After having a week off, the Malvern Leopards are excited and focused on this week’s 4A State Playoff match up against Trumann.
“It’s been a weird year and here we are in the playoffs,” Malvern head coach J.D. Plumlee said.
The Leopards will host Trumann at Claude Mann Stadium-David Alpe Field Friday. It’s the first time since 2014 that the Leopards have hosted a playoff game. It’s also the first time since 2014 that the Leopards have played in week 12 of the high school football season. “It’s been a long time since Malvern’s been to week 12,” Plumlee said. “But we’re here and the kids our excited and they’re focused.”
The Leopards finished the regular season with a big win against Arkadelphia, 33-25, and earned a first round bye in the playoffs. According to Plumlee, having a week off helped the Leopards as they prepared for the second round of the playoffs. “I think the bye week was good for us,” he said. “We had not missed any games, so we went 10 consecutive weeks and the league we’re in is just pretty brutal as far as the physical part of it.”
It was a “breath of fresh air” for the Leopards who were able to heal from having played 10 brutal consecutive weeks of football. The Leopards were able to work on fundamentals and not worry so much about the grind of a game week. “It was good for some of the guys to let the swelling go down in the ankles and kind of get some shoulders back to feeling better,” Plumlee said. “We were able to work on some fundamentals and it not be such a grind as far as game week.”
But the Leopards still treated the bye as a normal week and had three hard days of practice before getting to take last Friday off. The Leopards then returned to work on Sunday to get prepared for this Friday’s game against Truman. “We went hard three days last week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, in pads and treated it like a normal week. I gave the players Friday off and we came back to work on Sunday,” Plumlee said. “I think it was beneficial for our guys for sure.”
While the Leopards had last week off, Trumann (6-5 overall) was battling for their chance to make it to round two of the playoffs. Trumann, who plays in the 3-4A conference, took on Heber Springs in a play-in game for the first round of the playoffs. Trumann cruised past Heber Springs with a 29-point, 43-14, win. As a heavy run offense, Trumann had two players combine for 27 carries for 179 yards and five touchdowns against Heber Springs.
The defensive line will be the key for the Leopards as they look to get past Trumann and extend their playoff run. “It’s going to be won upfront,” Plumlee said. “I say that a lot but Trumann is a run first offense.”
Plumlee knows that Trumann is good and efficient on offense running the ball and spent a lot of time this week prepping the defense. With a “bend don’t break” type of philosophy on defense, Plumlee stressed to the Leopards about how important it is to stop Trumann and get their offense off the field. “We’ve spent a lot of time this week on prepping our defense, making sure we can get them off the field,” he said. “They’re very good and very efficient on offense as far as how they run the ball.”
Offensively, the Leopards are going to continue doing what they’ve done the whole season. They’re going to rely on sophomore quarterback Cedric Simmons while also taking care of the football. “You’re going to see the same style cause we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and rely on Ced [Simmons] to have a good game, lead our offense and disperse the ball where it needs to be,” Plumlee said. This season Simmons has passed for 1,886 yards with 15 touchdowns and rushed for 642 yards with seven touchdowns.
The Leopards have also been working on staying ahead of the chains, eliminating negative plays, and getting the ball to a third and short situation. It’s a tactic that proved useful in their game against Arkadelphia. “If you go back to Arkadelphia, we had a whole lot of third and fives and third and fours, and we were converting those downs,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching.” It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Leopards also try to convert on fourth and short either. “We’re pretty aggressive and we’re more than likely going to try to go for it,” Plumlee said.
Overall the Leopards are excited to get to be playing in front of their home fans for round two of the playoffs. “I think at this time of year anytime you’re at home it’s an advantage,” Plumlee said. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.