By Chase Hartsell
The Greenbrier faithful are breathing a sigh of relief following a tight victory over Arkadelphia Friday night. Despite a strong comeback from the Badgers (1-2) in the second half, the Panthers (3-0) managed to hold on for the 55-47 win in their home opener at Don Jones Stadium.
In a rematch of their excellent bout from the year prior, the Panthers took the lead after making a defensive stop in the red zone on the Badgers’ first drive of the game. Greenbrier would hold on to that lead throughout the rest of the game, despite several responses from a potent Arkadelphia offense. Perhaps the closest of these calls came after the Badgers went on a 20-0 run in the second half, bringing the lead from 22 to just two points. The teams would go on to trade scores before the Panthers ran out the clock, adding a final touchdown as time expired to provide the final result.
In a game filled with plenty of offense, the performance of Greenbrier’s Cooper Wilcox stood out above the rest. The Panthers’ senior quarterback, who had scored six combined touchdowns in the team’s first two contests, posted seven total touchdowns against the Badgers to go along with 272 passing yards and 133 rushing yards. Among the dual-threat quarterback’s standout plays was a 41-yard running score to open the second half and a late fourth-down touchdown pass to senior wideout Thatcher Strack in the corner of the end zone (with that play proving to be the winning score of the game). Wilcox’s seventh and final touchdown came on a fourth-down run inside the 10-yard-line as time expired.
Fellow senior Nick Huett also had a great game. The Panthers’ running back tallied 114 rushing yards on 16 attempts, adding Greenbrier’s only other touchdown of the night on the ground.
Despite facing a staunch Greenbrier defense, the Badgers excelled on offense, providing their greatest offensive performance of the season thus far. Arkadelphia posted 47 points, including the aforementioned 20 unanswered points in the second half, against a Panther defense that had allowed just 27 total points to their previous two opponents combined.
Badger running back Jaishon Davis continued to build off his impressive performance against Hot Springs with an even better performance on Friday night. The senior collected 214 (175 rushing, 39 receiving) total yards as well as four touchdowns, both of which serve as season highs. Davis’ four scores included his first receiving touchdown of the year, which came on a 9-yard pass from Badger quarterback Donovan Whitten as Davis was being covered by three separate Panther defenders in the corner of the end zone.
Seconds later, two plays after a perfectly-executed onside kick from Spencer Allen, Davis added a 43-yard touchdown run that saw him beat the speedy Greenbrier secondary in a footrace for the score. Davis completed his hat trick on the first play of the fourth quarter, punching the ball into the end zone from power formation for the 3-yard touchdown run. The play marked the end of a 20-0 scoring run for the Badgers, with all three scores in that span being attributed to Davis.
Facing a stingy Panther secondary, junior quarterback Donovan Whitten also provided his strongest showing of the season thus far. Going 16-for-26 on passing attempts, Whitten accumulated 333 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. The junior also added 35 rushing yards on eight attempts.
Whitten’s performance was matched by exceptional play from the Badgers’ receiving corps. On the night, Arkadelphia had two senior wideouts post more than 130 receiving yards.
The first of these two players was Braylon Bailey, who tallied 132 yards on five catches for two touchdowns. The standout among those two scoring plays proved to be the Badgers’ final score of the game as, on a 2nd-and-28 play, Bailey caught a pass from Whitten in the flats and ran the length of the far sideline for a 56-yard touchdown with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter. Bailey also made a diving catch on a 37-yard connection in the end zone from Whitten for the Badgers’ first touchdown of the game.
Alex Loy was the second Badger to reach the 130-yard mark in receiving. The senior hauled in five receptions for a team-leading 134 yards and a score. His sole touchdown catch was a remarkable one, coming on a 69-yard missile from Whitten as Loy ran a cross route perfectly to make the play and pick up the score. Following Davis’ first second-half touchdown, Loy also leaped up to recover the onside kick that led to the continuation of what would become a 20-0 scoring streak for the Badgers.
Junior wide receiver and cornerback Latonnieo Hughes contributed to Arkadelphia’s efforts through the air with two catches for 23 yards. Hughes also provided notable plays in the secondary and on special teams, including the game’s opening kick return. On that play, Hughes found open space early before dragging multiple tacklers down with him at the Badgers’ 46-yard line.
In spite of the losing decision, Arkadelphia head coach Trey Schucker was proud of how his team responded to the halftime deficit.
“I challenged them at halftime: ‘We’ve got a little bit of adversity. I want to see who is going to step up, make plays, and overcome the adversity.’ I saw that tonight. We battled the whole night,” said Schucker in a postgame interview.
With the win, the Panthers remain undefeated at 3-0, cementing themselves as top contenders for the 5A West heading into conference play. Next week, the Panthers will have a bye before looking to add to their win total the following week against the Morrilton Devil Dogs. That game will take place on September 24th and will serve as the conference opener for both teams.
Following the hard-fought loss, the Badgers fall to 1-2 on the year. As a result, the Badgers will have a losing record in non-conference play for the first time since 2018, which also happened to be the year that Arkadelphia last made a state title run.
Next week, Arkadelphia will have a bye week to rest and prepare for a return to Badger Stadium for the 2021 conference opener against Nashville. The Scrappers are 2-1 on the year and are coming off back-to-back victories over 5A opponents, including a 41-27 road victory against the De Queen Leopards on Friday. They will have a bye next week as well, with their matchup against Arkadelphia also serving as their conference opener. Kickoff for the Scrappers-Badgers game is set for September 24th at 7:00 p.m., and it will be available for livestream on arkadelphiabadgertv.com.