BY NORM BETZ –
Who would have thought the road to the 2014 4A State Championship would go through Mena? Second-year Head Coach Tim Harper and his Bearcats never doubted it all season. Mena hosted Arkadelphia in the third-round of the playoffs and sent the Badgers home with a 34-27 loss to end their season. Now the Bearcats will host fellow 4-7A opponent Malvern on Friday in the 4A State Semifinals.
The Bearcats defense shut down the Badgers at every pivotal point during the quarter-final game on Friday night. The Badgers won the toss and elected to go on offense, which played right into the Bearcats defensive strengths. Mena held Arkadelphia to a three-and-out on their first possession, essentially nullifying any advantage the Badgers thought they had by winning the coin toss.
The Bearcats drove 88 yards on 13 plays to put the first points on the board and keep the packed stadium of fansexcited and vocal. Senior Sage Kesterson connected on four-of-five passes for 37 yards, with completions to senior Jackson Daugherty, three catches for 23 yards, and senior Justin Castor, one catch for 14 yards. Daugherty also added 33 yards on the ground, sophomore Ryan Ozanich added five-yards, and Kesterson rushed for the final 13 yards on two carries, including the final two-yard dash for the Bearcats first touchdown of the contest. Junior Justin Godfrey added the point after the touchdown (PAT) and Mena led 7-0 with 6:36 to play in the opening quarter.
Arkadelphia drove 57 yards on nine plays but had their drive abruptly stopped when Daugherty intercepted a pass in the end zone, halting the Badgers drive and returning possession to his Bearcats.
Despite picking up one first down on an 18 yard sweep by senior Brady Davis, the Bearcats were forced to punt facing a fourth-and-nine from their own 24-yard line. Kesterson’s punt was partially blocked and Arkadelphia started their next possession on the Mena 40-yard line. It took the Badgers six plays to score, capped off with an 11-yard run to the left side. Arkadelphia locked the score at 7-all with just :08 to play in the opening quarter.
After a 12-yard gain from Davis on the last play of the first quarter, Kesterson galloped 44-yards on the first play of the second quarter to keep the momentum on Mena’s sidelines. Kesterson completed his next pass to Castor who hit the “B” button on his controller twice, for a pair of spins on the way to an eight-yard gain. Kesterson picked up 10-yards on a pair of runs and then hit Daugherty on a seven-yard completion for a TD. Godfrey split the upright and Mena led 14-7 with 9:24 to play in the first half.
The Badgers did muster a first down on their ensuing drive, courtesy of a Bearcat penalty, but the Mena defense bowed up and shut down Arkadelphia on a fourth-and-three from the Mena 28-yard line, turning the ball over back to the Bearcats offense.
Mena drove 51-yards on 10 plays but the drive ended when Kesterson’s pass was intercepted in the Arkadelphia end zone.
Each team traded three-and-out possessions before the first half ended, and the Badgers put three points on the board on a 23-yard field goal. Mena took a 14-10 lead to the locker room, knowing they would receive the second half kickoff.
After a 32-yard kickoff return by Davis to start the second half, the Bearcats ultimately gave the Badgers possession after losing a fumble. Prior to the fumble, Daugherty busted his way right up the middle for a 43-yard gain to the Badgers 15-yard line.
Mena’s defense shut down Arkadelphia again forcing a punt after just three plays, but the Bearcats lost another fumble in as many possessions.
The Badgers capitalized on this turnover, giving them their first lead of the contest 17-14, on an 11-yard TD catch.
Senior Greg Craig provided the Bearcats good field position, when he returned the ensuing kickoff 22 yards. Sixplays later Mena reached the end-zone when Kesterson faked a pitch on an option and turned it up field for a 31-yard touchdown. Kesterson also led off the drive with a 20-yard scamper right up the middle. Godfrey’s PAT was blocked, but Mena regained control with a 20-17 lead with 7:14 to play in the third quarter.
Mena shut down the Badgers offense, only allowing Arkadelphia to complete three-of-seven passes for 28-yards on their next possession, forcing them to punt on fourth-and-23 from the Mena 38-yard line.
Mena’s offense sputtered on their next possession, only picking up two yards on three plays and after a motion penalty were forced to punt on fourth and 12 from their own three-yard line.
Kesterson’s into the wind punt traveled just 29-yards giving the Badgers a first-and-10 on the Mena 32-yard line. Three plays later, Arkadelphia capitalized on the turnover and scored on a 12-yard completion. The Badgers added the PAT and grabbed their second lead of the game, 24-20 with :28 left in the third quarter.
Mena opened the fourth quarter with an 80-yard drive, that was highlighted by runs of 15-yards, 12-yards and 10-yards but Daugherty, Davis and Kesterson, respectively. Daugherty added 14 more yards when he crossed the plane on a 14-yard run with 8:15 to play in the contest. Godfrey added the PAT.
Arkadelphia responded with a 55-yard drive, that included a 42-yard pass completion and ended with a 32-yard field goal with 5:45 to play. The Badgers TD knotted the score at 27-all.
Mena answered with a 11-play 66-yard touchdown that ate up over four minutes off the clock. Senior Kevin Harris provided a few key blocks on the drive, especially on the 11-yard wide-receiver screen to Castor. Daugherty ended the drive with a 13-yard run that included a tight-rope walk to the end zone. Godfrey split the uprights and Mena regained the lead 34-27 with 1:11 to play in the contest.
Arkadelphia was gifted another first down on their final possession via a Mena 15-yard penalty, but this time the defense was lights-out, forcing the Badgers to turn the ball over on fourth and three from the Bearcats 35-yard line.
Mena lined up in the “Victory Formation,” took a knee and sealed the deal, defeating Arkadelphia, 34-27, and thus opportunity to host the 4A State Semifinal game next week to be played against Malvern.
The Mena Bearcats will now host fellow 4-7A opponent Malvern on Friday night with the kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m.
An archived file of the video broadcast is available here:Quarter-Finals: Bearcats vs. Badgers
Additional photos available here:Tom White Photo Gallery