Class 2A Championship: Junction City’s Prayer Answered In 27-26 Win Over Bearden

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Junction City found another way to break arch-rival Bearden’s heart in the Class 2A state championship game.

Dorian Evans caught a tipped “Hail Mary” pass in the end zone, a 30-yard scoring toss from quarterback Shaquille Hunter, as the Dragons pulled out a miracle win over Bearden on the last play of the game, 27-26, on Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

And, if this can be believed, the tip and catch was all by design, said veteran Junction City head coach David Carpenter as he celebrated a fourth state title and his first since back-to-back crowns in 2008-09. Hunter barely got the clock killed with nine-tenths of a second left when he failed to run out of bounds on a second-down scramble and the Dragons out of time outs. Then he heaved a pass in the direction of JarKell Brown, who was defended by Bearden’s Quentin Wilson about two yards deep in the end zone, in line with the right hash marks.

“If [Brown] didn’t have a chance at a good grab on the ball, he’s supposed to tip it over. That’s what he did,” Carpenter said.

Dorian Evans catches the game winner for Junction City

With less than a second left in the game, senior Dragon Dorian Evans plucked a pass out of the air giving Junction City a one point victory over the Bearden Bears. The 27-26 win Friday night in War Memorial Stadium gives the Dragons their fourth 2A State Championship. Unable to stop Evans was junior Bear Quentin Wilson. Photo © 2012 Rhonda Sharp


As players were all converging near the football, Evans wasn’t covered, standing just a few steps to the right of Brown and Wilson, and about halfway into the end zone. The tip went directly to him.

Hunter, who said he wasn’t looking at the clock when he got his team to the line for the last-second spike, said of the last pass: “We work on it every day.” Junction City rarely has to rely on it, however.

Carpenter had named the play simply enough: “We call it ‘Hail Mary.'”

Call it also a prayer answered. Bearden players and fans must wonder what they’ve done wrong to deserve such a finishing dagger like they experienced Friday night.

Then, stunned disbelief reigned for the next few moments. Junction City beat Des Arc with a last-second field goal in 2008 for a title, but it was nothing like this, downing its fiercest rival. Junction City outlasted Bearden and Defonta Lowe for the 2009 crown, and the programs regularly fight it out in Class 2A-8. When Bearden finally bested Junction City the past two years in league play, the Bears couldn’t finish the deal in the playoffs; 2A-8 member Strong surprisingly won the 2011 state title. Friday night’s loss was the third runner-up finish for the Bears since 2007 and first for second-year head coach Ernie Horstkamp.

Bearden,  dressing 18 sophomores, had its own stunning touchdown to take the lead with 53 seconds to play. On a fourth-and-8 from the Dragons’ 35, quarterback Jamond Young escaped heavy pressure in the backfield, darted toward the right sideline and suddenly found clear sailing for the go-ahead score..

Without a place-kicker, the Bears failed for the third time on fourth two-point tries, leaving the score 26-21. Young had taken the Bears 71 yards in seven plays, covering 1:35.

The teams combined for 25 points in the fourth quarter and 46 in the second half after a defensive slugfest in the first half, in which Evans’ 38-yard touchdown reception from Hunter in the second quarter was the only score. Junction was stopped twice on fourth downs deep in Bearden territory in the first half.

Bearden opened up its offense with Young’s accurate passing to begin the second half and scored in three plays, with Young passing 45 yards to Wilson for the touchdown. On the Bears’ second possession, Young kept on a cutback up the middle for the final 16 yards and Zach Craig carried the 2-point run across for a 14-7 Bears advantage. Two impressive catches by Zach Craig highlighted a 73-yard drive.

Dragons sophomore JaQwis (jah-KWEES) Dancy, voted the game’s most valuable player, shocked the crowd with a Joe Adams-like punt return of 72 yards to even the score late in the third quarter. Dancy slipped the first tackle attempt as he headed toward the left sideline, cut across the field and juked six potential tacklers in the process, then shook off two last tackle tries inside the 20 as he finished a stunning runback. JarKell Brown’s PAT — he was 3-for-3 — tied the game at 14.

Young barreled through tacklers on a 6-yard rush through the right side to finish a 10-play, 80-yard drive to put Bearden back on top 20-14, but Dancy’s 44-yard kickoff return set up the Dragons for a 47-yard drive that Hunter capped on a 1-yard sneak over left guard. Brown’s PAT put the Dragons back up 21-20 and set up the fireworks over the last 2:28 of the game.

After an opening game lost to 3A Earle 14-7, Junction City ran off 14 wins in a row. Bearden dropped a 34-6 opener to Camden Harmony Grove and a 20-14 game to Junction City in week three, when Young was injured, and then ran off 11 straight, finishing 12-3.

“[Young] was the difference for them tonight compared to our first game with them,” Carpenter said. “They are so explosive. I didn’t expect it to be a defensive game.”

Instead, it turned out to be a game in which it paid to have the ball last.

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