BY RICK WRIGHT –
The Bearcats got all over the highly favored Malvern by crushing the Leopards 45-21 Friday, September 30th in Bearcat Stadium.
Mena won the coin toss and chose to defer until the second half. Malvern chose the ball to get this 4A-7 conference battle underway.
Bearcat sophomore kicker Christian Lua kicked the ball to Malvern, who returned the opening kickoff to the Mena 32 yard line. A personal foul against the Leopards backed Malvern up to the Mena 48.
Four plays later, Malvern went for it on fourth and one from the Mena 39. Bearcat senior Ryan Ozanich tackled the Leopard ball carrier at the line of scrimmage to turn Malvern’s first offensive possession over on downs. Most of the opening quarter was a field position battle.
Late in the quarter, Mena junior Justin Dean returned a Malvern punt to the Leopard 22 yard line then gained six yards on first down and two on second down. A penalty on third down backed Mena up to the Malvern 20. After an incomplete pass attempt, sophomore place kicker Camden Broderson kicked a 37 yard field goal with 1:52 to play in the quarter to put Mena on top 3-0.
Midway through the second quarter, Mena punted to the Leopard 37 yard line. Malvern drove the ball 63 yards in seven plays scoring on a 37 yard touchdown run at the 7:51 mark. The Leopards missed the extra point to leave the score Malvern 6, Mena 3.
Later in the quarter, Dean returned another Leopard punt to the Mena 46 yard line. Two plays later, Bearcat junior quarterback Carson Cannon found a gap in the Leopard defense and sprinted 50 yards for a Mena touchdown with 3:27 left in the first half. Broderson added the extra point to lift Mena to a 10-6 advantage.
Malvern could get nothing going on their next possession and shanked the punt out of bounds at their own 38.
The Bearcats wasted no time getting on the scoreboard again. On the following play, Cannon threw a short pass to Ozanich who ran a hook pattern. Ozanich caught the pass and pitched the ball to a trailing Dean who sprinted 38 yards for a Mena touchdown. Broderson added the extra point to lift the Bearcats to a 17-6 lead.
The Leopards had one more possession in the first half. However, the half ended when sophomore linebacker Jonny Gunn picked off a Malvern pass attempt.
In the third quarter, after a Bearcat punt, the Leopards began a drive at their own 38. Malvern drove the ball 62 yards in 10 plays to score on a two yard touchdown run with 2:39 remaining in the quarter. A successfull 2-point conversion cut Mena’s lead to 17-14.
The Bearcats next drive began at their own 29. Mena picked up a first down to the Bearcat 40. Ozanich gained nine yards on first down before Cannon added two yards on second down. A personal foul late hit against Malvern advanced the ball to the Leopard 35. Two plays later an unsportsmanlike penalty against Malvern put the ball on the Leopard 14 yard line to end the quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cannon scored on a 14 yard touchdown run at the 11:58 mark. Broderson’s extra point extended Mena’s lead to 23-14.
The Leopards answered moments later with a 66 yard touchdown pass play. The extra point cut the Bearcats’ lead to 23-21.
Dean returned the Malvern kickoff from the Mena 12 to the Leopard 48 yard line. Dean rummbled for a 40 yard gain on first down. A few plays later, Cannon threw a pass to Ozanich who made a spectacular one-handed diving catch in the end zone for a Bearcat touchdown with 10:12 left to play. Broderson’s extra point extended Mena’s lead to 31-21.
Malvern quickly advanced the ball to the Mena 37 on their next possession where Dean tipped a Leopard pass and Gunn intercepted the ball.
Later in the fourth quarter, Mena stopped Malvern on fourth and 15 at the Leopard 21. The Bearcats scored on a Cannon six yard touchdown run with 3:29 to play in the game. Broderson’s extra point put Mena up 38-21.
The Bearcats punched it in one more time on a Cannon seven yard touchdown run with 1:14 to go. Broderson’s extra point set the final score at Mena 45, Malvern 21.
The Bearcats host the Bauxite Miners this week on Homecoming night in Bearcat Stadium with the kickoff set for 7 p.m.