Trail hoping to improve on positives from 2017 season

The Forrest City Mustangs football season didn’t end quite the way head coach Rich Trail would like to have seen.

The Mustangs lost to Blytheville 40-22 last week in a game that for the first time in several years, had no bearing on either team’s bid for a Class 5A state playoff berth.

Both teams had already been eliminated from that part of the season before they kicked off to begin the game.

Nine of the last 11 conference meetings between Blytheville and Forrest City have decided if either team would make the playoffs, and if so, which seed they would carry into postseason.

Both teams ended at 3-7 overall and tied for fifth place in the final 5A-East standings.

Both teams were picked to finish in the top four of the conference in the preseason polls released in August.

Turnovers hampered the Mustangs in the loss to Blytheville.

“We had trouble holding on to the football,” Trail said. “Credit Blytheville too, they did a good job of getting to us and stripping the football. Personally, I feel like the refs should have blown their whistles a little quicker at times, but in the final analysis, that wouldn’t have changed the final outcome. But you still have to play the game and not make mistakes.”

There were positives that Trail was able to take from the loss.

“I think one big positive was the whole season,” Trail said. “Our guys never gave up. We had a small group of seniors, just eight, and I told them after the game that almost every team we faced this season in the conference was senior heavy, most with 20 or more seniors listed on the roster. That’s tough. You know we had 20-plus seniors a year ago and it played greatly into our success of getting to the state playoffs and ending a 41-year stretch of not winning the first round game, when we defeated Greenbrier. And you have to remember that this group of eight seniors, as juniors last had a lot to do with that success. I thought we were in just about every game except for the Valley View game. These guys deserve credit. They played hard all year and they have plenty to take away.

“And obviously, we look to be senior heavy next season,” Trail added. “Right now we have about 18 on roster and we still could pick up a half dozen more.”

Asked if having to hire an entirely new assistant coaching staff over the summer played a role in the outcome of the season, Trail said it wasn’t anything scheme wise as far as the new coaches coming in with different takes on offense and defense than the previous assistant coaches had.

“I think one thing that hurt us was the process we had to go through in what was a very short window during the summer, to find who we felt were the right coaches for the right fit in our system and the right coaches to work with each other. The entire staff just kind of came in on the fly just before summer drills started and we just basically met and took off. Now, as a staff, we get to put our stamp on what will be our first off season together. I’m excited about that and I know the coaches are too.”

Trail said the immediate goal is to have a set roster by Christmas and to make sure the guys who need to be in off season are.

“I know we have some who will be in basketball and running track and that’s all just part of being a high school athlete,” Trail said. “The good thing about that is those guys will be able to stay in shape.”

Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the first year of the next cycle which runs through 2020, the Mustangs will remain in the 5A-East Conference for football, which will remain unchanged.