By Chase Hartsell
Despite an impressive Panther comeback, Arkadelphia ended Ashdown’s undefeated streak with a 33-27 victory at Badger Stadium on Friday.
Feeding off the home crowd, the Badgers (5-3, 4-1) gained early momentum that helped them jump out to a 28-0 lead with just a few minutes gone in the second quarter. Ashdown (7-1, 4-1), however, rallied with a 20-0 scoring run of their own over the course of the second and third quarters. The Badgers responded with a field goal late in the third quarter and a safety midway through the fourth, though the Panthers would once again strike back with a 48-yard Hail Mary pass to draw within a score with 1:32 left in the game. Arkadelphia then recovered an onside kick, eventually running out the clock to hold on for the win.
Quarterback Donovan Whitten led the Badgers to a third straight victory, completing 14 passes in 24 attempts for 160 yards and a touchdown. The junior also ran 15 times for 60 yards and another score.
Alex Loy served as the receiver of Whitten’s sole touchdown through the air, hauling in a precise 33-yard pass in the back of the end zone. The senior wideout finished the evening with three catches that went for a total of 38 yards.
Junior Tripp Campbell returned in triumphant fashion on Friday, leading the team with five receptions and 56 receiving yards.
Senior Braylon Bailey contributed in every aspect of the game, providing notable plays on offense, defense, and special teams. In addition to solid open-field tackles and pass breakups, Bailey added 30 yards through the air on just three touches.
Junior Carter Babb collected two catches for 21 yards to add to Arkadelphia’s receiving corps.
Held in check by a stout Ashdown defensive line, Jaishon Davis appeared to be a key target in the Panthers’ defensive game plan. Still, the senior running back managed to tally 83 yards on 18 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown run with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
Kicker Spencer Allen gave another efficient performance, making all four of his PATs on the night. The senior also drilled a 36-yard field goal that helped the Badgers secure their lead in the second half.
In a game decided by six points, Arkadelphia’s defense proved to be the difference by providing nine points of their own. With just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, senior Alex Turley returned a fumble for 75 yards and a scoop and score. After downing a beautiful Donovan Whitten punt inside Ashdown’s own 1-yard line, the Badgers’ defense added two more insurance points in the form of a safety. Senior Kobe Buckley provided another game-changing stop for Arkadelphia, recording a fourth-quarter interception as the Panthers neared the red zone. Senior Ollie Ware, sophomore KD Young, and junior Marveon Berry, among others, also provided consistent, excellent play on the defensive side of the ball.
After the hard fought victory, Arkadelphia head coach Trey Schucker tipped his cap to the quality of Ashdown’s play as well as his own team’s response to the ups and downs of the matchup.
“[I’m] very proud of our kids for pulling [the win] out,” Coach Schucker said in a postgame interview. “It was a prime example of finding a way to win. We started the game fast; got up on them early. [Ashdown] fought back, and props to them. They had a really good game plan, and they executed really well. They didn’t quit. But our kids responded and [were] able to pull through.”
With Friday night’s loss, the Panthers suffer their first defeat of the season, moving them down to a second-place tie in the conference standings. Next week, Ashdown travels to Robinson, with a victory over the Senators creating a potential three-way tie for first place in the 7-4A.
Following this week’s win, Arkadelphia advances to 4-1 in conference play and 5-3 overall. Their record is currently second-best in the conference, with Friday’s victory giving them the head-to-head advantage in a potential tiebreaker against Ashdown. Next week, the Badgers will look to win their fourth game in a row when they visit conference foe Bauxite. Fresh off of a 56-12 road loss at Robinson, the Miners will seek their first victory over a 7-4A opponent in 2021. Kickoff between Arkadelphia and Bauxite is set for October 29th at 7:00 p.m., and the game will be available to stream live on arkadelphiabadgertv.com.