The Conway Wampus Cats just weren’t their normal selves in the second half of Friday night’s Class 7A state quarterfinal matchup with Fayetteville.
After a strong offensive showing in the first half, the Cats had very little after halftime and fell 49-28 to the Bulldogs at Centennial Bank Field at John McConnell Stadium. Prior to the defeat, Conway — which finished the season 8-3 — had been a team that typically had its best performance over the final two quarters.
Not so this time.
"We got flat for some reason after halftime," Cats coach Clint Ashcraft said. "That’s really uncharacteristic for us this season."
The lull came after a 28-28 halftime tie in which the teams combined for 583 yards. Conway managed just 46 in the second half.
"We hit a brick wall," Ashcraft said. "(Fayetteville) picked up where they left off, and we couldn’t get anything going on either side of the ball."
The Bulldogs (10-2), who amassed 557 yards of offense, scored on three of their first six possessions after halftime, including the first of the third quarter — which ended with a 61-yard pass and catch from Austin Allen to Brice Gahagans. A successful PAT from Max Coffin gave Fayetteville a 35-28 lead, and the Bulldogs — who will face Fort Smith Southside next week — never trailed again.
"We really didn’t do anything different in the second half," Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton said. "We just played smarter and tackled better."
The Bulldogs also got a strong performance from Allen, who finished 17-of-34 passing for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Gahagans helped complement the Fayetteville aerial attack with 133 rushing yards on 31 carries, including a pair of touchdowns.
The teams combined for 900 yards and were even, for the most part, over the first two quarters.
"We just got outplayed in the final two quarters," Ashcraft said.
After recovering a fumble late in the third and trailing 35-28, Conway appeared poised to tie the game. However, Tyler Langley’s pass was intercepted by Travon Alexander on the first play of the drive to put the rally plans on hold.
The Bulldogs’ ensuing possession ended with a missed field goal, but the Cats went three-and-out on their next drive. Four plays later, Allen hit Tyler Tuck for a 39-yard touchdown pass to give Fayetteville a 42-28 lead with 9:48 left in the game.
Conway was able to cross midfield just once more, which came on its final possession with the outcome already decided.
"It was a big night shutting down a great offense," Patton said. "We didn’t let the big play get to us like we did in the first half."
While the Bulldogs had their success on the ground, the Cats’ rushing attack was kept at bay. Corven Alexander led Conway with 28 yards rushing.
"Anytime you can make a team become one-dimensional is huge," Patton said.
"They were really crowding the box," Ashcraft said. "It was tough to get a good run game going."
It was tough to get going at all for the Cats.
Alexander recovered a Conway fumble on the first possession of the game and returned it all the way to the 1. Gahagans scored on the very next play.
"We spotted them 7 right out of the gate," Ashcraft said. "They’ve got a very good offense, and you can’t give them a short field like that."
Trailing 14-0, the Cats got on the board when Langley and Brandon Cox, who had 10 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, hooked up for a 46-yard touchdown pass at the 5:36 mark in the first. Langley, who finished 23-of-35 passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns, found Cox again at the end of the quarter for a 42-yard strike on a flea flicker to cut the deficit to 21-14.
Fayetteville led 28-14 until a 2-yard touchdown run by Cordarius Irby and a 22-yard hookup between Langley and Quincey Wardlow tied the game with 43 ticks left in the first half.
That, however, was the last bit of momentum the Cats had.
"We felt good going into halftime and kind of felt like we outplayed them there at the end of the first half," Ashcraft said. "We just couldn’t keep it going."
Rashad Shepherd also had a strong performance for Conway, hauling in five catches for 65 yards. Reid Holmes led the Bulldogs with five receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown, while Brad Culp caught five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.