pulling for us and willing us to hopefully win this thing.

"It would make nobody happier than me to be the one guy that can get this football team over the hump. I think our kids deserve it. Our kids have busted their rear ends in the weight room and in the offseason. The coaches have done everything I've asked them to do. I'd love more than anything to see this thing happen."

[HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCOREBOARD: Results + recaps, photos and more]

While North Little Rock (12-0), the 7A-Central Conference champion, has not lost a game this season, there have been a couple of close calls. The Charging Wildcats trailed at halftime against Little Rock Central and Bryant but went on to win those games.

Mitchell said his team takes pride in dealing with adversity.

"Our football team has shown that we're going to be resilient," Mitchell said. "It's OK to be down. It's OK to be on the mat. But it's not OK to stay there."

North Little Rock has been led by senior quarterback David Chapple and sophomore running back Brandon Thomas. Chapple is 95-of-165 passing for 1,724 yards with 17 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Thomas, who is part of a three-man rotation at running back with juniors Oscar Adaway and Tyler Day, has 1,380 yards and 11 touchdowns on 184 carries.

Mitchell had to replace 14 starters from last year's team, so what he's appreciated the most about the 2017 Charging Wildcats is their growth.

"We had no idea we were going to be here," Mitchell said. "We weren't picked to win our conference. We're the defending state runner-up and not picked to win our conference, so we took that a little personally.

"But at the same time, we knew we had so many new faces. A lot of people hadn't played at many different positions. We had to grow some of those kids."

Bentonville (10-2) won the 7A-West Conference championship and is on a nine-game winning streak. Senior quarterback Nathan Lyons has completed 162 of 251 passes for 2,431 yards with 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Classmate Kamron Mays-Hunt leads the Tigers with 66 receptions for 1,085 yards and 14 touchdowns.

North Little Rock faced Bentonville in a scrimmage before the season began at Springdale Har-Ber. Mitchell said to throw that game out of the window.

"They're an explosive football team," Mitchell said. "We're going to have our hands full. But you ought to. It's the state championship game."

The Charging Wildcats are in their second consecutive state championship game under Mitchell but are looking for redemption after losing last year's title game.

"There's a desire on our part to finish this thing," Mitchell said. "The pain of getting here last year and not getting it done, you just want so desperately to see this thing happen for our school, our community and most importantly, our kids."

Class 7A state championship at a glance

NORTH LITTLE ROCK (12-0)

DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 at Maumelle W, 55-14 Sept. 8 LR McClellan W, 48-30 Sept. 15 LR Parkview W, 29-20 Sept. 22 at LR Central W, 31-20 Sept. 29 Conway W, 24-14 Oct. 6 at FS Southside W, 49-7 Oct. 13 LR Catholic W, 51-17 Oct. 20 FS Northside W, 49-23 Oct. 27 at Bryant W, 25-14 Nov. 2 at Cabot W, 38-21 Nov. 17 FS Northside# W, 34-0 Nov. 24 Conway# W, 49-14 7A-Central game

Playoff game

COACH Jamie Mitchell (31-6 in third year at school)

MASCOT Charging Wildcats

CONFERENCE 7A-Central

RECORD 12-0, 7-0 7A-Central, first

RANKING No. 1 in Class 7A (at end of regular season)

PLAYERS TO WATCH QB David Chapple (Sr., 5-10, 150); RB Brandon Thomas (So., 5-11, 181); WR Deontae Montgomery (Sr., 5-7, 145); DL Zavion Moore (Sr., 6-2, 250); K Savana Melton (Sr., 5-11,

160)

BENTONVILLE (10-2)

DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 at KC(Mo.) Rockhurst L, 35-8 Sept. 8 at Bixby, Okla. W, 47-28 Sept. 15 Conway L, 35-16 Sept. 22 Fayetteville W, 32-27 Sept. 29 at Van Buren W, 38-6 Oct. 6 Springdale Har-Ber W, 24-21 Oct. 13 Springdale W, 49-21 Oct. 20 at Rogers W, 63-19 Oct. 27 Rogers Heritage W, 70-0 Nov. 3 at Bentonville West W, 37-28 Nov. 17 Cabot# W, 31-6 Nov. 24 Bryant# W, 44-14 7A-West game

Playoff game

COACH Jody Grant (30-7 in third year at school)

MASCOT Tigers

CONFERENCE 7A-West

RECORD 10-2, 7-0 7A-West, first

RANKING No. 3 in Class 7A (at end of regular season)

PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Nathan Lyons (Sr., 5-11, 175); RB Preston Crawford (So. 6-0, 175); WR Kamron Mays-Hunt (Sr., 6-1, 170); WR Dylan Smith (Jr, 6-0, 155); LB Andrew Bartgis (5-11, 170)

Sports on 12/02/2017

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