Most fans attending Conway High’s football game Friday night probably awakened Saturday dizzy and numbed from one of the most exciting and craziest games ever played at John McConnell Stadium.
"Did you see that game last night?" was a common lead-in to conversation in several areas of town.
The Wampus Cats prevailed over Fort Smith Southside, 54-47, in a game that was finally decided inches away from the Conway goal line in the first overtime. With the way the fourth quarter was played, there could have been many more.
The two teams haven’t played basketball games with this type of scoring and up and down excitement.
This was the stereotypical heavyweight fight with the final rounds featuring guys slugging away at each other with the crowd on their feet.
"The best thing about it was we kept getting pounded and pounded and pounded and we just kept getting back up," said Conway quarterback Andrew Hreha, who scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run in overtime.
Just the fourth quarter was one of the craziest ever played in Conway. The teams combined for 53 points, 498 total yarew and the lead changed hands six times in the final 9:00 of regulation.
The Cats seemed to have things in hand when they took a 44-41 lead with 1:21 left. Then, Southside seemed to have things wrapped up when it responded to take a 47-44 lead with 41 seconds left. But as fate would have it for bonus football, the PAT attempt bounced off the upright, leaving Conway an opening with timeouts. After the Mavericks’ first touchdown they went for two and failed.
Those three lost points came back to haunt them.
Jordan Wicks, fresh off the baseball team who hasn’t missed a placement or field goal all season, hit a 42-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to send the game into overtime.
"Every Wednesday, coach (Clint) Ashcraft tries to prepare me for things like this," said Wicks. "He gathers the whole team around me and they chant and chant and put pressure as I try to kick in situations like this. We practice this enough that I know the line is gonna protect, the snap is gonna be good, the placement will be down and all I have to do is put it through the uprights."
The game went back and forth for two main reasons. Southside couldn’t stop Conway running back Michael George, who ran behind a dominant offensive line and had a couple of Peyton Hills type runs in which in carried several defenders as he pushed ahead. Conway had no consistent answer for Southside quarterback Taye Gatewood, who is one of the best dual-threat athletes in the state.
George rushed for 352 yards on 31 carries, scored four touchdowns and helped set up both Wicks’ field goal and Hreha’s decisive run. "Our offensive line knows that if he gets the ball and they can do their job, good things are going to happen," said Conway coach Clint Ashcraft, whose team has a three-game winning streak going into a key game this week at North Little Rock.
Gatewood passed for 335 yards and ran for 120 more, accounting for six touchdowns.
The Cats nailed him for a safety, resulting from good kickoff coverage, and stopped him inches short of the goal on fourth down in overtime.
"I think winning this way is better than winning by 40," said Wicks, noting the Cats trailed 20-7 at halftime. "It gives us confidence that we can come back from adversity."