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Football: Time runs out too soon on Tigers in 7A title game

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Photographs by Charlie Kaijo

Bentonville High School defensive end Ryley Martin (97) holds the Class 7A High School Football State Runner-up plaque on Saturday, December 2, 2017 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK -- Bentonville High thought it deserved one more chance, but the Tigers weren't going to get it Saturday afternoon.

The War Memorial Stadium clock couldn't stop fast enough after backup quarterback Easton Hughes spiked the ball, and it allowed North Little Rock to escape with the Class 7A state championship and a wild 44-37 victory over Bentonville. It also ended the 7A-West Conference's recent domination in state championships as the Charging Wildcats gave the 7A-Central its first crown since 2004.

Bentonville had first-and-goal at the North Little Rock 10 with 2 seconds left but no timeouts remaining. Hughes then spiked the ball to stop the clock, but the officials called the game over at that point, much to the dismay of coach Jody Grant, the entire Bentonville team and its following from Northwest Arkansas as boos echoed from the west side of the stadium.

"You would like to see that sort of thing taken care of on the field and let the kids play it out," Grant said. "That ball was spiked with time left on the clock, but I'm not going to throw those officials under the bus.

"I'm just proud of the way our kids played, but I would have loved to had another shot at it. North Little Rock is a good football team, and they're champs for a reason."

Bentonville (10-3) trailed 44-30 after Tyler Day's 13-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining, and Hughes was forced into action when starter Nathan Lyons was injured after a 3-yard run near midfield. The junior quickly completed four straight passes, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Johnson to make it a 44-37 game after Sam Younger's extra point with 17 seconds left.

Davis Hogue then caused the onside kick to bounce over the shoulder of a North Little Rock player, and Kam'Ron Mays-Hunt leaped to haul in the ball at the Charging Wildcats 41 with 15 seconds remaining. Hughes then completed passes of 13 yards to Preston Crawford and 18 yards to Johnson before time expired after the spike.

"Our backup came in and did a real nice job," Grant said. "It gave our kids a chance. I guess what makes me proud the most is our kids never gave up. That's true for our entire season. We started 1-2 and people had already thrown in the towel on us. Look at us today."

Bentonville had a 17-16 halftime lead, but the lead changed hands five times in the second half as the two teams traded scores. Crawford, who had a combined 236 yards and three touchdowns rushing and receiving, ended the third quarter by hauling in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Lyons and put the Tigers ahead 24-23.

North Little Rock (13-0) regained the lead on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by David Chapple with 8:49 on the clock, only to have Bentonville counter with Crawford's 16-yard touchdown run with 5:59 remaining. The Charging Wildcats, however, needed only two plays and 25 seconds to respond as Aaron Griffin hauled in a 68-yard touchdown pass from Chapple and gave North Little Rock the lead for good.

Chapple only had 23 yards passing through the first three quarters and had two deep passes intercepted before hitting Griffin, who caught the ball despite a trio of Bentonville defenders. Two of those defenders then collided, allowing Griffin to cruise the last 35 yards for the score.

"When coach called the play, I thought 'This is the only play I score on,'" Griffin said. "I know nobody could hold me. I just ran, then I saw the opening when they split. I just kept on running.

"You just can rush a play like that. You have to call it at the right time. We had to run, run, run, then try to do it. After I caught, I looked back and saw the defenders on the ground."

Bentonville then took the ensuing kickoff and moved from its 37 to the North Little Rock 43 in three plays, but disaster struck two plays later. Lyons was hit by Zavion Moore as he was trying to throw, and the ball deflected off another player before it fell into the hands of defensive tackle Sam Taylor, who returned it to the Bentonville 47 with 3:49 remaining.

The Charging Wildcats used six plays -- all on the ground -- to cover the distance and chew up more than 2 minutes off the clock. Day ran it in from 13 yards out, and Savana Melton's kick made it a 44-30 game with 1:27 remaining.

The 81 total points was the highest scoring total in a Class 7A title game, eclipsing the 77 scored during Bentonville's 49-28 victory over Fayetteville in the 2010 championship game.

Sports on 12/03/2017

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