Friday, November 21, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers rally into semifinals

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS – A 31-year absence from the semifinal round of the football playoffs is over for the Beebe football team. The Badgers overcame two early turnovers, a 14-0 deficit and a nearly unstoppable Hot Springs tailback to beat the Trojans 42-35 Friday at Hot Springs High School.

The Badgers fell behind 28-14 to what could have been a dagger play on the opening possession of the second half. From that point, the Badgers outscored the Trojans 28-7 to punch their ticket to a semifinal berth against the Wynne Yellowjackets next week.

“I felt good about it because look, we’ve been here before,” said Beebe coach John Shannon about his team’s early deficit. “Whatever kind of adversity you can think of, this team has been through it. But they’ve persevered through all of it. I’m so happy for those guys.”

Trailing 20-14, Beebe’s defense had backed the Trojans up after the Badgers failed to cover an onside kick to start the second half, but on third and 12, Hot Springs, which usually lines up in the Wing-T or Flexbone, went with an empty backfield and running back Cleo Floyd at quarterback. Floyd rolled right and the Badgers sold out to stop him. But Floyd pulled up and hit a wide-open Kenneth Jones for a 31-yard touchdown and a 14-point lead with 8:27 left in the third quarter.

The Trojans scarcely had the ball the rest of the game.

Beebe answered with a nine-play, 60-yard drive that included two hard counts that got Hot Springs to jump off sides on third down. After Clayton Meurer’s 7-yard touchdown run, Beebe kicker Tyler Jones got a perfect bounce on a second on-side kick, and Bo Smith covered it for the Badgers at the Hot Springs 44. Meurer then went 30 yards on first down, Trip Smith went 9 yards and Jo’Vaughn Wyrick went 5 for the score. Jones’ extra point tied the game with 3:10 left in the third.

Hot Springs needed just two minutes to score when Floyd went 60 yards on third and 6 to put the Trojans back up 35-28.

The Badgers then got behind the chains with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a 1-yard gain. They got 17 yards on the next two plays to set up fourth and 7. The punt unit took the field but it was a fake – a fake that did not work properly, but worked nonetheless. The quick handoff was dropped and kicked. Wyrick chased it down 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, dodged one tackler and outran everyone else for the first down. The Badgers converted four more third downs on the drive, including a 32-yard run by Meurer to the Hot Springs 7. Nunez got the last two for the score and the tie with 7:30 remaining.

Hot Springs faced fourth and 3 on the ensuing possession, and Beebe senior Austin Huhn stopped Floyd short of the first down to give the Badgers possession with 5:26 remaining.

“That was just another senior who didn’t want it to end,” Shannon said of Huhn’s stop. They all played big tonight.”

What followed was a methodical Beebe drive – going 50 yards in 10 plays, including a 10-yard gain by Smith on fourth and 1 from the 15. Nunez kept up the middle on the next play for the score with 30 seconds remaining.

Hot Springs got to the Badger 34, but Connor Patrom intercepted a pass intended for Floyd with five seconds left.

The Badgers fumbled the opening kickoff and the Trojans recovered on the Beebe 27. Hot Springs scored in five plays to take a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

Beebe took over on its own 26 and drove down inside the Trojan 20, but Wyrick fumbled again while fighting for extra yards, and again Hot Springs covered.

The next Hot Springs drive wasn’t as fast, but the result was the same. The Trojans went 85 yards in 15 plays, with a key play being a 22-yard run by Floyd on third and 9. Floyd also got the last 2 for the score with 11:34 left in the second quarter.

A nice return by Wyrick set the Badgers up at their own 44, and this time they held onto the ball. The Badgers went 56 yards in 10 plays with Wyrick scoring from 4 yards out with 6:35 left in the first half.

Beebe defensive end Dusty Grier put Hot Springs behind the chains when he tackled quarterback Anthony Goffigan for a 2-yard loss. Floyd only got back to the original line of scrimmage on second down, and a third down pass attempt fell incomplete.

The subsequent punt went just 15 yards, and Beebe took over on its own 42.

The Badgers got behind the chains as well, but a 13-yard pass from Nunez to Meurer converted a third and 11. Wyrick gained 17 on first down from the Hot Springs 32, and Smith got 12 on the next play to set up first and goal at the 3. Two plays later, Nunez scored the first of his three touchdowns on the sneak to tie the game with 1:13 remaining in the first half.

Hot Springs went into halftime with the lead when Floyd went 67 yards on the first play of the ensuing possession.

Beebe finished with 407 total yards to just 289 for Hot Springs. Floyd had almost all of them, carrying 18 times for 223 yards and three touchdowns.

Smith led Beebe with 25 carries for 153 yards. Meurer carried 10 times for 118, including eight for 105 in the second half. He also caught three passes for 34 yards.