VILONIA – Thursday night’s annual battle for the Faulkner County Judge’s Cup didn’t lack controversy or excitement.
After the smoke cleared from the contest between the two heated county rivals at Phillip D. Weaver Stadium, Greenbrier locked down a 35-20 win over Vilonia, building momentum for next week’s playoff game.
Vilonia’s Kyle Robbins, who had a team-high 86 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, closed Greenbrier’s nine-point lead to three on a 14-yard run with 8:09 left in the third quarter. The 2-point conversion attempt was good after a run by Eric Ebmeyer, drawing the Eagles within one at 21-20.
Greenbrier’s Neal Burcham, who went 20-of-26 for 255 yards and two touchdowns, tossed scoring passes to Brady Day, who led the team with 10 receptions for 101 yards, and Tyler Hardee in the third and fourth quarters. Greenbrier’s Hunter Winston also had 165 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
"We played hard, and we played smart," Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble said. "We played smart on offense, and our kids prepared real hard. They’re reaping the rewards. Right now it’s a good celebration. But, it was a good night for me."
The first half wasn’t too kind to Vilonia, as two touchdowns were called back, Griffen Nelson missed a 24-yard field goal and an extra point. Greenbrier blocked an extra point and stuffed a fake punt at the Vilonia 43.
It also didn’t take long before the contest entered its first controversy. The Eagles appeared to have scored a touchdown with 8:44 in the opening quarter after Ebmeyer appeared to score on a 91-yard keeper. Apparently, Ebmeyer’s fake was too good. The senior quarterback faked the ball to fullback Jake Weidmier, and an official on the visiting side of the field blew a whistle after suspecting that Weidmier had gotten stopped dead in his tracks at the Vilonia 14. However, Ebmeyer rumbled along the home sideline without a defender within 20 yards of him. The touchdown was called back, and Vilonia had to run the play over because of a inadvertent whistle by a referee.
"I don’t know how to say it, but we just didn’t get some breaks," Vilonia coach Jim Stanley said. "We’re not that good to overcome some things. The kids tried hard."
Greenbrier struck first after Winston scored from a yard out at the 2:29 mark in the first. A 22-yard pass from Burcham to Trent Virden on second-and-1 set up the score.
The Eagles’ first score came on a 16-yard run by Zac Mitchell just 1:23 into the second quarter. Then, the Panthers marched right back down the field, using a 54-yard run by Winston to set up the second touchdown. Winston’s run, which went down to the 17, was followed by a 13-yard pass from Burcham to Justin Head. Two plays later, Winston scored his second score of the game from the 1. T.J. Tapley tacked on the PAT to extend the Panthers’ lead to 14-6, with 9:28 left before the half.
Vilonia’s Drew Knowles ran the ensuing kickoff across midfield down to the 49. On the next play, Kyle Robbins took a handoff on an inside trap, darted through the line and raced 49 yards for the touchdown. Greenbrier answered right back on Winston’s third touchdown of the night on an 11-yard run with 6:11 left before the half. A Tapley extra point pushed the Panthers’ lead to 21-12. The Eagles’ second touchdown of the night was called back after Drew Knowles completed a 24-yard pass to David Crune in the closing minutes of the first half. An illegal motion penalty negated the play.
Vilonia’s standout defensive end Brent Hughes was carted off by an ambulance with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
Hughes stayed down on the turf, after joining on a tackle. Stanley said that he was taken to Conway Regional Medical Center, after suffering what appeared to be an apparent neck injury.
"Our guys were never the same after that," Stanley said.