As the Conway Wampus Cat erased a decade-long parenthesis, they turned question marks into exclamation points.
For five seasons, the Cats have been a parenthical good team, sometimes conference champion, but stuck somewhere between the first round of the 7A state playoffs and the semifnals. Good teams and promising teams had somehow been halted in mid-sentence, something that continually gnawered on coach Clint Ashcraft and his staff.
Friday night, the Cats moved on. They defeated a good Har-Ber team and now will play Bentonville in the state semifinals, strangely a final four with only one northwest Arkansas team left.
In the table tennis match of a 52-42 victory at John McConnell Stadium, the Cats shook some old shackles and shattered some conventional wisdom.
1. A first-round bye in the playoffs can hurt as much as it can help because it disrupts a team’s rhythm.
Coming off the bye week, the Cats played a turnover-free game. Again a huge group of linemen, they held their own and the execution in key situations was crisp. One reason may have been Ashcraft and his staff polished and tweaked fundamentals rather than worked on the specifics on an opponent.
2. You can win big at the highest level of Arkansas football with a sophomore quarterback.
Breylin Smith, who passed for 337 yards and four touchdowns Friday, is not your garden-variety sophomore quarterback.
In the biggest game he has played, he showed senior savvy and senior poise. The moment was not too great for him. He was steady. He was relentless. And he was adaptable. A couple of his biggest plays were broken ones and scramble passes.
3. The Wampus Cats can’t win the big one against a northwest Arkansas team.
They learned from the last-minute lost to Greenwood. Friday night, they finished, won what Ashcraft termed a four-quarter battle. They won a game that shifted back and forth, teetered on little plays as well as big plays.
"A lot of times, one team or the other could have folded," Ashcraft said. "Neither did. I was proud how we held on."
4. The Cats don’t have enough dimensions on offense.
Karlil Johnson and Kevin Chamorro are a nifty one-two punch in the backfield. Using defensive back A.J. Burton part-time on offense for the first time Friday was a brilliant move, offering another speedy and big-play complement to Sidney Moore, both over the top and on the edge. Brock Mitchell is a deceptive big-play receiver. Matt Cummins is one of the state’s best place-kickers. The defense, although yielding often to Har-Ber’s power, is opportuniticaroum
Bottom line. Conway is a pretty good all-around team, worthy of the top four in the state.
After all, the Cats have only lost to teams that are still undefeated (Cabot and Greenwood).
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david,firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)