Saturday, November 03, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats slow out of gate, dominate

Leader sports editor

North Little Rock was in a dogfight for about three quarters Thursday at North Little Rock Stadium. Little Rock Central scored on a kickoff return and strangely enough, on an incomplete pass, to pull within seven points late in the third quarter. But the Charging Wildcats scored 21 unanswered points in the last 14 minutes to put away the tough Tigers and win 42-14, finishing conference play perfect at 7-0.

The Charging Wildcats’ defense was stellar throughout the game and the offense moved the ball effectively, but struggled to score in the early going. North Little Rock led just 7-0 at halftime despite holding a huge advantage in total yards, 265-81.

“We left what, at least 14 points on the field going into halftime,” North Little Rock coach Brad Bolding said. “We have to do a better job of capitalizing on those opportunities. But look, you’ve got to give credit to Central. They had a good game plan coming in and I don’t think we made adjustments like we need to until halftime.”

Central made the home team pay for those missed opportunities quickly in the second half.

Kicker Sandy Burkes sent the opening kickoff of the second half over the Central deep man’s head. Logan Moragne picked it up at the 2-yard line, started left and was never touched as he raced 98 yards for the score. The extra point was no good, leaving it 7-6 with 11:45 left in the third quarter.

Central had three long kick returns. Another would lead to Central’s second score of the game, but not until the Wildcats put 14 on the board to take a 21-6 lead.

After the Tigers’ first touchdown, North Little Rock took over on its own 43-yard line and went to the air. Quarterback Payton Holmes was incomplete on his first throw, but then hit Rodney Bryson on back-to-back plays totaling 44 yards to the Central 13. Two carries by Altee Tenpenny and one by Deion Tidwell left it fourth and 3 at the 6-yard line.

Heath Land then went under center for what was supposed to be a lob outside, but the Tigers had that covered. Land abandoned the designed first option, stood in the pocket as pressure came and found senior receiver Bailey Williams in the back of the end zone for the score. Burks’ extra point made it 14-6 with 8:43 left in the third.

Moragne took the next kickoff 35 yards to midfield. The Tigers were stopped on fourth and 1 at the 41, but nose guard Javian Williams was called for 15-yard facemask penalty when he pulled Moragne down for a 3-yard loss with one hand on the side of his helmet.

Three more plays netted a 1-yard loss, but Central went for it on fourth and 11 from the 30. Quarterback Cooper Westbrook’s pass was complete to Reggie Harris, but only for 10 yards and the Wildcats took over at the 30.

Juan Day carried five times for 42 yards and Tenpenny carried twice for 7 to get the Wildcats to the 16-yard line. Holmes then found tight end Cameron Williams for a scoring strike to make it 21-6 with 4:11 left in the third.

Marcus Robinson returned the next kickoff 60 yards to the Wildcat 23. Two runs by A.J. Tucker set up first and goal from the 10, and that’s where things went strangely.

Three plays and one penalty netted the Tigers a loss of 4 yards. On fourth and goal from the 14, Westbrook’s pass to Tucker in the back right corner of the south end zone fell incomplete and rolled out of bounds.

The official on top of the play called it incomplete, but the line judge from the other side of the field signaled touchdown. After a brief discussion, the head referee signaled touchdown.

A two-point conversion made it 21-14 with 3:03 left in the third, but North Little Rock dominated the action from that point.

“Our guys are all about going back to the drawing board when something like that happens,” Bolding said. “When these seniors were sophomores, they went out and played Bentonville and got demolished. We did that on purpose because we wanted them to know what it takes to compete in big games.”

On the ensuing kickoff, a double reverse handoff ended up in the hand of sophomore Fabian Lewis, who took it 85 yards up the Central sideline for the score to make it 28-14 with 2:49 left in the third. North Little Rock covered an on-side kick but failed to convert a first down.

Central then went three and out and punted, setting up the Wildcats’ fourth touchdown of the third. Tenpenny went up the middle, cut left at the second level and outran the Tiger defenders 51 yards to make it 35-14 with one second remaining in the third.

Bryson got the last score when he got loose for a 48-yard jaunt up the home sideline with 5:01 left in the game.

North Little Rock finished with 531 yards of offense while Central gained just 186. Tenpenny led all rushers with 158 yards on 20 carries. He also scored the only touchdown in the first half on a 3-yard reception.

Day, who was playing in his first game since suffering a concussion against Searcy four weeks ago, picked up 119 yards on 16 carries.

“I was excited to get back on the field,” Day said. “Last week I was asking to play so I just told myself I’m going to play hard this game. At the beginning I think I was shying away from contact. Their linebacker can really hit. But as the game went on I got back to my normal self and started running hard.”

Bryson had 114 total yards, including 66 rushing and 48 receiving. Holmes and Land combined to complete 14 of 25 pass attempts for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Holmes was seven of 13 for 86 yards and one score while Land complete seven of 12 for 54 yards and a touchdown.

North Little Rock (9-1) now waits two weeks to see whom it will host in the second round of the state playoffs. The Wildcats will play the winner of the West four seed vs. the Central five seed. The west four is between Bryant and Springdale Har-Ber while the Central five is Cabot.