Much of the skill position players are back and speed will be the biggest asset the Eagles possess this season.
Paris comes into the season with a new but familiar head coach in Bryan Hutson, returning from exile as a principal to anchor the sidelines and lead a team that made a deep run into the playoffs last year. Although Paris ended their season in a place familiar to long time Eagles fans, most believe that the loss in Fordyce was the harsh end to a team that underachieved.
The good news is that much of the skill position players are back and speed will be the biggest asset the Eagles possess this season.
After having two projected starters move over the summer, Hutson and Paris went to work scheming the best use of the talent they had in place. Kris Graham will again start under center, and they will use the speed of returning starters DaKovan Wise, Justus Lee, and Kevin Swafford to keep the pressure off of Graham, who is as much of a run threat as with his arm. Sophomore Blaise Woods, who got to come up and play after the junior season last year, certainly shows some potential as a bruising back.
Defensively, the Eagles will have a lot of two way players, and will show multiple defensive fronts based to the variety of offensive schemes they will face. Look for this to be a balanced defense without much stardom. They have speed and some experience, but may be lacking in size. One this is certain, they will have a lot of athletes, but it may take a few games to see just where each fits into the scheme.
To open the season on Friday, Paris will make the three-hour trek through the mountains to Yellville-Summit. The travel may be the Eagles biggest opposition on opening night. Yellville-Summit has four wins in the last four seasons and are not projected to be much stronger this season. They have a relative unknown in their passing game, with little to no experience returning, and could force the issue in the running game. They have some returning talent on the defensive side of the ball, but even if they have success early in the game, it doesn’t look like they will have the depth to contain the strong multi-back system Paris will employ. Look for Paris to stack the box and force them to pass while pulling away and burning time in the running game. This one should be decided by the third period.
Week two will be a different story for Paris, which will play a 4A opponent that dominated the line of scrimmage against them a year ago. Dardanelle will make the trip west down Highway 22 to face the Eagles in their home opener, and it could be a much different matchup than the 45-7 loss the Eagles experienced last year. Dardanelle is coming of of three consecutive conference championships, but are picked to finish behind Booneville in this year’s 4-4A conference. The big difference will be the inexperience of the Sand Lizards on defense, though they still have a size advantage and a stable of running backs. If they cannot stop the Eagle attack like they did last year, this one could see a lot of points on the board. Both teams will look to run the ball, and could turn into a battle of the wills in the fourth quarter.
Week three sees the Eagles take to the road to avenge a loss they didn’t even know was a loss until a day later. Last year, Hector came to Paris, and the weather did not cooperate. Thinking the game would be ruled “no contest,” the Wildcats headed home leading on the scoreboard 7-6, although Paris had all the momentum. It went as a blemish on the schedule for the Eagles, who were playing against one of the stronger 2A teams. Without their quarterback from a year ago, this one will likely be a different story. Hector is expected to have a quality running game, but the inexperience under center may be a big difference maker. Hector should also have a good interior defense, but if there is one the Paris should be able to do, it is find the edge and run. This one should lean heavily for the Eagles if they can maintain their stable of running backs.
Up next for the Eagles is another game on the road, this time to conference opponent Mansfield. Although they are projected in the middle of the pack in the conference race, the Tigers have a lot to prove. The team hasn’t won more than five games since their conference championship in 2010, a distant memory shrouded in two- and three-win seasons. Paris gave up an embarrassing 363 yards on the ground last year at home against Mansfield, a number shrouded by the 59-38 final score. Paris has to shut down the run game early. Mansfield has more players out than in recent years, but with any defensive help at all from the Eagles, the inexperience should lead to a lopsided Eagle win.
If Paris can win those games decisively, and show solid defensive play on the road, they could have some momentum heading into quite possibly their most anticipated game of the year. They will host rival Charleston in week five. The matchup has not gone in the Eagles’ favor in quite some time. Last season, they were one of the few teams to shut down the Paris running attack, beating the Eagles 42-6 and running away with the conference title. For the Eagles to change the script, they will have to defend against Arkansas Razorback commit Sean Michael Flanagan. He can line up at multiple positions, and could be under center at times. Charleston has to replace their quarterback from a year ago, and with a smaller roster than they normally have, they will find themselves in the same situation as many in the classification, with multiple players competing on both sides of the ball. Everyone has Charleston picked to win the conference and this would likely be the game to decide it.
For the only time all season, Paris will play back to back home games, as Atkins will be the next competitor to visit. In a crowded middle of the pack in the conference, this game could have a lot of implications on playoff seeding. With both likely to find a way into the post season, a bye week may be at stake during this contest. After drubbing Paris 34-14 last year during their nine-win season, Atkins is rebuilding. They have a lot of holes to fill. Though their defense should be competitive, they have little experience in the skill positions, especially in the backfield. It should be a highly contested game with the winner holding a key advantage in playoff seeding.
After back to back tough games, the Eagles should get a bit of a reprieve, albeit on the road, in Perryville. Though the Eagles will face an experienced backfield, Perryville lacks overall team speed which is the strength of the Paris program. This will likely come down to the Eagles having to stop the running game, and if they do, they should be able to put up enough yards, likely on the breakaway, big play, using the speedy backfield. Look for Paris to have this one secured before the fourth period.
Returning home, Paris should again find themselves with the ability to take control of a game early. Two Rivers visits again this year, having played all of their games on the road last year in a winless season. Though they will be riding the energy from new facilities and reported higher team numbers, this one will be played in Paris late in the season and will likely be out of control early. Two Rivers always brings a classy group of athletes working hard to build a program, and though they will make strides this year, it won’t be enough when they visit Paris.
Though Cedarville would like to be a rival, they only have two wins in each of the last four seasons. It is likely the 49-14 loss at Paris last year still stings, but this doesn’t look like the year that they can elevate their level of play. Three of their losses last season were by eight points or less, and that may help their overall win total. Even with experienced players returning on offense, they find themselves with no depth and now a program without a sense tradition. Paris should have three weeks of games where they are a heavy favorite before heading into their final regular season game against Lamar.
After years of success, Lamar lost a lot of talent last year, winning only five games, and this season looks to continue the rebuilding process. They should bolster a good offensive line, but that is the only known factor about the Warriors. They will have to try and grind things out behind that offensive line, but they have little to no depth at the skill positions. They got into the playoffs with a .500 record a season ago, but this one may be more lopsided than last year’s 35-7 loss to the Eagles, but this could be where Paris has to balance rest for a playoff run without overlooking the opponent at hand.