BY EASTON LEONARD –
Bearcat fans will agree that there isn’t a better way to kick off the 2017 football season than an overwhelming 41-6 victory over long-time rivals, DeQueen Leopards. The sweet smell of victory filled the air of Bearcat Stadium as Coach Tim Harper’s young Bearcat team soundly defeated the Leopards.
The Bearcats won the coin toss, and deferred to receive the ball in the second half.
Christian Lua #5 kicked off for Mena to open the game, and bounced the ball into the end zone for a touchback, starting the Leopards at their own twenty yard like for their first drive.
In their first possession, DeQueen earned two first downs, before the Leopards QB, Mack Carver, was sacked by Jonny Gunn on third down, forcing the Leopards to punt on fourth down.
Taking over on their own twenty-seven yard line following the punt, the Bearcats called QB Carson Cannon to keep the ball, gaining twelve yards on the first play of Mena’s season. One play later, Cannon handed the ball off to D1 prospect Justin Dean, who ran for a sixty-yard Bearcat touchdown. Camden Brodersen’s point-after-attempt was no good, keeping Mena’s lead at 6-0.
Following the touchdown, Christian Lua’s kick was returned by DeQueen’s #11 Marquez Ester to their own 25 yard line.
Two plays into their second offensive possession, on third and twelve, Mack Carver’s pass was deflected by the Bearcats and intercepted by Justin Dean. On the return, DeQueen was penalized for a face mask flag, giving Mena the ball on the Leopards’ eight yard line.
On first down at the eight yard line, Cannon kept the ball for a six yard gain, moving the Bearcats up to the two. Following a penalty against Mena on second down, Cannon threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Jonny Gunn on third down. Christian Lua’s point-after-attempt split the uprights, extending the Bearcats lead to 13-0.
Lua’s kickoff was again returned by the Leopards’ Marquez Ester to their own 25 yard line.
DeQueen drove the ball down to the Bearcats 29 yard line on their third possession, before the first quarter came to an end. Starting the second quarter, Carver kept the ball on third and four, gaining five yard and earning the Leopards a first down at the 24. On first down, #2 Hunter Earney gained four yards on a hand off. DeQueen then threw two straight incomplete passes, bringing up fourth down. On fourth down, Mena was able to hold the Leopards as Carver threw yet another incomplete pass, giving the Bearcats the ball on their own 19 yard line.
After earning one first down on their third possession, the Bearcats were forced to punt on fourth and twelve after a tough holding call against Mena. Zane Stephens punted the ball only nine yards after kicking it off the side of his foot, giving DeQueen the ball at the Bearcat 43 yard line.
The Leopards earned two first downs on their fourth possession, before Carver’s pass was intercepted by #2 Marc Wilson on second and eleven. Wilson returned the ball back to the Mena 49 yard line.
Mena went three and out on their fourth offensive possession, as Stephens was unable to gain the first down on a fake punt on fourth and twelve, handing the ball back to the Leopards with 3:15 left in the first half of play.
On both teams fifth possessions, neither were able to score, as the first half came to a close with the Bearcats leading 13-0.
Zane Stephens returned the second half kickoff for the Bearcats to the 45 yard line. However, Mena was unable to capitalize on the good field position as they were forced to punt on fourth and eight. Stephens punted, and Ester returned the ball to the DeQueen 30 yard line.
After a five yard run by Ester on first down for DeQueen, the Leopards fumbled on second down, and Dean recovered the ball for the Bearcats, giving Mena the football on the Leopards’ 31 yard line.
Jonny Gunn ran thirteen yards on first down for the Bearcats, moving the ball to the 18. After a few short gains and a first down, Carson Cannon threw an eight yard touchdown pass to Nick Linch on third and goal. Going for the two-point conversion, Cannon ran straight up the middle and into the end zone, adding two more points to the scoreboard, and extending Mena’s lead to 21-0 with 6:33 left in the third quarter.
Following the Bearcat touchdown, Brodersen’s kick was not returned as it bounced into the end zone for a touchback, giving the Leopards the ball at the 20 yard line.
After going three and out on their seventh offensive possession, DeQueen’s punt on fourth and eighteen was blocked by Brock Strother and rolled out of bounds at the Leopards’ 13 yard line.
On third down of Mena’s eighth offensive possession, Carson Cannon kept the ball and ran in for another Bearcat touchdown. Lua’s point-after-attempt was blocked by the Leopards, holding Mena’s lead to 27-0.
Taking over from the 20 yard line to start their eight offensive possession, the Leopards drove the ball down to the Mena ten yard line before the third quarter came to an end. Three plays into the fourth quarter, on fourth and one at the one, Carver kept the ball for a one yard touchdown run, putting DeQueen on the board. The Leopards point-after-attempt deflected off the bottom of the goal post and was no good, keeping the score at 27-6 in favor of the Bearcats.
Honorio Dominquez, #62, kicked off for the Leopards. The kick was picked up by Stephens, but eventually ended up in the hands of Justin Dean who ran for a ninety-two yard touchdown. Brodersen’s point-after-attempt split the uprights, extending Mena’s lead to 34-6.
DeQueen returned the kickoff to the twenty-four yard line, to start their ninth offensive possession. After a false start penalty on first down, the Leopards were unable to earn a first down, as DeQueen was forced to punt. Carver’s punt was downed by the Leopards at the Mena twenty-one yard line with 7:06 left in the game.
Taking over from their own twenty-one yard line, the Bearcats had a lengthy ninth offensive possession. Mena drove down to the two yard line, before Zack “Gopher” Wyant ran in on the handoff for yet another Bearcat touchdown. Christian Lua’s point-after-attempt was good, extending Mena’s lead to 41-6 with only 2:29 left in the game.
The Leopards were able to run just three more plays in the game before the clock hit zero, as the Mena Bearcats held on for the win, 41-6, in their season opener at home.
Mena’s offense had a total of 251 yards in the season opener against DeQueen. Of the total, 172 of those yards came on the ground, while the Bearcats passed for 79 yards. The Bearcat defense intercepted two passes, sacked the Leopards twice, forced a fumble, and held DeQueen to just six points on a lone touchdown.
Carson Cannon completed six of his eleven passes, for a total of 79 yards, and rushed for 31 yards.
Justin Dean led the Bearcats in rushing yards with 114 on just seven carries. Jonny Gunn also contributed on the ground with 13 yards.
Nick Linch led Mena in receiving yards with 40 yards in the air on only two catches.
On defense, Dean and Castillo led the Bearcats in tackles with 9 each. While Jonny Gunn and Castillo both led Mena in sacks with 1 a piece.
Mena will travel to Hot Springs High School this week to take on the Trojans. The Trojans suffered a 35-7 loss in their season opener on the road against Lake Hamilton. Last season, the Bearcats defeated Hot Springs at home by a score of 24-21.
Kickoff for this Friday’s matchup against Hot Springs is set for 7:00pm. If you can’t make it to the game, make sure to tune in on KQOR 105.3 by downloading the app or catching the stream at MyPulseNews.com.