VILONIA — Vilonia was almost out of gas Friday night when Central Arkansas Christian gave them fuel on a muff.
The Eagles (5-3, 3-2) used the extra octane to surge to a 30-22 victory over the Mustangs at Phillip Weaver Stadium and gain the inside track for 5A-West’s No. 4 playoff spot.
Both teams entered the game with 2-2 league records. The victory puts the Eagles alone in fourth place.
But they were teetering for awhile as the Mustangs zipped down the field for a touchdown with 3.4 seconds left in the first half, then played “Vilonia football” to open the second half, driving 88 yards (all on the ground) in 15 plays, using 7:05 of the clock.
The CAC defense then shut down the Eagles and forced a punt. Jacob Miller recovered the muff at the CAC 35.
The Eagles’ James Sax took a sweep 25 yards for the score, and Griffen Nelson added the extra point to put Vilonia up 23-22 with 10:21 left.
“We got a break and we haven’t had too many this year,” said Vilonia coach Jim Stanley. “That was the turning point. You could see the momentum change.”
The Mustangs, using a double-barreled running attack featuring Jalen Wilkins and Eric Simmons, drove to the Vilonia 33 before Taylor Sweetin knocked down a fourth-down pass.
After a personal foul, Vilonia began a drive on its 12 and proceeded to march 88 yards in 12 plays, consuming 6:04 of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Eric Ebmeyer and fullback Jake Weidmier got most of the yardage with Weidmier getting the biggest gain with a 22-yard romp up the middle.
Ebmeyer scored the touchdown from the 2 to give VIlonia a 30-22 lead with 1:49 left.
David Crune clinched the victory for Vilonia with sacking quarterback Jay Bona on fourth down in the final minute.
“The key to the game was no turnovers,” Stanley said. “If we lose a fumble on any of those drives, it’s over. They had the muff and it was the difference in the game.”
There were only six total possessions in the second half.
The Eagles drove 65 yards for a touchdown on their first possession with Ebmeyer keeping on an option untouched for a 24-yard touchdown with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
CAC evened the score on one play when Bona passed to Johnathan Johnson over the middle and he spun out of a tackle and he found an open field for a 79-yard touchdown.
The Eagles drove 89 yards for their next score, featuring a 22-yard run by Sax and an 18-yard scamper by Zac Mitchell in which he broke and ran through several tackle attempts. Ebmeyer kept 3 yards for the touchdown but Nelson missed the extra point. Vilonia led 13-7 with 9:50 left in the first half.
After Brent Hughes wrapped up Bona for a fourth-down stop, the Eagles got a big run from Mitchell again that led to a 26-yard field goal by Nelson for a 16-7 lead with 2:05 left in the half.
Then, Vilonia seemed to relax on defense and missed several tackles as CAC got back in the game on a weird scoring drive.
The Mustangs drove to second and inches at the Vilonia 23. Sean Lewis tipped a pass and lineman Chase Watson grabbed the ball for a loss of 12 on the completion. Facing fourth and 12, Bona dumped a screen pass to Simmons who spun out of several tackle attemps for 14 yards to the Vilonia 20,
With t he clock ticking down, Bona threw a fade pass to Johnson, who outleaped two Eagle defenders in the end zone for the touchdown with 3.4 seconds left. That brought CAC within 16-14 at the half.
“It was not our best game, but the important thing was the win,” Stanley said.
Weidmier led the Eagle attack with 105 yards on 18 carries. Sax added 76 on 14 carries. Ebmeyer added 43 yards on nine carries.
“They have two really good running backs (Simmons and Watkins) who were tough to stop on their running game,” Stanley said.
Vilonia could clinch a playoff berth with a victory over Morrilton next week.