Saturday, November 24, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Season ends in heartbreak

Leader sportswriter

Facing an 18-point deficit with just over 10 minutes to play, North Little Rock rallied to take a one-point lead over Fayetteville with less than a minute to go in the class 7A state semifinals, but a 38-yard field goal with just seconds remaining gave the Bulldogs a 30-28 victory Friday at North Little Rock Stadium.

The game looked as if it was all but over after Ryan Starr’s 18-yard field goal put Fayetteville up 24-6 with 10:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. North Little Rock struggled offensively throughout the third quarter, and it took some trickery for the Charging Wildcats to find the end zone for the first time in the fourth.

On third and 15 at the Fayetteville 39-yard line, quarterback Payton Holmes connected with standout running back Altee Tenpenny on a double reverse play. Tenpenny lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation, and handed the ball off to Fabian Lewis who was in motion.

Lewis took the handoff and handed it to Holmes, who then found Tenpenny wide open in the flat. Tenpenny took the reception and followed his blockers all the way to the end zone with 8:52 to play. Tenpenny also ran in the two-point try to make the score 24-14.

“They’re an explosive team,” said Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton of North Little Rock. “When we kicked the field goal to make it 24-6, I thought seriously about going for it. You know if they don’t make it, they have to go 99 (yards). But we kick the field goal, and sure enough, next thing they do is score and they’re right back into it.”

Fayetteville’s next drive ended with another field goal from Starr, this one from 32-yards out with 6:41 to play which made the score 27-14. It took just two plays for NLR to find the end zone again.

After a completion for negative yards on the first play, sophomore quarterback Heath Land connected with Deion Tidwell at the Bulldogs’ 45-yard line.

Tidwell broke free from the safety and corner on the play, and dashed 68 yards for the score. The two-point try was unsuccessful, but Fayetteville’s lead was cut to seven with 5:43 to play.

The Bulldogs’ next possession ended when quarterback Austin Allen’s pass was intercepted by Wildcats senior linebacker Marcus Lindsey at the Fayetteville 45-yard line.

North Little Rock was able to move the ball inside the Fayetteville 5-yard line on the ensuing drive, but failed to punch it in as the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs.

The Bulldogs appeared to be in good shape after the defensive stand, but were forced to go three and out on its next possession, and Gary Vines returned the punt to the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line.

With 32 seconds on the clock and with no timeouts, North Little Rock scored on a hook and lateral play. Land passed the ball to Bailey Williams near the sideline, and Williams pitched the ball to Tenpenny who went five yards into the end zone to cut the deficit to one.

The Wildcats lined up for the extra point, but Land took the snap and rolled left and connected with Vines in the back of the end zone for the successful two-point conversion, which put NLR up 28-27. It was the Wildcats’ first lead of the game.

Fayetteville’s offense took the field with 27 seconds on the clock, and Allen’s first pass was an 11-yard completion to Braydon Cook. Cook was injured on the play, which stopped the clock. Allen’s next pass was complete to receiver Jordan Dennis in the middle of the field, and Dennis ran the ball all the way to the NLR 28-yard line.

With 11 seconds on the clock, Starr took the field for his longest attempt of the game, and in clutch fashion, Starr booted the ball through the uprights to put the Bulldogs back on top 30-28.

“I’m just proud of our kids,” Patton said. “They didn’t quit, they didn’t give up. It was just an all around good team win. I didn’t think we had it sealed up until we were running on the field at the end. This gets your blood going. When you’re in a tight ball game with a big crowd, semifinals with a trip to Little Rock on the line, that’s what you want.

“Give Ryan Starr credit, that was a huge, huge victory for us. I think for the year he’s like 11 out of 12 or 12 out of 13. The kid’s been money. To go out there in that situation with a lot riding on it, he’s got ice water in his veins.”

North Little Rock (10-2) out-gained Fayetteville (9-3) in total yards. The Wildcats finished the game with 362 yards of offense. The Bulldogs totaled 308. Land completed 9 of 13 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Holmes completed 50 percent of his passes for 63 yards and one touchdown.

Tenpenny finished his last game as a Wildcat with 19 carries for 52 yards and one touchdown. Allen completed 18 of 36 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Fayetteville will play archrival Bentonville for the third straight year in the class 7A state finals next Saturday. Kickoff starts at 6:30 p.m.