SPRINGDALE -- Shiloh Christian is looking forward to its rematch with Little Rock Parkview today in the Class 5A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
But for the Saints' senior football players, another opportunity awaits them the next day.
More than a dozen seniors and coaches, including Saints Coach Tucker Barnard, will be departing first thing Sunday morning to participate in several mission trips.
The Saints will scatter to countries such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Peru, Nicaragua and Malawi.
"This is the greater part of the mission," said Barnard, who is 11-2 in his first year at the helm of the Saints and was previously on staff as an assistant from 2004-2011.
The mission trips, which are sponsored by Cross Church, are available for all Shiloh Christian senior students, though no one is forced to go, Barnard said. It just so happens that departure for this year's trips is the day after the Class 5A state championship game.
"Football is really important to us, and I don't want to minimize that," Barnard said. "I'm not trying to act like we're not putting everything we have into this game, because we are. But we also know ... football is a platform for us to share something more important."
Barnard, who is leading a group to Puerto Rico, said all the trips will be different but include Vacation Bible School-like concepts, activities, sports, cleanup projects and other ways to serve.
"What we're going to do in Puerto Rico and all over the world here this next week is we're going to share what Christ has done for our lives individually," Barnard said.
But before departure Sunday, the Saints face the daunting task of taking on the No. 1-ranked Patriots (13-0).
Saints senior running back Bo Williams, who's rushed for 1,875 yards and 37 touchdowns this season, said he is ready after losing 31-21 to the Patriots in last year's state final.
Shiloh Christian reached this year's title game after rallying from a 35-19 halftime deficit last week at Pine Bluff to win 49-41. Williams had a big role in the comeback, rushing for 269 yards and five touchdowns. It's the Saints' fifth straight state final appearance with their only championship coming in 2020 in Class 4A.
"I would just say this team as a whole, I think our biggest attribute is our toughness and grit," Williams said. "I think this team isn't afraid of anybody in the state. You put us up against anybody, you're going to get our best shot at those guys and we're going to prepare the right way and all that.
"We've been in the state title game five years in a row now. We know kind of how this works. There's no moment too big for this team, and I think we're not going to shy away from any competition. You're going to get our best 48 minutes of football on that day."
But Williams also said he is excited about his mission trip to Nicaragua.
"It is a pretty wild concept, even to us," Williams said. "None of us expected it to be so close to the state championship game. We're going to have to go to work when we go down on Saturday. We've been preparing for that for a while now. When you go to Shiloh and it's your senior year, you know that there's a lot of things that go on and it's just a part of it.
"This opportunity is a lot bigger than us and it's a very special opportunity. I'm grateful to be put in the position I am."
Senior offensive lineman Jonas Nantze, who's committed to play football at Oklahoma State, is headed to Puerto Rico with Barnard, teammate Dax Widger and others.
"I'm excited to go change people's lives in another country," Nantze said.
Senior linebacker Cameron Arellano, who recently returned to game action after recovering from a torn ACL, and lineman Mason Harris are headed to Peru.
"I get to spend all this time with the guys I love in a big moment, state championship and everything, and then right from there, I get to spread the love to people I don't know and spread probably more important things like God's word to people I don't know," Arrellano said.
"It's bigger than football," Harris said.