Sports

Strong third quarter lifts Badgers to state semifinals

By CHRIS BABB | For The Arkadelphian

A strong third quarter for the Arkadelphia Badgers provided the separation they needed from the Rivercrest Colts to go on to a 48-13 win in the quarterfinals of the 4A State Football Playoffs Friday night on AllCare Field at Badger Stadium.

The Badgers (11-0) advanced to next week’s state semifinals where they will face the Harding Academy Wildcats Friday, December 2, at First Security Stadium in Searcy. Rivercrest ended its season with a 9-4 record.

The other 4A semifinal will feature two other members of the 4A-7 conference as Malvern and Nashville each used come-from-behind wins to win their quarterfinal games in dramatic fashion. The Leopards and Scrappers will play Friday night in Malvern.

Against Rivercrest, the Badgers held their slimmest halftime lead since they led 7-6 at Ashdown in week eight of the regular season. Arkadelphia led the Colts 21-13 after the teams spent most of the first half going back and forth, answering score for score.

The second half was a different story as the Badgers outscored Rivercrest 14-0 in both the third and fourth quarters, shutting out the Colts in the second half.

Arkadelphia defensive back Michael Brownlee (32) knocks away a Rivercrest pass in the Badgers’ 48-13 quarterfinal win Friday night as Hayden Harper (5), Nick Williams (14) and Rocky Hughes (11) look on. | Patti Goodson/Arkadelphia High School

The Badger defense took advantage of Rivercrest quarterback Cavonta Washington leaving the game in the second quarter due to injury, limiting the Colts’ offense to 113 total yards in the second half. Of those 113 yards, 58 came on the final drive of the game. The Colts were only able to manage 54 yards of offense in its first four drives of the second half.

Offensively, the Badgers scored five touchdowns through the air, but it was the ground game that controlled the second half. Arkadelphia ended the game with 399 total yards of offense with 217 of those yards coming on the ground. The Badgers found success in the run game, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.

Junior running back DeAngelo Buckley ended the game with 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns on eight carries. Junior Kyle Reed rushed 11 times for 80 yards.

Arkadelphia quarterback Donovan Whitten added five touchdown passes to his season total Friday night against the Colts. Whitten ended the game completing 14 of 23 passes for 182 yards and five scores going to four different players.

Although the final score didn’t indicate it, the game was in doubt until midway through the third quarter.

Arkadelphia opened the scoring on its second drive of the game when Whitten found junior receiver Evan Bailey for a 12-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring with 9:16 left in the game. 

The Colts answered quickly when it looked like the Badgers were in a position to take control early in the game on the ensuing possession.

The Badgers held the Colts to negative three yards on the first two plays, but the Colts tied the game on the next play which was the longest of the game.

Washington escaped a rush from the Badger defensive line and threw the ball deep down the right side line, looking for junior receiver Michael Rainer. The Colts’ favorite offensive weapon throughout the season was able to catch the ball in traffic and outrun two Arkadelphia defenders for a 92-yard touchdown pass which tied the game and put Rainer over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season.

After the extra point was good, the game was tied and after each team punted on the next two drives, Arkadelphia responded with a touchdown late in the first quarter and the score would not be tied again.

Whitten capped off a seven-play, 57-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Tripp Campbell who made a toe-tapping catch on the left sideline for the second week in a row, this time for a touchdown to give the Badgers a 14-7 lead with 3:06 left in the first quarter.

The Badgers extended that drive when Whitten found Campbell for 10 yards on fourth-and-9 from the Rivercrest 44 yard-line. It was one of two fourth conversions of 10 yards or more that the Badgers converted on the night to extend drives that ended in touchdowns.

Rivercrest responded again on its ensuing drive, making the game look like a prize fight with both boxers responding punch-for-punch.

The Colts put together a drive that took 6:53 off of the clock and marched 67 yards in 13 plays for another score as Koby Turner scored from three yards out to make the score 14-13 with 9:59 remaining in the second quarter. 

The Colts tried to take their first lead of the game on a trick play on the extra point. Rivercrest had a player walk down the Rivercrest sideline down to the 10-yard line before running onto the field in a wide receiver spot just before the snap. The holder found the receiver in the end zone for two points, but a penalty was called for illegal substitution, taking the points off the board and scooting the Colts back five yards.

On the longer extra point attempt, Arkadelphia’s Nick Williams brought pressure from the left side of the Badger defense, apparently forcing the Rivercrest placekicker to rush the attempt which was pulled to the left of the uprights, keeping the score at 14-13 in favor of Arkadelphia.

The teams traded turnovers on downs, before Arkadelphia was able to get something going on offense to add to their one-point lead, although it was aided by one big play.

The Badgers faced a third-and-15 situation from their 47-yard line. After an offsides penalty moved the Badgers up five yards to the Rivercrest 48, Whitten found sophomore receiver Ja’Quavus Purifoy alone behind the Rivercrest defense for a 46-yard gain down to the Colt 2-yard line.

Whitten hit Purifoy again after he motioned into and out of the backfield for a two-yard score. Broc Currey’s extra point extended the Badger lead to 21-13 which stood at halftime.

The Badgers looked to extend the lead coming out of halftime with the first possession of the second half, but Rivercrest held the Badgers on a fourth-and-one situation on the Colt 29 yard-line, seizing the momentum and giving themselves a chance to draw close or tie the game.

The Badger defense had other thoughts, however, and held Rivercrest to one first down on the drive. Rivercrest was flagged for holding on third and four on a play from the Arkadelphia 44-yard line that would have set Rivercrest up with a first down near the Arkadelphia 10-yard line. The flag set the Colts up with third down and 11 and a deep pass from Rainer was incomplete in traffic, setting up fourth down for the Colts.

The Colts elected to punt and a high snap combined with a punt block call from the Badgers resulted in Nick Williams blocking the Rivercrest punt, setting up the Badgers with a short field at the Rivercrest 32-yard line.

The Badgers took three plays to find the end zone as Whitten connected with senior receiver LaTonnieo Hughes on a post route from the right side of the formation from the 13-yard line for a touchdown. Currey’s extra point gave the Badgers a two-score lead at 27-13 with 6:45 left in the third quarter.

The stretch from the blocked punt through the Colts’ next possession essentially sealed the game. 

Behind by two scores, Rivercrest was forced to go for it on fourth down from their 45-yard line with 16 yards needed for the first down. The Colts lined up in a different formation from what they had shown to that point in the night and tried to catch the Badgers by surprise with a reverse pass. The Badger defense was not fooled and junior defensive back Kelbern Middleton picked off an underthrown pass at the Badger 38-yard line and returned it to the Rivercrest 22 with 4:05 left in the third quarter.

The Badgers put the game away four plays later as Whitten found Purifoy for a 12-yard touchdown pass after rolling out to the right side. Currey’s extra point extended the Badger lead to 21 points with 2:43 left in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was the same as the third with the Badger offense finding the end zone twice and the Badger defense limiting the Colts.

Junior running back DeAngelo Buckley scored on runs of 12 yards and 48 yards in the fourth quarter to set the final score of 48-13.

Game statistics

Badgers headed to Searcy to face Harding Academy

Arkadelphia will head to Searcy to face the undefeated Harding Academy Wildcats next Friday with a trip to War Memorial Stadium and the 4A State Championship game on the line.

Harding Academy came from behind in its quarterfinal game with McGehee, scoring 29 points in the second half to defeat the Owls 29-20. It was the fourth straight season the teams had met in the state playoffs as both just moved to to class 4A in the newest reclassification cycle.

Since both the Badgers and Wildcats are the one-seed from their respective conferences, Harding Academy is the home team by virtue of the rotation of the state play-off brackets. The 1-seed from the 4A-2 rotated to the top of the bracket for the 2022 season.

Just like the Badgers, the Wildcats are 11-0 on the season. Harding Academy has won three straight 3A State Championships before being moved up to 4A for the 2022-24 classification cycle due to the AAA Competitive Equity Factor.

4A-7 FLEXES ITS MUSCLE

The Badgers were one of three teams from the 4A-7 to advance to the semifinals as both Nashville and Malvern won road games in Friday night’s quarterfinals playing 1-seeds – and both in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. Malvern will host Nashville in Friday night’s other 4A semifinal.

MALVERN 27, WARREN 21 – OT

The Leopards trailed Warren 21-0 after the Lumberjacks intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the third quarter. Malvern tied the game at 21 and had a chance to win the game with time running out in regulation. Warren forced and recovered a Malvern fumble inside the Lumberjack 5-yard line with under 20 seconds left on the clock and ran out the clock to send the game to overtime.

Warren wasn’t able to score on its overtime possession, giving the Leopards a chance to win with a score. On third-and-eight, Malvern quarterback Cedric Simmons found wide receiver Dyelon Caradine on an out route in the end zone just inside the boundary for the game-winner.

NASHVILLE 63, ELKINS 62

Nashville overcame 20-point deficits three times in its wild and high-scoring game at Elkins. Scrapper quarterback Sloan Perrin pulled the Scrappers to within one point at 62-61 with a 76-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Scrapper head coach Mike Volarvich elected to go for two and the win and Perrin took the direct snap and found the end zone behind the push of his offensive line to put the Scrappers up 63-62. The Elks tried to keep the kickoff alive with multiple pitches, but the Scrappers fell on a loose ball near midfield to end the game and send the Scrappers to the semifinals.

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