BY RICK WRIGHT –
The Bearcats battled the highly favored Panthers to the last second Friday night before suffering a one-point loss at 13-12 at Ashdown.
Ashdown is loaded with talented D1 players and are expected to contend for a state championship this season. The Bearcats did not back down an inch, in fact they gave the highly ranked Panthers all they wanted and more. Two big pass plays, out of a game full of plays, was the difference. Ninety-eight percent of the game, the Bearcats stood toe to toe with one of the best in the state. Bearcat Head Coach Tim Harper and his staff have the 2016 Bearcats going in the right direction.
Bearcat sophomore place kicker Christian Lua got the game underway when he sent the kickoff to the Panther’s goal line. Ashdown returned the opening kick to their own 22-yard line. The mighty Panthers went three and out and punted to the Mena 49 yard line. Mena’s first series was also a three and out as junior quarterback Carson Cannon was sacked for a five yard loss on third and five, forcing a senior Landon Stidman punt. Stidman’s punt was muffed but recovered by Ashdown at the Panther 17 yard line.
Both schools traded possessions and punts throughout a scoreless first quarter.
Three plays into the second quarter, the Panthers punted to junior Bearcat Justin Dean who returned the kick to the Ashdown 36 yard line. Mena drove to the Ashdown 14, however, a holding penalty and a quarterback sack backed the Bearcats up to the 22 where they faced a fourth and 18. Mena attempted a 40-yard field goal, but the Panthers blocked the kick.
Five plays later, the Panthers completed a medium range pass that turned into a 56-yard touchdown play with 5:19 to go in the first half. Ashdown missed the extra point, leaving the score 6-0.
After a Bearcat punt, Ashdown faced a third and 13 from their own 33, when the Panthers completed another pass that turned into a 67 yard touchdown play with 2:50 left in the second quarter. With the extra point, Ashdown led 13-0.
The Bearcats picked up a first down on their next possession, but were forced to punt facing a fourth and six. Stidman’s punt was muffed by the Ashdown return man and recovered by the Bearcats at the Panther 23 yard line, where four plays later Lua kicked a 37 yard field goal, with :25 seconds left in the first half, to cut Ashdown’s lead to 13-3.
Junior Cross Hughes returned the second half kickoff to the Ashdown 49 yard line. However, Mena just could not get anything going and turned the ball over on downs at the Ashdown 40. The Panthers went three and out and sent their punter out on fourth and 14. The center snap went over the Ashdown punter’s head and was recovered at the Panther nine-yard line, setting Mena up with a first and goal from the nine.
Cannon took the direct snap and went around the left side to score on a nine yard touchdown run at the 8:59 mark in the third quarter. Lua added the extra point to make the score Mena 10, Ashdown 13.
With 9:16 to play in the game, Mena downed a punt at the Ashdown one-yard line. On the following play, the Bearcats tackled the Panther running back in the endzone for a safety to make the score Mena 12, Ashdown 13.
Mena’s final offensive series ended on an interception. Ashdown downed the ball on the remaining snaps to run the clock out.
Ashdown survived. The Bearcats had opportunities. Ashdown was favored by two touchdowns in this 4A-7 conference matchup and found themselves holding on, to edge the Bearcats by one point.