Neither the scoreboard clock nor the Conway Wampus Cats came out functioning well to start Friday night’s game at Centennial Bank Field at John McConnell Stadium. That eventually changed, and the Wampus Cats erased a 10-point deficit to claim a 20-17 come-from-behind win over North Little Rock.
"That’s a big win coming from behind like that against a quality team," said Clint Ashcraft, whose Cats improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in 7A-Central Conference play.
Conway trailed for nearly three-fourths of the game until Ben Tusson returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the third quarter. A 22-yard field goal by Ivan Pelayo with 2:19 left in the game then gave the Cats their first lead and eventual win.
"I was very proud of Ben," Ashcraft said. "He’s battled through a lot with injuries and all and been a great player. It was good to see something good like that happen to him."
The victory keeps Conway at the top of the conference standings. Bryant and Little Rock Central are both also 2-0 in league play.
Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Cats cut the deficit in half when Cordarius Irby scored on a 3-yard touchdown run at the 4:02 mark in the third. Pelayo added the PAT to trim the lead to 17-10.
The Conway defense, which turned up the intensity in the second half, was able to keep the Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) at bay from there. But, that’s not how things started.
"The first two quarters were very good, almost flawless," said North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding, a former Mayflower coach and a son of former Conway athletic director Buzz Bolding. "I was really disappointed in the second half. We just made too many mistakes."
Even with the scoreboard clock not working for most of the first quarter, the Wildcats were running fine. North Little Rock took advantage of multiple Conway miscues, including two on punt attempts.
The Wildcats scored first when a bad snap on a Cats’ fourth-down play gave North Little Rock the ball just 24 yards away. Kendall Williams gained 22 of those yards on the ensuing play, and two plays later, Kaylon Cooper scored from one yard out.
On the next Conway possession, the Wildcats blocked a punt, which eventually led to a 27-yard field goal from Parker Fleming to give the Wildcats a 10-0 lead with 11:10 remaining in the first half.
"In the first half, (North Little Rock) played lights out, and I thought our kids were lethargic," Ashcraft said. "That just flipped in the second half."
The Cats finally got on the board when Pelayo kicked a 22-yard field goal at the 1:29 mark in the second.
A solid running game from Conway helped add to the tale of two halves. Irby gained 54 of his 78 yards after halftime, including his touchdown run. Quarterback Tyler Langley, who finished 16-of-28 passes for 156 yards, completed more passes (12-of-16) after halftime.
"It comes down to execution in the second half," Bolding said. "That’s what we didn’t do. We failed to execute."
On the other hand, the Cats came out with more intensity and poise after halftime. Whether it was adjustments are some coach prodding, there were marked improvements in the final two quarters.
"Our kids never quit trying," Ashcraft said. "They just needed something to spark them."
Conway returns to action next week at Little Rock Central.