GLEN ROSE - Every football team, from high school to the pros, has the same goal in mind at the beginning of any season: make the playoffs and win a championship. Though Saline County is far from the NFL, there is one team in the area that has not strayed away from that preseason mindset.
Since Week 1 of the regular season, the Glen Rose Beavers have owned the No. 1 spot in all of 3A, just ahead of Harding Academy. After falling in the season opener to Malvern by a field goal, the Beavers stayed in control of the top spot in the conference, finishing the season with nine straight wins heading into the playoffs.
“I am extremely proud of our young men for dealing with the pressure like they have,” Head Glen Rose Coach Mark Kehner said. “Having that No. 1 ranking over your head since Day 1, everybody is waiting for someone to trip you up. To finally be [in the title game], there has been a weight lifted off of our shoulders.”
Glen Rose dominated both Elkins and Camden Harmony Grove in the first two rounds and narrowly escaped Charleston and Prescott thanks to second-half comebacks, winning each contest by three. Sitting at 13-1 overall, the Beavers have one battle left in the war, this time with a powerful Harding Academy squad.
“You start the year with the expectations of making the title game out in front of you,” Head Harding Coach Roddy Mote said. “We don’t really talk about it much. Being able to make the playoffs, you get the opportunity to make a deep run and then you turn around and here you are. We are really excited and it is a great experience for our kids. We are proud to be here.”
Sitting in the No. 2 spot for most of the season, the Wildcats completed a perfect regular season of 10-0 and have had little competition in the playoffs. Harding has outscored their opponents big, 545-143 thus far over 13 games. Obviously with a good defense, Harding will be playing its toughest test to this point when they meet Glen Rose in the 3A title game Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
“Glen Rose is a very good football team,” Mote said. “That is obvious, or they wouldn’t be in the situation that they are in. Coach Kehner does a great job and they have enjoyed success over the last couple of years. I don’t even know how to compare them to anyone else. They are a very good team and they have got tremendous size up front and really good athletes on offense.”
The Beavers have averaged 39 points per game through 14 contests this season and are giving up just 12 per game in the playoffs. While Harding has not faced a caliber team such as the Beavers, Glen Rose has not seen a talented quarterback even close to that of Harding’s Will Francis, either.
Francis has tossed for over 3,700 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2012 and has only been intercepted five times. While Glen Rose’s record shows both a good offense and defense, the Beavers’ secondary has been a little hit or miss at times.
“We have worked on our secondary all week,” Kehner said. “We practiced extremely well with it. We felt like we practiced well every week but we just didn’t come out and play like we had practiced. Now that we are in the situation that we are in, I feel extremely confident that we are going to come out and play like we have practiced come Saturday.”
Though Glen Rose will have its hands full with containing the passing game from Francis, Harding has a full plate itself with Collin Hunter throwing bullets, and Carlos Burton and Dillon Coney running over and past defenders both up the middle and around the outside.
“(Hunter) is good for them on offense and he is also a good defensive athlete as well,” Mote said. “Then they got a few in between that make them a quality football team. Their kids do a great job and that’s why they are also in the state championship game.”
Most coaches like to stay with what has gotten them to a certain point, especially if that point is a good one. For Mote and the Wildcats, this is no different when it comes to Saturday’s game plan for getting past the Beavers.
“I don’t know if you can really change anything that you have done over the course of the year,” Mote said. “My philosophy is to stick with what got you here and Francis has done a great job over the past two years of distributing the football.”
For Glen Rose, Kehner and company have practiced in two other locations other than at Beaver Stadium this week in order to get different feels for environments. So far this week, the Beavers have held practice at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and also at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“We have been practicing in different places because this week is different anyway,” Kehner said. “You want to do some different things with your kids so they understand that just because you are doing things different, you have to come out and do what you have done all season.”
Kehner said that his team has handled the changes very well.
This year’s finals appearance gives Glen Rose a chance to add to the trophy case with just its second title in the school’s history. The Beavers won it all in 2007 and has since been in the thick of things nearly every season.
“We have talked to our kids about making this program an elite program,” Kehner said. “You have to get to the (title) game and then you have to win it, if you want that status. These kids have put the program in the category of one of the best teams in the state.”
For Harding, a win would be the school’s fifth and first since 2002. The Wildcats appeared in the finals in 2010, but fell short to Rivercrest 14-10. A victory on Saturday would be huge for Mote and the rest of the Wildcat community.
“We are very excited and we know that Glen Rose is too,” Mote said.
The Beavers and Wildcats will battle it out on Saturday to decide who the best team in 3A truly is when both teams take the field at noon.
Follow @SalineCourierSports on Twitter for up to the minute scoring updates from the state title game.