What was supposed to be a showdown between two top-10 prep teams quickly turned into a one-sided shellacking as Conway downed Fort Smith Southside, 37-7, on Friday night at John McConnell Stadium.
The 7A/6A Central opponents — ranked Nos. 6 and 7, respectively in one poll — entered the matchup tied atop the standings at 3-0 in conference play. The game was supposed to be one of the state’s marquee matchups in week 7, but the Wampus Cats (6-1, 4-0 7A/6A Central) made easy work of the Rebels (5-2, 3-1 7A/6A Central), and applied the mercy rule before the night was over.
"I’m shocked," coach Clint Ashcraft said. "Every year we’ve played them, it’s been a battle and it’s always come down to the fourth quarter.
"During the week when we visited (with the opposing coaches), that’s what we all kind of anticipated, so to say I’m shocked is a true statement."
Conway led 24-0 at halftime, and applied the mercy rule after two touchdowns within just under two minutes in the third quarter.
Southside received the ball to begin the second half, and looked poised to score for the first time, however, a sack and interception on consecutive plays by Jackson Smith would ended the threat.
Things got strange at John McConnell Stadium on Smith’s interception as the senior returned it to the Rebel 2, but a block-in-the-back call on Conway, and a horse-collar tackle by Southside — both fouls occurring after the interception — left the officiating crew baffled as to at the correct ruling.
The crew debated for the next several minutes, and at one point appeared ready to have the penalties offset, and replay the down with Southside retaking possession of the ball in Conway territory.
"Everything occurred after the change of possession," Ashcraft said. "I was trying to tell (the officials), it’s like (if the blocking foul had occurred) during a punt return, it’s our ball either way."
After the long debate, Conway was awarded the ball, and junior tailback Kevin Chamorro scored from 2 yards out —his third rushing touchdown of the night — to put the Wampus Cats ahead 30-0 with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter.
"That pick there to start the second half was huge," Ashcraft said. "That set us up with the short field on the other end, and allowed us to get another possession, and put the mercy rule in."
The Rebels fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Wampus Cats senior Allen Poole recovered the ball giving Conway possession at the Southside 22.
After two negative running plays, sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith connected with senior receiver Sidney Moore for a 26-yard touchdown pass to extend the Wampus Cats lead to 37-0 with 5:13 left in the third quarter and applied the mercy rule.
Smith finished 11 of 23 for 177 yards and two scores.
"We were wondering how (Smith) was going to handle (the game)," Ashcraft said. "He continues to surprise us with the way he handles everything. He’s smooth."
Rebels sophomore tailback Parker Rosenberg had Southside’s only touchdown on a 5-yard run with 3:57 remaining.
Conway opened with an 80-yard, 17-play drive, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Chamorro to give the Wampus Cats an early 7-0 lead at the 6:33 mark of the first quarter.
Southside drove into Conway territory on its first drive of the game, but a holding penalty left the Rebels with third-and-17. Senior defensive back Anthony Tufu broke up the third-and-long pass play, which forced a Rebel punt.
Taking over at it own 15, Conway relied on the strong running of Chamorro, and a 39-yard pass from Smith to sophomore D.J. Johnson to set up a first-and-goal at the Southside 6. One play later, Chamorro scored his second touchdown of the night from four yards out to give Conway a 14-0 lead with 9:58 remaining in the half.
An 11-yard pass from Smith to junior Hunter Rose and a 50-yard field goal by junior Matt Cummins gave Conway the 24-0 lead at the half.
Tufu ended the Rebels’ only other serious scoring threat of the first half — midway through the second quarter — with an interception on a fourth-down play at the Conway 33.
The Wampus Cats defense corralled the Rebels offense and Isaac Jackson the majority of the night.
Jackson, the dual-threat quarterback, finished 8 of 14 for 115 yards with 2 interceptions, along with just 33 yards on 13 carries.
"Last year, (Jackson) gave us fits, but I feel like our guys tackled well," Ashcraft said. "We didn’t jump under his feet, we stayed on top of him, and were able to get him down."
The Rebel senior was able to rush for 30 yards on Southside’s opening drive, but was held to 3 yards the rest of the night.
"I thought on some of our pressure stuff, we were running by him," Ashcraft said of his defense’s play early on. "A guy like that, he’s not going to let you hit him, he’s too good of an athlete.
"We were trying to coach up our guys to break down in front of him, and make him move laterally until you can get help."
Ashcraft said it would be important to keep his team level-headed with three games left in the season.
"It’s a big win, but we’ve still got unfinished business, we’ve got three weeks left and then the playoffs start," Ashcraft said. "We’ll try and do a good job of keeping them on the ground, keeping their heads right and keep working."
Conway goes on the road Oct. 25 to face Little Rock Parkview (1-6, 0-4 7A/6A Central) before returning home to face Greenwood (7-0, 4-0 7A/6A Central) on Nov. 1.