By CHRIS BABB | The Arkadelphian
ASHDOWN — Friday night was a tale of two halves as the Arkadelphia Badgers turned a 7-6 halftime lead into a 41-12 victory over the Ashdown Panthers thanks to a huge third quarter, a defense that forced four turnovers and an opportunistic second-half offense.
The Badgers moved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play, staying in first place in the 4A-7, a half-game ahead of Malvern which is 3-0 in conference play and was open Friday night. The win set up a November 4 th game that would be for the outright conference championship in Malvern if the Leopards take care of business this Friday at Nashville.
The final score was a perfect example of a final score not being an indication of the entire game as the teams matched drive for drive and defensive stop for defensive stop in the first half. The teams played to a scoreless tie in the first quarter and each team scored a touchdown in the second quarter.
Arkadelphia missed some scoring opportunities in the first half and the only Badger score in the first half came after the Badger defense set up the offense with a short field. Badger defensive lineman Kaden Brown stripped the ball from an Ashdown ball-carrier and senior linebacker Marveon Berry recovered the fumble inside the Ashdown 20 yard-line.
The Badgers capitalized on the turnover and scored on the first play of the second quarter when senior quarterback Donovan Whitten took the snap from under center and used a push from his offensive line and some help from the backfield and ran into the end zone from the one yard-line.
Ashdown’s lone score of the half came on almost the last play of the second quarter as Panther running back Jayden Fricks found the end zone from six yards out with 23 second remaining before halftime. A two-point conversion attempt was no good.
The third quarter was a completely different story.
Whitten hit senior wide receiver Tripp Campbell on two touchdown passes including a big fourth down and four play inside the Ashdown 10 yard-line to give the Badgers a 19-6 lead. In addition to the two touchdown catches, Campbell also caught two passes on two-point conversions in the second half.
Seniors LaTonnieo Hughes and Carter Babb as well as junior running back DeAngelo Buckley all caught touchdown passes in the second half for Arkadelphia. As much as the offense improved in the second half, they were able to extend the lead because of the Badger defense, which forced four turnovers on the night.
In addition to the fumble forced by Williams and recovered by Berry in the first half, the Badger defense intercepted three Ashdown passes in the second half.
Junior defensive back Kelbern Middleton, junior linebacker Tucker Guy and senior linebacker Zane Thomason each intercepted Ashdown passes, setting up the Badger offense for scoring drives. The Badger defense forced numerous Ashdown punts in the second half and shook off a first half that saw Ashdown extend drives on penalties and conversions on a fake punt.