Mike McNeill

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com.

Southern Arkansas University has been selected to play in the Heritage Bowl on Saturday, December 7 in Corsicana, TX. It is a tribute to SAU’s 8-3 season and an honor for the Great American Conference to have two NCAA Division II playoff teams, Ouachita Baptist and Harding, and two bowl teams, SAU and Henderson State. The Muleriders do not have a great neutral-site record in recent years but this is an opportunity to build toward a great season in 2020.

An 8-3 record is a great season in football terms, but it’s a game shy of NCAA playoff consideration when only a perfect record locks down a playoff spot. The bar is set high. The same was true of the Magnolia Panthers’ 5-2 conference mark. We think Magnolia as a No. 2 seed playing at home last Friday would have beaten a No. 3 seeded visitor. Instead, Magnolia was a No. 3 seed that brought a knife to a gunfight. However, Magnolia’s 63-34 loss to Pulaski Academy was, pardon the cliché, not as crushing as the score indicated even with Magnolia scoring a couple of touchdowns after the mercy rule had already gone into effect. What we saw was a missed opportunity early in the game, combined with a few plays that could have been Magnolia touchdowns had the Panthers been a step faster or the Bruins a step slower. Magnolia had plenty of speed against PA but there’s no doubt that the Bruins live up to their hype. That said, the Panthers exceeded our expectations this year under new head coach Mark King. He’s seen where the bar is set in Class 5A-South. And to win a state championship, Magnolia must find a way to play at the level of teams like Pulaski Academy. Magnolia football is heading in the right direction and we look forward to 2020.

Magnolia football was 7-4 in 2019, and 6-4 in 2018. What would a winning season in 2020 mean for the Panthers? The only three consecutive winning seasons in the past two decades.

Something else to get excited about. Magnolia High plays its first basketball games of the season on Friday at home against El Dorado. The boys B game starts at 5, following by the Magnolia girls and the defending Class 4A state champion Magnolia Panthers.

This is likely an apocryphal belief, but it’s our general view that when a high school sports season gets off to a good start, it raises the competitive hackles of the school’s other teams. So that would seem to put a little pressure on the basketball Lady Panthers, 6-6 in conference last year and 12-11 overall. They beat Bearden 49-40 last week, but conference play won’t start until mid-January. The Lady Panthers lost four of their conference games to Star City and Warren last year, and were 1-2 against Camden Fairview (including a holiday tournament loss). Magnolia will play all three on the road during the first half of the conference circuit, but will have them at home during the second half. Going 2-4 against those teams might be enough to earn a playoff spot given the rest of the conference. A 3-3 split would probably do it.

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com . Email him at news@magnoliareporter.com or call him at 870-904-3865.

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