BY NORM BETZ –
Mena High School, their fans, and the community waited 17 years to host a state football playoff game, and second-year head coach Tim Harper and his 2014 Bearcats didn’t disappoint, as they corralled the Mustangs of Central Arkansas Christian (CAC), 40-9, in the first-round of the 4A State Playoffs.
The Bearcats defense really set the tone for the game, holding the Mustangs offense to just three points until the final minute of the game when substitutions were made and CAC scored their first touchdown. “This was really a total team effort,” explained Harper. “The defense really stepped up and played a great game, holding CAC to just three points and ultimately nine, when they’ve (CAC) averaged 34 points per game during the regular season.”
The Mustangs’ first possession was a three-and-out, with senior Jackson Daugherty fielding the squib punt and returning it 41-yards to the CAC 19-yard line. The offense sputtered on their first possession, with a motion penalty on the first play and a fumbled snap on the second play, but four plays later scored when senior quarterback Sage Kesterson ran three yards to score the first points of the game. Junior Justin Godfrey split the uprights with the point after the touchdown (PAT) to put the Bearcats up 7-0 with 7:41 to play in the opening quarter.
After holding the CAC offense again on their next possession, Mena just couldn’t get anything going and was forced to punt the ball back to CAC. Nine plays later the Mustangs kicked a 34-yard field goal to cut the Mena lead to 7-3 with 2:00 left in the first quarter.
The Bearcats offense stalled again on their next drive and was forced to punt again. The Mustangs picked up two first downs on their next possession, but were once again forced to turn the ball back to Mena via a punt facing a fourth-and-12.
Mena drove 87 yards on 10 plays behind big runs by Kesterson and Daugherty of 33 yards and 22 yards, respectively. Kesterson connected with junior Ross Graves on a 20 yard pass completion to set up a first and goal from the four-yard line. Daugherty punched it in for his first of three touchdowns on the night. After a holding penalty, Hogan’s 29-yard PAT sailed wide left and Mena led 13-3 with 6:28 to play in the second quarter.
After being gifted a 15-yard face-mask penalty, CAC’s next possession came to a screeching halt behind a pair of sacks by junior Jared Flemens and Hogan. The Mustangs punted for the third time in five possessions, facing a fourth-and-nine on the Bearcats 49-yard line.
Mena drove 80 yards on 13 plays to add another touchdown just before the half. The drive featured a 10-yard run by senior Brady Davis, a 17-yard run by Kesterson, a 12-yard run by Daugherty, and a 14-yard completion to senior Luke Bowser. Kesterson finished the drive with a seven-yard pass completion to Daugherty. The two point conversion was not successful, but Mena led 19-3 with just :10 left in the first half.
After gifting the Mustangs 55 yards in penalties in the first half, the Bearcats did not commit a penalty in the second half. Mena picked up one first down on their first possession of the second half, but were forced to punt on fourth-and-nine from their own 35-yard line.
Two plays later, senior Greg Craig stepped in front of a Mustang receiver and intercepted the pass and returned it eight yards into CAC territory. Unfortunately, the Bearcats turned the ball back to the Mustangs one play later on a fumble. CAC scooped up the loose ball and carried it 30 yards down to the Mena 20-yard line. Like the Bearcats, the Mustangs turned the ball right back to Mena when junior David Hatfield intercepted a pass in the end zone and wisely took a knee to give the Bearcats a first-and-10 at their own 20-yard line.
Daugherty put together a 73 yard run on the first play from scrimmage, that was ESPN Top 10 worthy, breaking tackles, hitting the “B” button on his controller, and using second, third and fourth efforts along the way. Three plays later, Davis scored from seven yards out. Godfrey added the PAT and Mena led 26-3 with 6:22 to play in the third quarter.
CAC put together a 10 play 49-yard drive, but once again the Bearcat defense rose to the occasion when Daugherty scooped up the loose ball and returned it seven yards to give Mena possession and end the third quarter. Daugherty started the fourth quarter, finishing what he started, galloping 49-yards to pay-dirt. Godfrey added the PAT and the Bearcats increased their lead to 33-3 with 10:42 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs were driving on their next possession, moving the ball 36-yards on seven plays before Harper barked at his defense reminding them that they promised 48 minutes. CAC had a first-and-10 at the Mena 17-yard line, but the Bearcats responded to Coach Harper. Hatfield swatted the ball down on first down, while senior Shane Atchley dropped the Mustangs on back-to-back plays for a loss of four-yards and then a gain of five. On fourth-and-nine, the Mustangs pass fell harmlessly out of bounds giving the Bearcats the ball back with 7:46 to play in the contest.
Kesterson went four-for-four through the air on the Bearcats next possession with receptions including: four-yards to senior Justin Castor, 19-yards to Craig, 10-yards to Davis and three-yards to sophomore Ryan Ozanich. Davis closed out the drive busting one in from three-yards out. Once again Godfrey split the uprights with the PAT and Mena led 40-3 with 2:22 to play.
After a 24-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the Mustangs finally reached the end-zone against some of the Mena defensive substitutions with just :58 remaining. The two point conversion was not successful and CAC trailed Mena 40-9.
After the kickoff, the game ended with Mena lining up in the victory formation twice. The Bearcats defeated the Mustangs 40-9 to advance to the second-round of the 4A State Playoffs.
FINAL STATISTICS: Mena: Jackson Daugherty had 14 carries for 181 yards (12.93 yards per carry) and three TD’s, Sage Kesterson had 16 carries for 62 yards (3.88 ypc) and one TD, Ryan Ozanich had three carries for 30 yards (10 ypc) and one TD, Brady Davis had five carries for 22 yards (4.4 ypc) and one TD, Heath Schnell had two carries for one yard. Kesterson completed 8-of-22 for 113 yards and no interceptions. Kesterson had three punts that averaged 37 yards. The Bearcats had three fumbles and lost one and had six penalties for 55 yards.
CAC: Braylon Harris (#3) had 24 carries for 194 yards (8.08 ypc with 100 yards in the first three quarters and 94 yards in the fourth quarter), QB #7 had 12 carries for 63 yards (5.25 ypc) and #12 had two carries for minus one yard. Mustangs #7 completed 8-of-17 for 32 yards and two interceptions. CAC punted three times with an average of 28 yards, kicked a 34-yard field goal, had three fumbles and lost one and had three penalties for 35 yards.
The No. 2 Mena Bearcats will host the No. 5 Star City Bulldogs on Friday, November 21st, with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. and MyPulseNews TV will once again broadcast the game live. If you missed any of the 1st round action or maybe just want to watch it again – the video file is available here:
[button color=”red” size=”small” link=”http://citylinktv.com/channel/mena-mypulsenews-tv/” ]Bearcats vs. Mustangs[/button]