When asked why Junction City was able to get to its first state championship game in three years, senior quarterback Shuvasceiaye Frazier pointed to his head coach.
"That guy," Frazier said. "Coach Jones and his offense."
While Frazier -- who has accounted for 35 touchdowns, including 17 passing -- has done his part for the Dragons in 2017, the hiring of Steven Jones as Junction City's head coach was well-received by him and his teammates.
Jones, the quarterback of Junction City's first state championship team in 2003, took over for David Carpenter during the offseason. Carpenter led the Dragons to six Class 2A state championships (2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014).
Jones has the Dragons in the Class 3A state championship game, where they'll face Rivercrest on Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. It's the first time the Dragons are playing in a championship game above the Class 2A level. The Union County school will return to Class 2A for the 2018-2020 Arkansas Activities Association classification cycle.
Rivercrest defeated Junction City 14-13 in last season's Class 3A second round, so when the Dragons learned Friday they were going to play the Colts in the state championship game, Jones said his team was excited.
"Our kids are ready to get back out there," Jones said. "Especially with Rivercrest, the team that knocked us out last season. It left a bad taste in our seniors' mouth. They want another shot at them, so here they are."
Under Jones' direction, Junction City has averaged 47.9 points in 13 games this season. The Dragons have scored at least 30 points in each game, with two 60-point games (64 against McGehee in Week 4 and 60 against Drew Central in Week 10).
Jones spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Searcy. He was the head coach at DeWitt from 2012-2014.
The transition from Carpenter to Jones has worked well for the Dragons. Defensive coordinator Brad Smith continued his work with the Dragons' defense, which allowed Jones to focus on the offense.
"The kids have really bought in to what I presented to them at the beginning of the year," Jones said. "I knew the coaching staff coming in already, so that helped out a lot. We changed a little bit offensively, but it's been a smooth transition."
Senior running back Hishmma Taylor (2,450 yards, 28 touchdowns) believes Jones and Carpenter are similar.
"Coach Jones knows what he's doing," Taylor said. "Coach Carpenter was the same way. They both have found a way to win."
The Dragons won 50-14 at Fordyce on Oct. 27 to clinch the 6-3A Conference championship, and that's when Jones believed his team could make a run at the state championship.
The Dragons, who had a first-round bye, have had three close games in the Class 3A playoffs. They defeated Harding Academy 31-30 in the second round Nov. 17, Clinton 50-43 in the quarterfinals Nov. 24, and Osceola 44-38 in Friday's semifinals.
It's that experience that Jones believes can help the Dragons in Friday's championship game against the Colts.
"It's made our team resilient," Jones said. "You look at those guys in the fourth quarter, and they know we've got a shot to compete. If there's time left on the clock, we feel like we can find a way to win. We've been able to do that."
At a glance
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
At War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock FRIDAY’S GAME CLASS 3A Rivercrest vs. Junction City, 7 p.m. SATURDAY’S GAME CLASS 4A Arkadelphia vs. Warren, noon FRIDAY, DEC. 15 Class 2A: teams TBD, 7 p.m.
STATE SEMIFINAL SCHEDULE
FRIDAY’S CLASS 2A GAMES Salem at Foreman, 7 p.m. Mount Ida at Camden Har. Grove, 7 p.m.
Sports on 12/07/2017