Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JIMMY JONES
Pulaski Academy head coach Kevin Kelley
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Pulaski Academy never shied away from talking about a fourth consecutive state championship this season.
Today, the Bruins can become the first team since Barton from 1986-1989 to win four titles in a row, but they'll have to go through their biggest nemesis during their title run in the Little Rock McClellan Crimson Lions.
The 5A-Central Conference rivals face each other for the second time in three seasons at the Class 5A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Game time is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
The six previous teams to win three titles in a row were Pine Bluff Dollarway (1988-1990), Pine Bluff (1993-1995), Greenwood (2005-2007), Nashville (2005-2007), Shiloh Christian (2008-2010), El Dorado (2009-2011) and Junction City (2012-2014). None won a fourth.
"We knew that if we made it here, we didn't want this week to be the first time we talked about it," Pulaski Academy Coach Kevin Kelley said. "I wanted them to know it was a real thing and not all of a sudden think, 'Oh, my gosh, it's a four-peat.' They've known it all year. They've talked about it all year.
"We've got no problem talking about how hard it is. You've got to have a few bounces. You've got to get better because everybody is going to give you your best shot."
Pulaski Academy (13-0) -- the 5A-Central champion that defeated Valley View, Harrison and Nettleton in its first three playoff games -- is enjoying one of the state's all-time offensive seasons. The Bruins have scored 747 points, six points shy of Junction City's 2003 record of 753 points, and are averaging 57.5 points per game.
Senior quarterback Layne Hatcher, who is 40-1 as a starter at Pulaski Academy, is the state's record holder in passing yards (15,059) and touchdown passes (182). He's completed 353 of 479 passes for a career-high 5,355 yards with 63 touchdowns and 8 interceptions this season.
Hatcher's top three offensive weapons -- senior wide receivers Tra Johnson and Brett Lynch, and junior tight end Hudson Henry -- have caught 47 of his 63 touchdown passes. Lynch is the Bruins' leader with 19 touchdown receptions, followed by Johnson with 18 and Henry at 10.
Kelley said having two new defensive coordinators -- Jason Wyatt and Madison Taylor in place of Todd Wood -- he wanted his offense to take pressure off of the defense.
"We've had several games where we've scored every single possession with our first team," Kelley said. "You want to be perfect. You know you're not going to be perfect on every play. But if you're perfect on all of your possessions, that's the max. That's the optimum level.
"If you score every time, defensively, you won't have to get as many stops. You'll play more relaxed, be more aggressive and not think about giving up the big score and be worried about it because you know our offense will come back."
McClellan Coach Maurice Moody, who has faced Pulaski Academy four times since the start of the 2015 season and is preparing for a fifth meeting today, is excited about the Crimson Lions and Bruins meeting again.
"We're very familiar with them. They're very familiar with us," Moody said. "For some reason, they bring the best out of us. Our kids get up for PA. They're where we want to be as a program. They've won the titles. They've got the recognition as being one of the top programs not only in the state, but all over. Coach Kelley has done a fantastic job with those guys."
The Crimson Lions (10-3), the No. 3 seed from the 5A-Central, have been without a home stadium this season because of ongoing field construction at Lion Stadium on the McClellan campus. But they've persevered, winning three consecutive road playoff games at Batesville, Alma and Wynne to reach their second state championship game in three years.
"I've been really impressed with Coach Moody and his staff," Kelley said. "There's always been talent at McClellan. But being able to put in a game plan and some discipline and being able to teach those kids how to win, it's a fantastic job.
"They've been here two out of the last three years, which is an accomplishment because I think the top four out of the 5A are as good as anybody in the state of Arkansas."
Senior quarterback Tyrse Lair took over the starting position before the Crimson Lions' Class 5A semifinal game at Alma on Nov. 17 and has flourished, accounting for 781 yards and 9 touchdowns, including 664 rushing yards and 7 scores. Classmate Andre Campbell leads McClellan with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, senior linebacker Desmond Tidwell has a team-high 115 tackles, and Campbell and Lair each have three interceptions.
McClellan has an opportunity to not only end the Bruins' three-year title run but also be the first in-state team to defeat Pulaski Academy since Morrilton in the 2013 Class 5A quarterfinals. The Bruins are 45-0 against Arkansas teams since the start of the 2014 season.
"We want another opportunity to play them," Moody said. "Beating them, it would mean the world to our program. People want to see a giant fall sometimes. It would cement the things we're trying to accomplish at McClellan."
Class 5A state championship at a glance
LITTLE ROCK MCCLELLAN (10-3)
DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 at Sheridan W, 51-13 Sept. 8 at North Little Rock L, 48-30 Sept. 15 at LR Hall W, 63-8 Sept. 22 vs. Sylvan Hills W, 40-16 Sept. 29 at Mills W, 63-0 Oct. 6 vs. LR Fair W, 56-6 Oct. 13 at Beebe W, 54-21 Oct. 20 vs. LR Christian L, 22-19 Oct. 27 at Pulaski Academy L, 61-29 Nov. 2 vs. LR Parkview W, 26-24 Nov. 10 at Batesville# W, 16-12 Nov. 17 at Alma# W, 60-52 Nov. 24 at Wynne# W, 22-14 5A-Central game #Playoff game
NOTE McClellan did not play a home game in 2017
COACH Maurice Moody (34-24 in fifth season at school)
MASCOT Crimson Lions
RECORD 10-3, 5-2 5A-Central, third
RANKING No. 6 in Class 5A (at end of regular season)
PLAYERS TO WATCH QB/CB Tyrse Lair (Sr., 5-6, 150); RB/CB Andre Campbell (Sr., 5-10, 165); RB/LB Tommy Crump-ton (Sr., 6-1, 200); WR/CB Jaylin Cunningham (Sr., 5-9, 150) LB Bennie Kemp III (Sr., 6-1, 220)
PULASKI ACADEMY (13-0)
DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 1 at S. Springs (Okla.) W, 59-21 Sept. 8 Mem. Ridgeway W, 56-20 Sept. 15 Boss. City (La.) Pkwy. W, 62-21 Sept. 22 LR Fair W, 61-14 Sept. 29 at Beebe W, 58-21 Oct. 6 LR Christian W, 86-56 Oct. 13 at Sylvan Hills W, 49-21 Oct. 20 at LR Parkview W, 43-40 Oct. 27 LR McClellan W, 61-29 Nov. 2 at Mills W, 48-8 Nov. 10 Valley View# W, 57-21 Nov. 17 Harrison# W, 57-20 Nov. 24 at Nettleton# W, 50-28 5A-Central game
COACH Kevin Kelley (178-25-1 in 15th season at school)
RECORD 13-0, 7-0 5A-Central, first
RANKING No. 1 in Class 5A
PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Layne Hatcher (Sr., 6-1, 195); WR Tra Johnson (Sr., 6-2, 185); WR Brett Lynch (Sr., 6-2, 175); TE Hudson Henry (Jr., 6-4, 210); LB Brooks Walton (Sr., 5-11, 185)
Sports on 12/02/2017
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