Photographs by Benjamin Krain
Pulaski Academy’s Brett Lynch (4) catches a 47-yard pass from Layne Hatcher in front of Andre Campbell on the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter during the Bruins’ victory in the Class 5A championship game Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Make it four in a row for the Pulaski Academy Bruins.
The Bruins erased a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to nip the Little Rock McClellan Crimson Lions 37-36 on Saturday night in the Class 5A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Led by Coach Kevin Kelley, Pulaski Academy (14-0) became the first team since Barton in 1986-1989 to win four consecutive state championships. Barton won four Class A titles in a row under Frank McClellan, who is the state's all-time winningest coach with 367 victories.
Pulaski Academy has won seven state titles overall, all with Kelley since 2003.
"It's an almost euphoric feeling for a guy like me and our football team," said Kelley, whose Bruins defeated Wynne in the 2014 and 2016 Class 5A state championship games and McClellan in the 2015 title game. "I don't think they've taken it in how hard it is because they're so used to winning. When these guys take a step back and get a little older, they'll look and say, 'Wow, there's Barton. There's PA.' I think at that point, it will hit them.
"As coaches, we know how hard it is and we know what we've accomplished is something special. To do it against McClellan that plays us as well as anybody, I couldn't be more pleased."
Also, Pulaski Academy set the state record for most points in a season with 784 points. The previous record was 753 set by Junction City in 2003.
Senior quarterback Layne Hatcher completed 29 of 50 passes for 411 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He finished his career 41-1, with his lone loss coming to East High School in Salt Lake City in Week 2 of the 2016 season.
Senior wide receiver Brett Lynch led the Bruins with 9 receptions for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. Classmate Tra Johnson had 6 catches for 122 yards and 1 touchdown.
However, Saturday's victory did not come easy for the Bruins against their 5A-Central Conference rival.
McClellan (10-4) led 20-8 at the end of the first quarter, 20-16 at halftime and 36-23 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter belonged to Pulaski Academy.
On a third and 7 at the Pulaski Academy 14, McClellan senior quarterback Tyrse Lair was intercepted by John David White in the end zone with 8:51 left and Crimson Lions ahead 36-30.
Hatcher then went to work with the state's best offense that entered Saturday averaging 57.5 points per game. He found Lynch for a 47-yard completion to the McClellan 32 on fourth and 9. Four plays later, Hatcher scored from 19 yards out and his point-after attempt gave the Bruins their first lead of the game, 37-36, with 6:03 remaining.
McClellan had an opportunity to take the lead, but Lair was sacked for a 10-yard loss on fourth and 3 by senior linebacker Wesley Wise, giving the ball back to the Bruins.
Pulaski Academy's drive stalled at the McClellan 45 with 1:01 remaining, and the Bruins punted for the first time since Week 1 in 2015 at Highland Park in Dallas as Hatcher punted 22 yards to the McClellan 23.
From there, Lair passed for 37 yards to the left sideline to senior wide receiver Jaylin Cunningham. But Cunningham was stripped by White, and Lynch recovered the fumble to seal the Bruins' victory with 47 seconds left.
Kelley admitted Saturday's game wasn't a typical one for his Bruins.
"McClellan is going to play us well. They always have," Kelley said of the Crimson Lions, who held the Bruins to a season low in points. "Tonight was no exception. Our kids stepped up and made plays when they had to."
McClellan Coach Maurice Moody was proud of his team's effort, but lamented its inability to close out Pulaski Academy.
"They played extremely hard," Moody said. "We were right there. They made one more play than we did."
Senior running back Andre Campbell rushed for 87 yards and 3 touchdowns (1, 15 and 50 yards) on 9 carries. Lair accounted for 134 yards, including 97 passing and 2 passing touchdowns.
Hatcher was sacked seven times, but helping the Bruins win their fourth consecutive state championship and getting his third as a starter was worth absorbing the hits.
"It's a stamp in the history books to us," Hatcher said. "We talked about it in January. Before the game, they told us the last seven teams in this situation lost [Pine Bluff Dollarway, Pine Bluff, Greenwood, Nashville, Shiloh Christian, El Dorado and Junction City]. I'm like, 'Golly, maybe this isn't looking good for us.'
"But we're going to find a way."
Most consecutive Arkansas high school football championships:
TEAM NO. YEARS
Little Rock/LR Central 6 1952-1957
Pine Bluff 5 1925-1929
Little Rock 5 1917-1921
Pulaski Academy 4 2014-2017
Barton 4 1986-1989
NOTE Little Rock High School became Little Rock Central in 1957.
Sports on 12/03/2017
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