By Chris Babb | The Arkadelphian
Walk-off wins and buzzer-beaters are usually associated with baseball and basketball, but for the Arkadelphia Badger football team Friday night, both were in play.
Trailing 28-21 with four seconds left in the game and the ball on the Hot Springs five yard-line, Badger senior wide receiver LaTonnieo Hughes hauled in a pass from quarterback Donovan Whitten amid tight coverage for a touchdown as time expired, cutting the Hot Springs lead to one point at 28-27.
Badger head coach Trey Schucker immediately signaled to his team that they would go for the two-point conversion and the win instead of attempting an extra point that would send the game to overtime.
On the two-point conversion, senior wide receiver Carter Babb went in motion from the left side of the formation to the right and the play call took advantage of the Trojan defensive alignment, allowing Babb to run a shallow route into the front corner of the end zone where Whitten found him without a Trojan within five yards.
After the catch, the Badger sideline and the huge crowd in the home stands of Henderson State’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium exploded with joy in a scene that was all-too-familiar to Badger fans of years gone by. In the first game for Arkadelphia in that stadium since 2001, the win sealed a comeback win in which Arkadelphia found themselves down 20-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans controlled the game for the majority of the first half, keeping in check an Arkadelphia offense that had gained over 500 yards and scored five touchdowns last week at Camden-Fairview. The Trojans held Arkadelphia to one first-half touchdown which came on a tough run from junior running back DeAngelo Buckley with 7:33 left in the second quarter.
Facing the two-score deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Badger offense began to get in sync. Whitten found Babb behind the Trojan defense for a 58-yard touchdown catch and run to cut the Hot Springs lead to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter.
After the Badger defense forced a turnover on downs, Arkadelphia took its first lead of the night when senior wide receiver Tripp Campbell made an adjustment on a pass from Whitten that was altered at the line of scrimmage. Campbell was able to stop his route and comeback for the ball whereas the Trojan defenders didn’t make the adjustment in time. Campbell was able to wheel around the defenders and find the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown. The point after from senior kicker Broc Currey gave the Badgers their first lead of the night at 21-20 with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter.
With the Badgers holding the lead, the defense kept the momentum on the home side by forcing a second consecutive turnover on downs. The Badger offense, however, couldn’t capitalize and were forced to punt.
Needing a score to retake the lead, the Trojans committed their only turnover of the game on the ensuing possession as quarterback Matthew Contreras was intercepted by Arkadelphia senior linebacker Marveon Berry with just under five minutes remaining in the game. The Badgers’ attempt to increase the lead was thwarted by the Trojan defense and penalties, forcing Arkadelphia to attempt a field goal which was no good.
With new life, Hot Springs took advantage of the opportunity with their backs against the wall, starting a drive with just under three minutes left in the game. With 1:50 remaining and facing a second and six from his own 43 yard-line, Contreras found Octavious Rhodes for a 46-yard completion to the Arkadelphia 11 yard-line. With momentum on the side of the Trojans, head coach Darrell Burnett went for the score and Contreras found Rhodes on the next play on a fade route to the back corner of the right end zone giving Hot Springs a 26-21 lead with 1:21 left in the game. Hot Springs converted the two-point conversion as Contreras found a receiver on an out route to the left side increasing the lead to 28-21.
The Badgers began their eventual game-winning drive on their own 43-yard line after a good kickoff return from Hughes after a pitch from sophomore receiver Ja’Quavus Purifoy. After surrendering two first downs on the drive, the Trojan defense forced Arkadelphia into a fourth and one from the Hot Springs 31 yard-line with under a minute to go.
The Badgers lined up in the heavy package with Whitten under center with defensive linemen KD Young and Kaden Brown behind him and got across the 30 for the first down with a push from behind after Hot Springs held firm on the initial surge.
The fresh set of downs allowed the Badger offense to operate with one timeout left needing 30 yards to go in 30 seconds. Whitten got inside the 20 on first down and Hughes caught a quick pass getting the Badgers to the 10 yard-line. Hot Springs tackled Hughes inbounds, forcing Schucker to use the Badgers’ final timeout of the game with 17 seconds left on the clock.
On second and eight from the Trojan 10 yard-line with no timeouts left, Whitten tried to hit Campbell on a fade route to the back corner of the end zone, but the Hot Springs defender got just enough of a finger on the ball to keep it out of Campbell’s hands.
The play took eight seconds off the clock and on third down Whitten went back to Campbell. The pass was incomplete, but defensive holding was called against Hot Springs as the defensive back initiated enough contact to knock Campbell to the ground.
With seven seconds remaining, the Badgers had a new set of downs, but only time for two plays to score from the Hot Springs five yard-line. Whitten tried to find Buckley out of the backfield on the first play but the ball fell incomplete, setting up the last play of the game with four second left.
With two receivers to each side of the formation and the ball on the right hash, Whitten dropped back and looked to the right side where Hughes was lined up inside of Evan Bailey. Hughes went outside and Bailey went inside and Whitten fired a bullet to Hughes who caught the ball between two defenders and staved off the defenders off to complete the catch and secure the touchdown that set up the game-winning two-point conversion.
The Badgers totaled 465 yards of offense with 277 of those coming through the air and 188 o the ground. In addition to the 277 yards passing, Whitten ran for 131 yards. Hot Springs gained 512 yards of offense. Contreras passed for 278 yards and the Trojans had two receivers finish the game over the 100-yard mark in receiving yards.
Game Notes: Badgers vs. Trojans
4A-7 vs. 5A South
Because of the geography of the two conferences, non-conference matchups between teams in the 4A-7 and 5A South are common. For instance, all of Arkadelphia’s non-conference matchups come against 5A South schools. After two weeks of non-conference action, there have been six games between teams from the conferences and the 4A-7 holds a 5-1 advantage. Next week in 4A-7 vs. 5A South matchups, Arkadelphia hosts Texarkana, Ashdown travels to Hope, Malvern hosts Lakeside and Nashville hosts DeQueen.
Friday night’s win was the 20th win as a head coach for Badger head coach Trey Schucker in just two seasons and two games. In his first year of 2020, Schucker led the Badgers to an 8-2 record. Last season, the Badgers finished 10-4 and reached the semifinals of the 4A State Playoffs.
4A-7 at a glance
Here is how the six schools that comprise the 4A-7 in 2022 stand after the first two weeks of the season: