The Conway Christian-Mount Ida clash had all the trappings of an instant classic with two perennial powers vying to take the next step towards a Conference 2A state championship for a third consecutive postseason.
It certainly lived up to the billing as the offensively charged affair saw Mount Ida score on nine of its eleven offensive possessions and Conway Christian convert on eight of its eleven offensive trips with only one punt between both teams.
When the dust settled, Mount Ida escaped with a mind-numbing 50-48 third round shootout win and then converge at midfield to celebrate what was to come.
On the opposite end, the host Eagles could only ponder what could have been after once again coming up a few plays short of conquering Mount Ida.
For Conway Christian — a well-oiled squad that has boasted one of the most explosive teams in the state — the latest loss may have very well been the toughest pill to swallow because the expectations were so high this season.
After producing so many huge plays for Conway Christian all year long, it was hard to fathom the final play of Eagles quarterback Jacob Wood's record setting career being reduced to a short pass which fluttered harmlessly to the ground after receiver Brandon Wood caught the ball and unsuccessfully attempted to lateral the completed pass forward to extend the game as time expired.
“Honestly, I was disappointed in how we played because I thought we could have a lot better,” Wood said. “But to get down by two touchdowns to a power running team like them and then have a chance to win at the end is a testament to this team and what coach [Justin] Kramer is building here at Conway Christian. I have had the time of my life and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Those guys are great football players and it has been an honor to play against them. It has always been a dogfight.”
Conway Christian junior receiver John Michael Scherrey – who will be one of the Eagles returning next season – was also left frustrated by the outcome.
“It’s frustrating but I think we played better against them this year than we have in the past,” he said. “They are always sound, always good and it works against us. To finish the way we did gives us hope but it's a tough loss.”
Mount Ida senior quarterback Cade Jackson was virtually a one-man wrecking crew that the Eagles seemingly had no answer for and his heavily soiled uniform spoke volumes as he celebrated with Mount Ida fans postgame.
Yet, it was Jackson's lone mistake of the night that nearly opened the door for Conway Christian when things looked bleak for the Eagles.
With the Eagles trailing 42-34 with only six minutes remaining in the game, Mount Ida had possession of the ball as they looked to pad their lead.
After successfully converting a slim 4th-and-1 by the slimmest of margins, they benefited from a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct infractions against the Conway Christian coaching staff as they vehemently protested the spot that ultimately rewarded Mount Ida with a fresh set of downs.
But on Mount Ida's next possession, a wayward pitchout intended for Lions tailback Jonathan LaGrange bounced away and landed into the arms of Conway Christian linebacker Jevin Callaway.
The Eagles would convert the game's only turnover into a touchdown and knot the game at 42-42 after they had trailed by two touchdowns only a quarter before.
Unfortunately, Mount Ida would eventually add a final touchdown and then withstand a late missed two-point conversion attempt to survive and advance to play Hazen in the 2A semifinals next weekend.
Mount Ida – winners of three straight over Conway Christian – were excited to be moving on but excited to have eased by the Eagles for at least another year.
“We dread playing them each year because it is a matchup problem for us,” Mount Ida coach Michael White said. “But it’s always a good football game because they are great competitors and coach Kramer has done a great job running that spread offense they have. I give them a lot of credit.”
Jackson, who rushed for four of Mount Ida's touchdowns, also praised the play of Conway Christian.
“Every year when we play them it's a fun, competitive game and when you have a quarterback like that No. 9 (Wood) over there you can never relax because he is a hoss. He always gives them a chance.” Jackson said.
With a majority of Mount Ida’s major contributors departing after this season and a couple of Conway Christian’s playmakers set to return next season, the stage could be set for the fourth installment of the series in 2019.
Sooner or later, the Eagles hope to break through and secure an elusive win over a team that has become a huge thorn in their side in the postseason over the last three seasons.
“Both teams have a bunch of high character kids that play hard each and every night,” Kramer said. “There’s obviously disappointment on our side because we wanted to go farther but it just didn’t work out today. We could have folded when we fell behind by two touchdowns and that says a lot about our kids because all we can ask for is maximum effort. But it sure would be nice to have one of these games go our way.”