Greenbrier is undefeated and is one of the top-ranked Class 5A teams in the state.
The Panthers (9-0) have already wrapped up the 5A-West Conference title and league’s No. 1 seed in the state football playoffs.
They finish the regular season in Thursday night’s Judge’s Cup game against county rival Vilonia, usually a throw-out-the-records neighborhood brawl.
It’s one of the rare times the teams have each secured a playoff berth.
Despite a disappointing season last year in which they didn’t make the playoffs, the Eagles upset the Panthers last year in Vilonia.
Vilonia will either be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed from the conference.
Despite the intensity of the rivalry, there may be a greater incentive for the Eagles to win.
If they lose to Greenbrier, they will like travel to Pulaski Academy for a first-round playoff game. The Bruins, who have continued their high-powered attack from Class 4A to Class 5A with barely a hitch, are one of the best teams in the state, any classification, and one of the favorites to win the 5A title. They regularly use a steamroller at home.
But, by then, the Eagles should be used to playing teams on a roll.
Greenbrier is also moving at high speed.
Even without record-setting quarterback Neal Burcham, the Panthers have a prolific offense and have met all challengers, highlighted by rolling over Morrilton on the road when the Devil Dogs were considered by some the most powerful team in the conference.
The Panthers, who have won their first conference title since they were a Class AAA team in 1990, are probably more versatile and better defensively this year. They are a better overall team.
Quarterback Seth Peters, more of a dual threat than Burcham, has passed for 2,262 yards and 24 touchdowns. Austin Fischer has been on the receiving end of several of those TD passes and has also become one of the top backs in the state in 5A.
“We’ve found a way to win every week,” said Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble. “But we want to go into the playoffs with a lot of momentum.”
As anyone connected with the longtime rivalry knows either team could be classified as a “momentum killer.”
“We’ve played well as a team and a lot of guys have played very well on both sides for us to be where we are right now,” said Tribble.
Thursday night, part of the focus will not only be where the teams are but where they are going.
Playoff positioning is critical.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)