BY EASTON LEONARD –
On Saturday, November 18th, the Mena Bearcats fourth grade football team took on the Booneville Bearcats in the Arkansas-Oklahoma River Valley Championship Game at Mansfield.
Going into Saturday’s game, Booneville was undefeated with a week one win against Paris (34-0), week two win against Waldron (44-0), week three win against Mansfield (36-0), week four win against Hackett (46-20), week five win against Mena (36-20), week six win against Lavaca (40-6), week seven win against Heavener (30-6), week eight win against Van Buren (30-0), first round playoff win against Paris (44-0), and a second round playoff win against Ozark (36-12).
Mena went into Saturday’s game with a 6-4 record, with a week one loss against Van Buren (36-0), week two win against Paris (46-0), week three loss against Lavaca (32-14), week four loss against Heavener (14-0), week five loss against Booneville (36-20), week six win against Waldron (42-0), week seven win against Mansfield (24-6), week eight win against Hackett (24-6), first round playoff win against Charleston (28-0), and a second round playoff win against Clarksville (30-0). After starting their season 1-4, the Bearcats won their last five games going into Saturday.
Coach Henlsey said going into this season, “we felt that we had a good shot at being one of the top teams in the league.” After a tough beginning, starting 1-3, Hensley said, “the team made a promise to turn their season around,” going into their week five matchup against the undefeated reigning champs, the Booneville Bearcats.
Mena “worked hard in preparation for Booneville,” but came up short in the end 36-20, making their record 1-4. Following their loss to Booneville, Hensley says, “The coaches started looking to see if there was any chance in us being able to make the playoffs. We realized there was still a glimmer of hope in us resurrecting our season if we won the remaining three games on our schedule. We told the players the task ahead of them if they wanted to make the playoffs, and they were ready to put in the work to finish our schedule with wins.”
The Bearcats first test was against Waldron. Hensley said, “We made a few position chances defensively and the boys started to gel as a team.” Sure enough, Mena took on the Waldron Bulldogs and shut them out 44-0. With defensive and a solid offensive attack again in week seven, the Bearcats defeated Mansfield 24-6.
For their final test of the regular season, to finish as the number four seed in the south division, the Bearcats took on Hackett. Hensley said, at this point in the season, “We were playing as a complete team. We were throwing the ball more than any team in our league, and our more balanced attack than most little league teams really helped us down the stretch. We became more than a one dimensional team.” Mena traveled to Hackett and defeated the Hornets 26-0.
Having now made the playoffs, the Bearcats had given up only one touchdown in their past three games. Hensley said, “We were in (the playoffs), but we had to face the number one seed from the north division, Charleston, on their home turf.
Hensley says, “As we started to prepare for Charleston, we really felt as though we could compete.” And, they did so, beating the Charleston Tigers 28-0 with another defensive shutout.
The Bearcats then traveled to Clarksville for their second round game on Veterans Day, to take on the Panthers. With another shutout by the Mena defense, and a “dominating offensive performance,” the Bearcats won the ballgame 30-0. Coach Hensley said, “We went from barely making the playoffs, to making the finals.”
With no easy task ahead of them, Hensley says, “We were facing the undefeated Booneville Bearcats for the second time this season. Booneville was 10-0, averaged thirty-eight points per game, and had only given up fifty-eight points in ten games. We knew we had improved since we faced them in week five, but we also knew we would have to be on top of our game to get by them.”
Preparing for the championship game against Booneville, Hensley said, “We talked all week about how to prepare to stop their offense. We had film on them from our previous matchup, and the boys all showed up to a voluntary film night to study their offense. This team wanted to win and the boys were willing to put in the work to give themselves the best chance at getting that win.”
With a six o’clock kickoff in Mansfield, and tough defense from both teams, the Bearcats were able to drive down to Booneville’s one yard line, but after a negative play and a penalty, Mena ended up not scoring any points before the first half expired.
At halftime, Hensley says, “At this point, I felt that the momentum had shifted to Booneville, but we talked to the boys about getting the ball to start the second half and moving down the field and scoring.” Mena did just that, picking up a couple of first downs and then went to the air and scored on a thirty-two yard touchdown pass, to put the Bearcats on the board first. With a failed conversion on the point-after-attempt, Mena led 6-0.
After a few stops and an interception to ice the game, Mena kneeled the ball twice to run out the remaining seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter. Making the final score 6-0, in favor of the first time Arkansas-Oklahoma River Valley Champions, the Mena Bearcats.
In the words of their head coach, “The boys had a goal to win this title, and they pushed through the tough times as a team. They worked hard and stayed the course through eleven weeks of games. They spent three nights a week practicing to be the best they could be, and showed great character to turn their season around.”
The Bearcats ended up allowing only six points in their final six games, where they outscored their opponents 156-6.
Coach Hensley says, “I am extremely grateful to be a part of such a great group of boys. I am also very thankful to the families of these players, for the support of this team, as well as the support from the community.”
Congratulations to the Mena Bearcats on their championship win!
Complete Championship Team Roster:
Coaches – Brian Hensley, Josh Anderson, Jimmy Glenn, Stephen Morris, and Rob McMellon.
Players – #1 Jake Sherer, #2 Tripp Hensley, #3 Zane McMellon, #5 Bayden Garrett, #8 Beck Vacca, #14 Eli Swall, #15 Dax McMellon, #17 Hunter Walters, #18 Tim Wilson, #27 Gage Davis, #40 Van Goforth, #44 Jimmy Glenn, #48 Grayson Cook, #49 Ryder House, #57 Eathan Caldwell, #59 Max Rocha, #66 Grayson Farringer, #68 Colton Green, #76 Guice Anderson, and #77 Dylon Morris.