By Chase Hartsell
Avenging a 2019 quarterfinal loss to the Eagles, the Arkadelphia Badgers claimed a dominating 49-21 win over Crossett at Yarborough Field on Friday night to advance to the 4A State Playoff semifinals.
After forcing a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, the Badgers (10-3) marched down the field to take an early 7-0 lead on a 15-yard run from Jaishon Davis on third down. On the ensuing kickoff, Crossett senior Dewayne Ashford recorded an 84-yard return for a score that helped the Eagles (9-4) tie up the game.
Junior quarterback Donovan Whitten and his teammates huddle up with head coach Trey Schucker after Arkadelphia’s quarterfinal win at Crossett on Friday night. Whitten finished the game with over 400 total yards on offense.
From that point on, momentum swung in the Badgers’ favor.
Arkadelphia initiated a 35-0 scoring run that would last until the final three minutes of the third quarter. Facing another late-down situation, the Badgers converted on fourth down as Donovan Whitten found Jaishon Davis out of the backfield for a 6-yard pass, with the senior running back crossing the goal line for the second time in the quarter. Arkadelphia would post two additional scores in the second quarter to take a 28-7 lead at halftime.
After receiving the kickoff to open the second half, Arkadelphia added to the lead with a touchdown run from Latonnieo Hughes, making the score 35-7. After the Badger defense came up with yet another fourth-down stop, Hughes hauled in a scoring strike from Whitten to extend the Badgers’ lead to 42-7, invoking the Good Sportsmanship rule. In the late third quarter and early fourth quarter, the Badgers and Eagles traded scores before Crossett added a final touchdown with 21 seconds left in the game.
Building on an impressive performance against Southside, junior Donovan Whitten proved to be a threat both through the air and on the ground. The dual-threat quarterback completed 17 of his 25 pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns, and he also led the team in rushing with 17 carries for 112 yards and another score.
Proving to be a main contributor on both sides of the ball, Latonnieo Hughes served as the team’s leading receiver while providing key pass breakups in the secondary. The junior ended the night with a final line of seven receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. On that scoring play, Hughes beat the Crossett secondary in a footrace to haul in a 36-yard pass from Whitten in the end zone. He also caught another deep pass from Whitten to help the Badgers convert on a crucial third down early in the third quarter. On the first drive of the second half, Hughes recorded his only carry of the night on a 13-yard run that resulted in a touchdown.
Continuing to make his case, Landers Award finalist Jaishon Davis provided momentum-boosting scores in the first half to help lift the Badgers to the win. The senior running back finished the night with 15 rushes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, which came on runs of 15 yards and three yards, respectively. He added five catches for 45 yards, including the aforementioned 6-yard touchdown reception on fourth down late in the first quarter.
After recording a long score the week before against Southside, Alex Loy secured a 26-yard touchdown pass with 8:16 remaining in the game against Crossett. On the night, the senior corralled three passes from Whitten for a total of 53 yards.
Senior wideout Braylon Bailey provided excellent play on both sides of the ball, rounding out the Arkadelphia receiving corps with three catches for 51 yards.
Providing another efficient postseason performance, senior kicker Spencer Allen went seven-for-seven on PATs.
Facing the Eagles’ dynamic Spread offense, Arkadelphia’s defense turned in perhaps its best performance of 2021. In their most complete effort of the season, the Badger front seven allowed zero net rushing yards from scrimmage in the first half. By the final whistle, the Eagles totaled only 13 total rushing yards.
The Arkadelphia secondary, which was led by the likes of the aforementioned Hughes, gave Crossett senior quarterback Tyrique Jones few options downfield for most of the contest. In the fourth quarter, senior Ollie Ware tracked down the ball after initially giving up a step to a receiver off of the line of scrimmage, recording an important interception deep in Badger territory.
Off of the field, the Badgers benefitted from another factor: a strong away crowd at Yarborough Field. During a postgame interview on Friday, Arkadelphia head coach Trey Schucker commented on what the support of the Badger faithful means throughout the season.
“We’ve got such a big support group at Arkadelphia – it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Our kids feel that, and it gives them momentum and confidence going into these big games. We’re two-and-a-half hours away from home, and we’ve got a full away crowd. It’s just awesome – the environment’s great.”
With Friday night’s victory, Arkadelphia improves to 10-3 while extending its winning streak to eight games. Next week, the Badgers’ streak will be tested when they travel to northwest Arkansas for a semifinal matchup with Shiloh Christian. The Saints secured their spot in the 4A’s final four with 41-7 road win over Rivercrest, with Warren and the 7-4A’s own Robinson claiming the other two semifinal spots. Kickoff between Arkadelphia and Shiloh Christian is set for 7:00 p.m. on Friday, December 3, at Champions Stadium. The game will also be available to stream live on arkadelphiabadgertv.com.