BY NORM BETZ –
The Mena Bearcats defeated the Star City Bulldogs 34-24 Friday night to advance to the 4A State Quarterfinals and thus, will make school history next Friday when they host Arkadelphia in the third-round of the 4A State Playoffs.
Each team started the game off conservatively on their respective first drives, both going three-and-out. Star City gained a total of three yards on their first possession, while Mena gained just one yard. Both teams were penalized five yards on their first possessions as well. Mena won the battle of field position when senior Sage Kesterson’s 43-yard punt was downed by senior Justin Castor on the Bulldogs six-yard line.
Star City put together a 13 play 76-yard drive that included five first downs but resulted in no points. Eric Esteban’s 35-yard field goal sailed wide left, turning the ball over to the Bearcats.
Mena drove 80-yards on seven plays and picked up three first downs on their way to the end-zone.
Kesterson sprinted 17-yards on two plays to kick-start the drive, then completed an 11-yard pass to senior Greg Craig. Senior Jackson Daugherty picked up nine-yards on his first carry of the game, then Kesterson completed his second pass of the drive to senior Brady Davis for a 22-yard pickup. Davis was dropped for a three-yard loss, then Kesterson completed his third pass in as many tries to Daugherty who galloped 24-yards to pay-dirt to put the Bearcats on the board. Junior Justin Godfrey added the point after the touchdown (PAT) and Mena led 7-0 with just :25 to play in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs fair-caught the ensuing kickoff and then drove 46 yards on 10 plays to put their first points of the game on the board with 7:58 to play in the second quarter. Facing a fourth-and-eight from the Bearcats 16-yard line, Star City’s Esteban split the uprights from 33-yards out to cut the Mena lead to 7-3.
After the ball hit the turf, Castor returned the ensuing kickoff eight-yards to the Mena 19-yard line. Kesterson gave the Bearcats some breathing room as he ran the ball 16-yards out to the Mena 35-yards line, but on the next play Kesterson’s pass was deflected and then tipped twice before being picked off by the Bulldogs.
Four plays later, Star City grabbed their first and only lead of the game on a 15-yard completion from Tye Brown to Darien Chaney. Esteban hit the PAT and the Bulldogs led 10-7 with 5:37 to play in the first half.
The ensuing kickoff sailed into the end-zone and then Kesterson made good on his interception, connecting on six-of-six passes, on the way to a Bearcats 13-yard TD reception by Castor. Kesterson completed his first pass to Craig for seven-yards, and his second to Daugherty, who broke tackles left and right for a 38-yard gain. Kesterson’s third pass was good for a 17-yard completion to Davis, followed up by a pair of completions to Craig for five-yards. Godfrey’s PAT attempt sailed wide right, but the Bearcats regained a 13-10 lead with 3:08 to play in the second quarter.
“We took what they gave us,” explained head coach Tim Harper. “Sage (Kesterson) had a great game throwing the ball (79% completion rate), seeing his receivers and connecting with them.”
Star City drove 51 yards on 10 plays but missed their second field goal of the game, this one from 36-yards out.
“We battled all night, fought hard no matter what we were facing,” said defensive coordinator Craig Bentley. “We limited Harris, didn’t give up big game changing runs and kept everything in front of us.”
The Bearcats moved the ball 80-yards in just over 40 seconds and in six plays reached the end-zone again. Davis supplied 54 of those yards on a nine-yard run and a 45-yard completion for Kesterson that set up a first-and-goal from the Bulldogs two-yard line. Daugherty scored his second TD of the first half on the next play. Godfrey was saved on an offsides call after his PAT missed to the right again. Kesterson busted up the middle for the two-point conversion and the Bearcats increased their lead to 21-10 with :30 left in the second quarter.
“Our line played out of their minds tonight,” said offensive line coach Aaron Pennington. “We had great protection, didn’t give up a sack, and wore down their big defensive line.”
After a pair of incomplete passes, a run of four-yards and a fake punt that ended up three-yards short of a first down, Star City was saved as the horn sounded to indicate half-time. The Mena Bearcats Marching Band appropriately played ‘Shot through the Heart” as the Bulldogs headed off the field to the locker room.
Mena’s first possession of the second half stalled when the Bearcats were called for a chop block and Mena was forced to punt on fourth-and-seven from their own 43-yard line. Kesterson’s 43-yard punt rolled dead on the Bulldogs 14-yard line.
Star City drove 86-yards on 14 plays capped off with a Dejunn Harris four-yard TD run. Esteban added the PAT and the Bulldogs trailed the Bearcats, 21-17 with 2:23 to play in the third quarter.
Mena answered on their ensuing possession as Kesterson was again perfect on the 67-yard drive, hitting three-of-three. Craig grabbed the third pass and weaved his way 41-yards to pay-dirt. Godfrey split the uprights and Mena increased their lead to 28-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs moved the ball from their own 35-yard line to the Bearcats 35-yard line before their drive stalled and they turned the ball over when their fourth-and-eight pass was nearly intercepted by senior Zane Sherrer and fell harmlessly to the turf.
With 8:30 left in the game, the Bearcats were ready to put the Bulldogs away and it showed on the next three plays. Daugherty ran for 12-yards and a first down, followed by a pair of first down runs by Kesterson of 11-yards and 12-yards. Kesterson hit Daugherty for a 34-yard touchdown but it was called back on a holding penalty and then 15-yards was added back after a Star City unsportsmanlike penalty. Five plays later, Daugherty crossed the plane for his third TD of the game. Godfrey’s PAT was blocked and Mena led 34-17 with 3:02 to play.
Sixty-one seconds later, Star City scored on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Hunter Avery. Esteban added the PAT and Mena’s lead was cut to 34-24 with 2:01 to play in the contest.
Davis grabbed the ensuing onsides kick and the Bearcats were prepared to run out the clock. Daugherty picked up two first downs on runs of 16-yards and 13-yards and after a couple of snaps in the victory formation, Mena defeated Star City, 34-24 to advance to the 4A State Quarterfinals.
In closing, coach Harper talked about his appreciation for the fans that have supported the Bearcats for the last two weeks despite the weather conditions, but wants to set a new record for attendance next week when Mena will host Arkadelphia in the third-round of the state playoffs. “We play well at home,” said Harper, whose teams are 10-2 in front of their hometown crowds over the last two seasons. “We need every Bearcat and Lady Bearcat fan packed in the stands cheering on these Bearcats. The fans make a difference and mean a lot to these guys. Come out and support us!
FINAL STATS: Mena 34 – Jackson Daugherty carried the ball 12 times for 82 yards (6.8 ypc) and three touchdowns, Sage Kesterson carried 17 times for 61 yards (3.6 ypc), Brady Davis carried six times for 25 yards (4.2 ypc) and Ryan Ozanich carried once for minus four yards. Kesterson completed 15 of 19 passes for 265 yards with one interception. Kesterson punted twice for an average of 43 yards. Mena fumbled twice but recovered both and committed nine penalties for minus 75 yards.
Star City 24 – Dajunn Harris carried the ball 32 times for 204 yards (6.4 ypc), L. J. Shelton carried eight times for 52 yards (6.5 ypc), and Tye Brown carried seven times for 34 yards (4.9 ypc). Brown completed nine of 18 passes for 98 yards. Austin Powell punted once for 21 yards. Bulldogs committed nine penalties for minus 70 yards.
To watch the complete game with Pulse hosts Clint Montgomery & Todd Aynes:
[button color=”red” size=”small” link=”http://citylinktv.com/channel/mena-mypulsenews-tv/” ]Round 2 State Playoffs: Mena vs. Star City[/button]
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