Camden Fairview head coach Buck James, who had knocked on the door of a state championship twice with the Cardinals in the past three years, said his halftime speech to his team “would have been banned in 49 states.”
Fairview, which fell in the Class 5A title game to Monticello in 2009 and then saw the 2010 title taken in the final three minutes by Greenwood after the Cards had a 14-point lead, didn’t even appear to belong in this one, trailing Batesville 10-0 at the half.
“We were matching their effort,” James said of some of the nicer moments of his halftime urging. “I told the guys, I don’t mind if you get beat if they are the better team, but we’re just not even competing.”
It took only two plays of the second half for Fairview to start playing like the same team that opened the season with a thrashing of three-time 6A titlist El Dorado and won 12 more in a row. Junior quarterback Matt Ollison floated a pass up the left sideline for Braxton Hoof, who outfought the defensive and shed the tackle near midfield, then streaked the distance for a 77-yard scoring play.
That began a 28-point second half surge that sent Camden Fairview to its first-ever state championship, 28-10, Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. It was the first state title for the Southwest Arkansas city since Camden High won in 1952. Camden High and the more rural Fairview High merged more than two decades ago.
Ollison went back to work two series later, lobbing up another pass on a trick play in which all the Cardinals linemen and backs stood and didn’t move as the ball was snapped. Batesville didn’t completely get caught napping on the play, but the athletic Deion Holliman still came up with the ball near the right sideline and turned it into a 45-yard catch and run to the Batesville 5. Three plays later from the 8-yard line, Ollison flipped a short toss to tailback Jamie Smith, who beat the defense to the right end zone pylon. Holliman scored on an inside trap on the two-point conversion (Fairview missed its first PAT) for a 14-10 lead with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Batesville could get little going against a fierce Fairview pass rush led by sophomore Connor Clayborn, who had three of Fairview’s seven sacks. The Pioneers’ only real chance in the second half, following a short punt and a late hit out of bounds on the return, ended in one snap when safety Markel Jones intercepted Jacob Hardin’s pass from the Fairview 44 with half the fourth quarter left.
The Cardinals then put it away with an 83-yard drive capped by Holliman’s 37-yard spring through left tackle on the inside trap play.
Still 4:44 remained and James was well aware that his Cardinals had let a two-score lead slip away here two years ago against Greenwood.
This time, though, the Fairview defense was relentless, pressuring Hardin and turning the ball back over to the offense at the Pioneers’ 35. Holliman wrapped it up with yet another score through the left side, 31 yards, with 2:22 to go.
“The big plays were the difference,” Batesville coach Dave King said.
The Cardinals then celebrated with Khiry Neal, the player who was left paralyzed in the summer drills of 2010 due to a staph infection. Neal had been hospitalized but was allowed to sit in the pressbox and then the sideline at the 2010 final when it appeared his teammates were about to win, but then lost the 2010 title. He was back on the sidelines on this night, and after the game the players and cheerleaders all surrounded him on the sideline while the large crowd from Camden cheered “Khiry, Khiry.”
Ollison earned Most Valuable Player honors for the game. Generously listed at 5-10, the junior completed 10 of 12 passes for 222 yards. Holliman, also a junior, had 69 yards rushing on three carries and 55 yards receiving on three catches.
Batesville’s Hardin was under duress most of the game. He completed 14 of 31 passes for 162 yards. He and Wesley Rudd combined to move the Pioneers to their only touchdown on their second possession, picking on Fairview’s small cornerback, Trevion Berry. Rudd caught a 31-yard pass over Berry to move the ball to the Fairview 17, Then, on a third-and-21 pass from the Cards 28, Hardin went high to Rudd again in the end zone for the score.
The 7-0 lead seemed sure to hold up through halftime before Fairview penalties and clutch receptions by the Pioneers gave Osvaldo Eepericueta a chance at a 47-yard field goal, which he nailed with 2 seconds left in the half.
But after halftime the Pioneers managed just three first downs and 32 total yards. Fairview, meanwhile, piled up 274 yards in the second half.
And Buck James joined rare company as one of the few Arkansans to win a state championship as a player (1981 at Jefferson Prep in Pine Bluff) and as a head coach. He was part of the coaching staff at Monticello in 1994 that also claimed a state title. Coincidentally, Camden product Bob Gatlin won a state title as a player in 1950 and as a coach for Fort Smith Southside in 1983.