After Har-Ber and Conway High traded big play for big play Friday night, it came down to inches, feet, yards and hands.
The Wildcats’ 37-27 victory that eliminated the Wampus Cats in the quarterfinals of the 7A playoffs featured a roller-coaster of excitement for fans of both sides.
"I knew it would be a tight, four-quarter game that would come down to which team made the most plays," said Conway coach Clint Ashcraft, who a CHS team lose in the second round for the second straight year.
"It seems we’ve been in this type of game all year," said Har-Ber assistant Don Struebing, a former All-American lineman at UCA. "This was a championship-type game."
Har-Ber, led by quarterback Ryan Luther and receiver Evan Johnson controlled the game the first quarter. The Wampus Cats’ secondary, with Hunter Moix and Jordan Cagle combined for three interceptions to stop drives, took charge in the second quarter. CHS running back JeMarkus Harmon, who had 184 yards on 25 carries, took over the game in the third quarter, particularly after a pinball, bounce-off-every defense 64-yard touchdown run that gave the Cats a 27-23 lead.
Then, Luther, the Wildcats’ large offensive line and defense took over in the fourth quarter.
The game turned after the Cats, who finished 9-2, pulled within 30-27 on a 14-yard run by Harmon with 10:18 left.
A 33-yard pass from Tyler Langley to Tristan Eddings on third and 10 shifted the edge to Conway. The Cats drove to first down at the Har-Ber 39 and suffered a dropped pass in open field. Then, the Wildcat defense swarmed CHS’ Desmond Cox, who was running out of the Wildcat formation, on fourth-and-two at the 31.
Then, Har-Ber turned into classic Cabot. The Wildcats, led by keepers by Luther, got yardage in small- and medium chunks in consuming more than 5:00 on a 69-yard scoring drive.
"That’s our game — power football," said Struebing. "We went back to what we do best and gave them some different looks up front."
Johnson erased the Cats’ final comeback hopes witn an interception in the final minute.
"This (Conway) is one of the best offenses we’ve seen. We had to turn it over to the defense and they got the stops when we needed to," said Har Ber coach Chris Wood.
Before the final flurry, fans were treated to a frantic exchange of big plays, including a 35-yard touchdown pass from Cox to Harmon on a reverse lateral pass, a 16-yard touchdown run on a reverse by Johnson plus a touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone and a defensive stand by the Cats when Har-Ber was first and goal from the six as the CHS secondary broke up four straight pass plays before halftime.
"We knew our defensive backs had to play the ball well and we did," said Ashcraft.
Langley completed 16 of 27 passes for 205 yards for the Cats. Chris Welch, another thorn in the fourth quarter, rushed for 130 yards for the Wildcats.
The game was played before a packed house at Centennial Bank Field at John McConnell Stadium.
"I’m impressed with the atmosphere and all the community support for Conway," Struebing said. "Clint (Ashcraft) is doing a great job here. That’s a good team in his second year. I think Conway got a real gem when they got him."
Going into Friday’s second round game against Watson Chapel, Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble was concerned with the Wildcats’ speed at the skill positions.
His fears were confirmed as another group of Wildcats took a victory over a Faulkner County team.
Watson Chapel, led by quarterback Kyle Coleman (a son of former UCA star and UAPB coach Monte Coleman, surged to an 18-0 first-half lead on the way to a 47-24 victory at Pine Bluff.
In the first half, Watson Chapel’s defense held on fourth down three times, intercepted a pass in the end zone, recovered a fumble and had three sacks The Wildcats held Greenbrier’s no-huddle Spread on fourth down twice more in the fourth quarter.
"They’re faster than most defenses that we played and really did good job of making things hard on us," said Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble, whose team finished the year 9-3. "My hat goes off to them. They played great defense. It’s hard to get ready to execute against that speed when you can’t practice against it."
Coleman threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and intercepted a pass on defense.
The Wildcats led 47-16 with 1:53 left. Greenbrier scored a touchdown on the final play of the game when Hunter Winston ran 17 yards. Neal Burcham’s two-point conversion pass to Seth Peters set the final score. Burcham had two touchdown passes in the game — a 15-yard pass to Peters and a 44-yard pass to Winston in the third quarter.
It was the second straight year the Panthers have reached the 5A playoffs. They lost to Camden Fairview in the semifinals last season. Watson Chapel and Camden Fairview will play this week in the semifinals.