This is the third part of an 11 part series of every team in the River Valley Touchdowns coverage area where I asked each coach three questions that need to be answered in order to have a successful season.
Three Questions: Dardanelle
The Dardanelle Sand Lizards have been the most successful program in the area since 2012. The Sand Lizards have won eight games in each of those seven seasons. Dardanelle have won three 4A-4 conference championships in that span and might have been the best team in 4A in 2014. The one thing that has alluded the Sand Lizards is a state championship.
The 2018 Dardanelle Sand Lizards continued that tradition by winning nine games, but they were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Stuttgart Ricebirds. The second round exit doesn’t tell the whole story of the Sand Lizard’s season.
Dardanelle was an eye lash away from beating Ozark at their place losing 21-13, but the biggest blow might have been the loss to Mena. The loss at Mena was a tough one for the Sand Lizards, but even tougher was losing their field general, Jordan Metcalf. While Caynan Taylor filled in admirably for Metcalf I’m sure coach Phil Vega would have liked to have taken his shot with a healthy team.
I spoke to Coach Phil Vega about the 2019 and these are three questions that he said needed to be answered for Dardanelle to have a successful season.
1. Underclassmen Maturity.
The Sand Lizards return 16 starters from last season’s playoff team so expectations around Dardanelle are high. The question isn’t with those returning but with those who are having to be replaced. Guys like all-state tight end/defensive end Brock Finkenbinder will be tough to replace, but plain and simply for a program with the expectations of the Sand Lizards it must be a smooth transition to meet the requirements that coach Phil Vega has for his football team.
2. What is the right mix of offensive line and defensive lines?
In football without line play you don’t have much. The Dardanelle Sand Lizards are known for their physicality at the point of attack. Their offense is multiple and puts a tight end to use at a time when other high school teams are putting that position out to pasture. In order for Blake Chambers to repeat the success from last season (177 att. 1,207 yards and 13 TDs) the offensive line must find the best five. Can guys like sophomores Juan Morales (5-10, 230) or Carson Ford (6-4, 255) come in and make a contribution?
With Vega being the defensive coordinator before he became the head coach and still manning that position he expects a ton out of his unit that only gave up 17 points per game last season. While guys like Isaac Caro (6-2, 285) and Christian Lomeli (6-1, 320) play both ways it will be a guy like a Rhett Merritt (5-10, 315) who will have to step in when needed to get stops at critical times.
That old Queen Latifah song from the early nineties rings true for the Sand Lizards this season. They need to unify if they want to accomplish the things that they have come to expect south of the river. They say a house divided against itself cannot stand and unity is what Vega is preaching to the 2019 Sand Lizards. According to members of the team there was some disunity last season. Dardanelle looks to fix that as they have their eyes set on their first 4A-4 conference championship since 2016.