Few preseason Arkansas high school football prognosticators would have envisioned that the Central Cougars and the Barton Bears would be 6-1 as week 8 of the gridiron season approaches. Hooten's Arkansas Football picked the Cougars to be in the middle of the pack in the always rugged 2-4A Conference race.

Instead Helena-West Helena is in the thick of the fight with a legitimate shot at the conference crown and a chance to host an opening round playoff game when they take on the Stuttgart Ricebirds (4-3, 3-1). The two teams are currently tied for the second in the conference. The loser of this game will probably have to battle for a playoff spot in the state playoffs.

Few preseason Arkansas high school football prognosticators would have envisioned that the Central Cougars and the Barton Bears would be 6-1 as week 8 of the gridiron season approaches. Hooten's Arkansas Football picked the Cougars to be in the middle of the pack in the always rugged 2-4A Conference race.

Instead Helena-West Helena is in the thick of the fight with a legitimate shot at the conference crown and a chance to host an opening round playoff game when they take on the Stuttgart Ricebirds (4-3, 3-1). The two teams are currently tied for the second in the conference. The loser of this game will probably have to battle for a playoff spot in the state playoffs.

The Cougars are coming off an impressive defensive performance on Homecoming night in which they blanked the Lonoke Jackrabbits 6-0. It was the first time that the Cougar defense pitched a shut out since 2012.

Terrance Calhoun provided the Cougars only offensive spark of the night with a 5-yard touchdown run with just 36 seconds left to play in the first half.

Stuttgart pounded the Riverview Raiders 52-22 last Friday. The Raiders are the Cougars only loss to date. The Ricebirds' only conference loss of the season came at the hands of Batesville Southside on Sept. 22.

The Ricebirds were preseason favorites to win the 2-4A Conference. They tied for the title last fall with Heber Springs, a team they defeated earlier this season. Stuttgart's 8-4 record in 2016 included a 24-21 overtime victory over Monticello in the opening round of the playoffs and a 24-14 loss to Warren in the second round.

Stuttgart won last year's meeting, 19-6.

The schedule doesn't get a whole lot easier for the Cougars with a trip to Southside Batesville and the home regular season finale against Heber Springs.

Hooten's picked Barton to finish seventh among the 2-3A's eight teams. To date, they have pulled stunning upsets over Harding Academy and last Friday against Bald Knob.

It will be Homecoming night for the Bears against the Episcopal Wildcats (1-6, 0-4). The Bears held off a Bald Knob Bulldog squad that simply refused to roll over and die. It took a 3-touchdown performance by running back Bradly Smith to get the hard-earned victory. The Bears also got some big yardage out of backs Wanya Wilkins and Devin Olloway.

Several of Barton's touchdowns were of the big play variety with all six touchdowns coming off plays that covered 50 or more yards.

Episcopal fell to Marianna 42-35 a week ago.

In 2016, the Wildcats recorded a 1-9 campaign and followed the playoffs from home.

Barton shut out the Wildcats a year ago, 48-0 at Little Rock. The Bears remaining schedule includes Cedar Ridge on Oct. 27 and Rose Bud on Nov. 2.

In games featuring other Phillips County high schools, Clarendon (1-5,1-3) visits Marvell (0-5, 0-4), DeSoto (3-4, 0-1) travels to Marianna to take on Lee Academy (4-2, 0-1); and Marvell Academy draws an open date.

All kick-offs are set for 7 p.m.