By CHRIS BABB | The Arkadelphian
MALVERN — A dominant defensive effort combined with a solid effort offensively was the recipe for a big Arkadelphia win Saturday, as the Badgers completed an undefeated regular season with a 49-13 win over the Malvern Leopards at Claude Mann Stadium in Malvern.
The Badgers (8-0, 5-0) won the program’s first outright 4A-7 conference title since 2013, retained the Ouachita River Rumble Championship belt and secured the top seed from the 4A-7 and home field in the playoffs until the semifinals with the win. The Badgers will host the Clinton Yellowjackets next Friday in the first round of the 4A State playoffs on AllCare Field at Badger Stadium.
Malvern (7-2, 4-1) will be the second seed from the 4A-7 and will host Pottsville Friday night in the first round at Claude Mann Stadium.
The game started as most thought it would, with two potent offense putting points on the board and rather quickly. The Badgers took the ball down the field on their first possession and scored on a 26-yard run from quarterback Donovan Whitten on fourth down and 1 with 10:32 left in the first quarter.
The Leopards responded on their first drive as junior running back Jalen Dupree capped off the drive with a two-yard scoring plunge to make the score 7-6. Arkadelphia senior defensive lineman Max Wilson blocked the extra point to keep the advantage in favor of the Badgers.
After the two defenses forced punts, the Badgers found the end zone again late in the first quarter. Facing a first-and-25 situation from the Leopard 29 yard-line, Whitten placed a ball over the shoulder of senior receiver LaTonnieo Hughes who caught up to the pass and hauled in the catch in stride at the four and kept his stride into the end zone. Broc Currey – who was a perfect seven-for-seven on extra points on the day – knocked through his second PAT to give the Badgers a 14-6 lead.
The Badgers added two scores in the second half to take a 28-6 lead into the halftime break. The first was a 23-yard pass to Carter Babb after Whitten rolled left to the wide side of the field and hit Babb near the sideline. Babb avoided the Malvern defender and jogged into the corner of the end zone that was filled with the overflow Badger crowd.
The second of the two second-quarter touchdowns was highlight-reel material from Whitten to senior receiver Tripp Campbell.
On first down from the Malvern 25 yard-line, Whitten rolled to the right out of the shotgun formation, only to have a Leopard defender in quick pursuit. Whitten spun away from the defender, quickly regained his balanced, planted his feet and threw a jump ball into the end zone to Campbell, who used all of his six-foot-plus frame and long reach to outjump and outreach the Malvern defensive back in the end zone for the touchdown.
With the Badgers holding the 22-point lead at halftime, the Leopards needed to get points on the board in their first second-half possession.
But the Badger defense had other thoughts.
The Badgers forced a three-and-out and got a good rush on Malvern quarterback and punter Cedric Simmons.
Arkadelphia responded, despite having a touchdown called back for a penalty. Whitten found Campbell in the middle of the Malvern secondary for two big gains and sophomore Kyle Reed capped off the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run. Currey’s extra point gave Arkadelphia a 35-6 lead with 9:27 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Leopards did manage to get into Badger territory, but penalties on both teams forced the ball to go back and forth between midfield and the Badger 35 yard-line. On second down from the Arkadelphia 46 yard-line, Simmons looked to go deep to Dyelon Caradine on a post route, but Hughes jumped the route and intercepted the pass at the Badger 20 yard-line, thwarting the Leopard scoring attempt.
The return to the 35 set up the Badgers with 65 yards to go, which sometimes has only taken a few plays or seconds. The possession started with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter and the Badgers used almost six minutes off the clock on the drive that ended with a touchdown run from DeAngelo Buckley. The touchdown and Currey’s extra point gave Arkadelphia a 36-point lead and initiated the AAA Sportsmanship Rule which meant a running clock would be in play for the rest of the game.
Malvern’s second touchdown of the game came on the next Leopard possession as he hit Caradine on a 5o-yad scoring strike which would be the last Leopard score of the game. Arkadelphia’s second team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter after Buckley scored his second touchdown of the game, set up by a big pass from junior quarterback Javion Garner who escaped pressure to the left side and threw across the field to junior receiver Tristan Smith for a big gain.
The Badger defense, which was the story in Arkadelphia’s win at Ashdown two weeks ago, again had a huge part in Saturday’s big win.
Dupree came into the game averaging over 200 yards rushing and over 10 yards per carry, but was held to 97 yards rushing on 17 carries for a 5.7 yard-per-carry average.
The defense also forced and recovered one fumble as the defensive line converged on Simmons near midfield and got the Hughes interception for the other turnover forced. Arkadelphia’s offense committed no turnovers in the game.
Whitten completed 13 of 20 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing seven times for 44 yards and one touchdown.
Campbell was the favorite target on the day, catching five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Hughes added three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.
The Badgers had 428 total yards of offense: 265 through the air and 163 on the ground.
In addition to Dupree’s 97 yards rushing, Simmons was 11 of 23 through the air for 147 yards and one touchdown with the one interception and rushed for 38 yards on nine carries. The Leopards totaled 321 yards of offense on the day.
4A-7 week 10 results
Arkadelphia 49, Malvern 13
Mena 28, Waldron 21
Nashville 36, Lonoke 35
4A-7 Final Standings
Arkadelphia 5-0 8-0
Malvern 4-1 7-2
Nashville 3-2 7-3
Ashdown 2-3 6-3
Mena 1-4 4-5
Waldron 0-5 2-6
4A state playoff seeds, first-round games
1) Arkadelphia home vs. Clinton (5th seed from 4A-4)
2) Malvern home vs. Pottsville (4th seed from 4A-4)
3) Nashville at Bauxite (3rd seed from 4A-4)
4) Ashdown at Lonoke (3rd seed from the 4A-2)
5) Mena at Ozark (2nd from 4A-1)