Chris Murray: Arkansas High School Football – 3 Champs Crowned, 3 Remain


One week later than scheduled, half of the Arkansas high school football championships have been decided. After an early December ice storm forced a postponement, the teams took an extra seven days to prepare.

The most exciting of the three was Saturday afternoon’s Class 5A state final, in which Morrilton held on for a 27-24 win over the Batesville Pioneers in a chaotic finish at War Memorial Stadium.

Batesville, which scored a touchdown with 3:34 left, got an interception and moved inside the Morrilton 20 in the final minute. Quarterback Kenton Crawford was sacked by Bobby Foster with three seconds left. The Pioneers were out of timeouts, but the clock stopped due to a penalty.

The Pioneers rushed the kicking team onto the field, but Osvaldo Espericueta’s potential game-tying kick from 37 yards out was wide left, as Batesville (11-3) fell in the state finals for the third straight season. Jalen Haynes rushed for a game-high 135 yards.

Morrilton (12-2) was led by dual threat quarterback Toney Hawkins, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for a score. Hawkins was named Most Valuable Player. Morrilton won its third state championship, ending a 40-year drought.

In Class 6A, the El Dorado Wildcats edged conference rival Pine Bluff 31-24 on Saturday to claim the Class 6A state championship in front of a massive crowd from Lower Arkansas.

El Dorado mostly dominated the line of scrimmage, but Pine Bluff (9-4-1) scored touchdowns on defense and special teams. The Zebras moved into El Dorado territory in the final minute. On fourth and 19, quarterback Ladarius Skelton scrambled near the first down marker, but came up inches short.

MVP Clayton Waldrum passed for 229 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another for the Wildcats, who won the state title for the fourth time in five years. El Dorado (9-5) won three straight Class 6A from 2009-2011 before Greenwood won it in 2012.

Pine Bluff came up short in the finals for the second consecutive year. Romar Reades’ incredible individual performance sparked the Zebras. Reades raced 46 yards for a score in the first quarter as Pine Bluff built a 10-0 lead. He blocked a field goal just before half, and teammate Greg Harvey returned it 52 yards to cut El Dorado’s lead to 24-17. In the fourth quarter, Reades sacked Waldrum in the end zone, and recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

Friday night’s Class 7A final between Bentonville and Cabot was played in the most miserable of conditions. With a steady rain and temps in the mid-30s, attendance was down as the Tigers pulled away in the second half for a 39-28 win.

Kasey Ford completed 11 of 18 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers (11-2), who overcame a 14-10 first-half deficit. Bentonville lost to conference rival Fayetteville in both the 2011 and 2012 title games, but would not be denied in its fourth straight trip to the finals.

Cabot (12-1) took a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter on Zach Launius’ 1-yard scoring run. Bentonville scored the next 22 points to seize control. The Panthers, who were trying to win their first state title since 2000, got within 32-21 on Launius’ four-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But the Tigers recovered the onside kick and Hekili Keliiliki capped it with an 18-yard touchdown on fourth down. The championship is Bentonville’s fourth in 13 years in the state’s largest classification. For Cabot, Launius finished with 39 carries for 179 yards and three touchdowns, and passed for a score, but also had a pair of costly fumbles.

That leaves us with the title games from the three smaller classes in Arkansas high school football.

Class 4A: Warren vs. Booneville, 7 p.m. Friday. These two conference winners appeared to be on a collision course after the Lumberjacks knocked off Arkadelphia on Nov. 29. Warren held off a feisty Valley View squad last week to punch its ticket for Little Rock.

Booneville seems to be only getting better each week. The Bearcats blanked Lincoln in the quarterfinals, and then went to Pine Bluff and hammered Dollarway, 43-14, in the semis. Warren defeated Booneville 45-39 to win the Class 4A state title in 2001, and the Bearcats have not been back to War Memorial Stadium since.

Class 3A: Charleston vs. Glen Rose, 6:30 p.m. Saturday. This meeting of past state champs will close out the 2013 season Saturday night. Glen Rose, the 2007 champ, got to the finals by averaging more than 50 points per game in the playoffs. The Beavers thumped Smackover, 54-24 in the semifinals.

Charleston, 2011 and 2008 state champ in 3A, and 2005 Class 2A champ, walloped Harding Academy in a highly anticipated quarterfinal game in Searcy. The Tigers then disposed of Earle, 46-8, in the semifinals. With Arkansas-committed quarterback Ty Storey leading a high-powered offense, fans could be treated to a shootout.

Class 2A: Des Arc vs. Junction City, noon Saturday. Many were anticipating a Junction City-Bearden rematch in the finals. Someone forgot to tell the Des Arc Eagles. Facing a Bearden team that had yet to allow a point in three playoff games, Des Arc turned the tables, needing only a first-quarter touchdown to knock off Bearden.

The Dragons are seeking their fifth state title in 11 years. They will be without standout defensive end Jamario Bell, who was ejected in their 38-28 win last week over Carlisle, but Junction City is loaded with talent, and this could be another nail-biter.

Complete brackets are available for your review at the bottom of the post at this link.

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