CLINTON — John Riley Hinchey stayed on the field several minutes after the final horn sounded and after the teams had exited the field, celebrating a career night with family and close friends. The senior, who’s missed several games the previous two seasons due to injury, had plenty of reason to celebrate: 205 yards and 5 first half touchdowns. More importantly, the Yellowjackets (10-1) advanced to the second round of the state playoffs after knocking off a dangerous and athletic Smackover Buckaroo squad (5-6) that featured two of the state’s top athletes in Jacqueze Modica and Dettravon Crockett.
“We changed our defensive personnel to put our fastest 11 guys on defense,” said Head Coach Chris Dufrene following the win. “I was proud of the way we tackled and rallied to the ball. We limited their big plays while our offense rolled. Hats off to our offensive line. They dominated the entire game and opened up lanes for Hinchey and Ethen Drake to move the ball.”
The Yellowjackets never trailed in the game. Smackover’s only win of the night was the coin toss, which they elected to received. Matt Gonzalez faked a kick-off, then Nic Epley punched an onside kick that deflected off the helmet of a Smackover player. John Riley Hinchey came up with the ball on the 37 yard line. Five plays later, he was in the endzone with his first touchdown of the night.
Matt Gonzalez’s next onside attempt was recovered by the Buckaroos, but an unsportsmanlike penalty put Smackover in a 2nd and long situation from which they could not recover. Following the punt, Clinton’s Weston Amos ripped off a 30 yard run to get the ball close to midfield. Hinchey’s 16 yard run followed, putting the Yellowjacket offense in scoring position. Six plays later, Hinchey would finish the drive from 3 yards out to make the score 14-0.
Clinton played keepaway once again as Matt Gonzalez recovered his own onside kick. Ethen Drake’s 20 yard run pushed the ball inside the Smackover 30 yard line. Two plays later, Hinchey rumbled in from 11 yards out to push the lead to three touchdowns.
Smackover recovered the fourth Clinton onside attempt and drove to the 26 yard line before stalling on fourth down. Nic Epley’s pass breakup forced a turnover on downs just before the end of the first quarter. On the second play of the second quarter, Hinchey broke loose for a 65 yard touchdown run, making the score 28-0.
Smackover finally answered with a long 15 play, 85 yard drive that was capped off with a Dettravon Crockett touchdown. Clinton’s defense kept everything in front of them, and forced the Buckaroos to stay patient with small gains of yardage.
Smackover finally got the stop they needed. Austin Drake could not handle an Amos pass to the endzone, and the penalty-laden drive stalled at the Buckaroo 40. However, Matt Gonzalez intercepted Austin Goodwin’s pass intended for D’Kylan Hildreth on Smackover’s first play of the drive. With 51 seconds remaining in the first half, Hinchey scored his 5th touchdown of the game, scoring from 2 yards out.
Things got interesting right before the half. Clinton’s onside kick was recovered by Smackover, and a personal foul penalty gave the Buckaroos excellent starting field position. Goodwin found Jacqueze Modica inside the 10 yard line on a 22 yard pass. However, Ethen Drake picked off Goodwin’s pass on the final play of the first half to preserve the 35-6 lead.
Clinton received the second half kickoff and methodically drove down the field. Smackover’s defense, loading the box with 8 defenders, limited Clinton’s big plays on the drive. Cody Davis’s touchdown run was called back due to a holding penalty, but it did not matter. Two plays later, Ethen Drake caught a touchdown strike from Amos to make the score 42-6, which put the mercy rule in effect.
Smackover’s biggest play of the night was the final scoring play of the game. Goodwin scrambled to his right and found Austin Cook open about 10 yards down the field. Cook weaved through three missed tackles and broke out for a 71 yard touchdown catch. Crockett’s two point conversion run was good, making the score 42-14.
Cook’s final pass of the night was picked off by Blaine Emberton, sealing the 42-14 victory.
Clinton’s offense rolled up 423 yards on 61 plays, with 349 coming on the ground. Hinchey led all rushers with 205 yards on 24 carries. Ethen Drake added 48 yards on the ground and 15 receiving yards to go with his touchdown. Weston Amos completed 4 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 47 yards in the game.
Defensively, Clinton kept Modica and Crockett in check, holding the duo to a combined 110 yards on 20 touches. Gonzalez led the way with 7 tackles and an interception. Ethen Drake (1 int), Codey Edwards (.5 sack), and Hinchey (.5 sack) each had 4 tackles in the game.
Clinton has likely played its final game at Jim Tumlison Field this season. Next week, The Yellowjackets will travel south to take on Camden Harmony Grove. The Hornets, who defeated Mansfield, were the second seed from the 3A-5 conference. Kickoff is set for 7 pm, and will be carried live on KHPQ 92.1 with Jeff Hall and Mike Hawley.
Game Notes: Captains for the game were Ethen Drake, Kadance Sowell, John Riley Hinchey, and Austin Drake ... This year’s senior class has now won 33 games overall, with 4 of those being playoff victories ... The Jackets have advanced out of the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive year ... John Riley Hinchey set career highs and individual season highs in carries (24), rushing yards (205), and touchdowns (5) ... Kicker Matt Gonzalez was 6/6 on extra points Friday night. He has now converted 21 consecutive extra point attempts ... Clinton set season highs in offensive snaps (61) and rushing attempts (51) ... Clinton has outscored opponents in the first half 254-88 ... The Yellowjackets topped the 3,000 yard rushing mark for the season Friday night (3,098) ... Offensively, the Yellowjackets have gained 4,704 total yards, eclipsing last season’s mark of 4,428. Two seasons ago, the Yellowjackets gained 5,076 yards (program record) in 12 games. This year’s offense needs just 372 offensive yards to set a new record.
3A Playoff Scores
Hoxie 54, Drew Central 38
Prescott 49, Charleston 7
Dollarway 42, Jessieville 19
Harding Academy 49, Genoa Central 7
Newport 68, Yellville-Summit 22
Atkins 35, Harrisburg 21
McGehee 37, Perryville 6
Greenland 54, Mountain View 24
Glen Rose 61, Walnut Ridge 32
Melbourne 44, Centerpoint 7
Rison 59, Baptist Prep 6
Lamar 57, Lake Village 8
C. Harmony Grove 56, Mansfield 33
Clinton 42, Smackover 14
The 3A-2 Conference had a great showing with the top 3 teams (Harding Academy, Clinton, and Melbourne) all advancing to the second round, all by mercy rule.