BY RICK WRIGHT –
The Bearcats led all but the final 6:26 Friday night at De Queen as the Leopards came from behind to win the season opener 25-21.
Mena won the toss and elected to take the ball to open the second half.
The Bearcat kickoff went out of bounds, setting De Queen up at their own 30 yard line.
Senior Bearcat Ryan Ozanich ended the Leopards first series with a big hit, forcing De Qeen to turn the ball over on downs.
Mena drove the ball 63 yards in seven plays to score the game’s first points on a five yard touchdown run by junior, Justin Dean who scored at the 7:00 minute mark in the first quarter. Mena missed the extra point to leave the score 6-0.
De Queen’s next possesion ended in a punt that rolled to the Mena 14 yard line.
The Bearcats fumbled on the next play and the Leopards recovered the ball at the Bearcat eight yard line. On first down and goal the Leopards fumbled the ball back to Mena at their own two. Three plays later, facing a third and nine-yards to go, the Leopards picked off a Mena pass and returned the ball 15 yards for a De Queen touchdown. The Leopards extra point went wide left, leaving the score tied at 6-6 with 3:59 left in the opening quarter.
Junior Cross Hughes put Mena back in business by returning the Leopards kickoff to the Mena 45 yard line.
Junior quarterback Carson Cannon completed a pass to Dean for a five yard gain, then kept the ball two plays later gaining 17 yards to the Leopard 13 yard line. With 16 seconds left in the quarter, Dean took a handoff coming around the near side and powered his way into the endzone from nine yards out for a Mena touchdown. Dean carried the ball across the goal line on the 2-point conversion to put Mena on top 14-6.
The Leopards engineered a nine play, 70 yard drive on their next possession, scoring on an 11 yard touchdown run with 8:58 to play in the first half. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving the score 14-12.
De Queen put together a 65 yard drive early in the third quarter, utilizing their power/ball control running attack. However, on second and eight, inside the Mena 10 yard line, Justin Dean picked off a Leopard pass on the one yard line.
On third down and five yards to go on Mena’s next possession, Cannon threw a short pass in the flat to junior wide receiver Cross Hughes, who spun out of trouble at the line of scrimmage and raced 74 yards to the De Queen 20 yard line. Three plays later, facing second and 16 yards to go, Cannon rolled to the near side of the field and threw a pass into the endzone where Ozanich made a leaping grab, over the De Queen defenders, for a Bearcat touchdown with 4:05 to go in the quarter. Camden Bordersen booted the extra point through the uprights to extend Mena’s lead to 21-12.
The Leopards drove 68 yards in eight plays to score on a 13 yard running play as the third quarter horn sounded. Dean batted down the 2-point conversion pass to leave the score at Mena 21, De Queen 18.
Dean ran the Leopard kickoff all the way back to the De Queen 25 yard line, giving Mena a short field. However, the Bearcats failed to take advantage of the field position and turned the ball over on downs.
Moments later, De Queen completed a long pass to the Mena 36 yard line. The Leopards continued to use their power running attack, advancing the ball to the Mena nine yard line where they scored on a 10 yard touchdown run up the middle. With the extra point the Leopards took their first lead of the game with 6:26 to play up 25-21.
The Bearcats began their final possession at their own 45 yard line. Ozanich gained three yards on first down, Cannon added three yards on second down and threw an incomplete pass on third down to bring up a fourth and four yards to go. The Bearcats lined up in a short punt formation with Dean taking the snap. The Bearcats attempted to run the ball around the right side, however, a Leopard defender broke through and dropped Dean in the backfield, turning the ball over to De Queen.
The Leopards held the ball for the final 2:44 of the contest, to set the final score at De Queen 25, Mena 21.
Mena generated 300 yards of total offense, 160 yards rushing on 38 attempts and 140 yards passing completing eight of 13 attempts. The Bearcats earned 11 first downs on 51 offensive plays and held the ball 23:11 minutes.
De Queen generated 311 yards of total offense, 123 yards rushing on 40 attempts and 123 yards passing completing seven of 13 attempts. The Leopards earned 18 first downs on 53 offensive plays and held the ball 24:49 minutes.
The Bearcats host Hot Springs Friday at Bearcat Stadium with the kickoff set for 7 p.m.