LITTLE ROCK — There’s still some fight in the Conway Wampus Cats.
After a disappointing loss to North Little Rock last week, the Cats regained focus and pitched their second shutout of the season, blanking Little Rock Central 31-0 Friday night at Verizon Wireless Field at Quigley-Cox Stadium. The win, the first in 7A-Central play this season, keeps the playoffs in sight for Conway (2-4, 1-2) after missing the postseason last year.
"I feel like this is the best we’ve played all year," Cats coach Clint Ashcraft said. "I know Central is struggling right now, but I’m proud of the guys for bouncing back."
Both of Conway’s wins have been shutouts. The Cats defeated Class 6A Benton 45-0 in Week 3.
Friday night was a coming-out party of sorts for the Cats’ leading receiver Tristan Eddings. The junior hauled in six catches for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"Tristan is a little ol’ bitty guy, but he plays hard," Ashcraft said. "It was good to get him going."
The Conway offense as a whole got going.
After struggling to do much last week, the Cats offense amassed 402 yards against the winless Tigers (0-6, 0-3). Much of that game as a result of a more balanced attack.
"We had a few mistakes up front, but the offensive line played really well," Ashcraft said. "That was the best they’ve played this year, and that really helped us move the ball."
In a game Ashcraft referred to as a ‘"must-win game," the Cats seemed to be more ready for this contest than their homecoming defeat.
"You could tell our guys were more focused," Ashcraft said. "My fear coming into the game was that we weren’t going to bounce back. But, the guys played hard, and I’m proud of them."
After fumbling on their first possession, the Cats scored 17 points on their next three drives.
A 28-yard field goal by Ben Riner at the 4:52 mark in the first quarter got Conway on the board first.
The Cats defense, which gave Central problems all night, held the Tigers on the next drive and gave the Conway offense the ball back just 43 yards from the end zone.
Runs by Jemarkus Harmon, who had six carries for 98 yards, and Xavier Acklin helped the Cats get in scoring range. Acklin capped the four-play drive with a 6-yard run at the 1:56 mark.
Acklin, who rushed for 90 yards and passed for 181 more, hooked up with Eddings for the first of their two touchdown connections at the 6:32 mark in the second. Riner’s PAT gave Conway its 17-0 advantage.
Neither team did much the rest of the half, but a 2-yard run by Acklin in the third and a 9-yard reception by Eddings in the fourth completed the scoring, as Riner was successful on both PATs.
The Cats made several changes this week in terms of routines and personnel. The full extent of how that will affect the team remains to be seen, but Ashcraft liked what he saw in the first try.
"We had good chemistry with the guys we had on the field," the Conway coach said. "That really gave us a spark."
Timothy Campbell led the Tigers in rushing with just 46 yards on 10 carries. Harmon’s 98 led the Cats. All of those yards came in the first half, as he was held out of the second half after suffering a stinger earlier.
Now the attention turns to Bryant next week, as the Hornets will pay a visit to John McConnell Stadium. Wins from here on out will be more important, as the Cats are in the home stretch of conference play.
Friday night’s performance, though, was a start.
"We’ve got to win more games, but we’re heading in the right direction," Ashcraft said. "Hopefully, this will jump-start us because we’ve got to get rolling."