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Wildcats thrive on 'bending face masks'

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Photographs by Benjamin Krain

North Little Rock running back Oscar Adaway leaps over Bentonville’s Jadyn Loudermilk during Saturday’s game.

The Class 7A state championship game Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock was a final reminder of North Little Rock's offensive identity in 2017.

It was perfect.

A little finesse and a lot of power were the recipe for a 44-37 victory over Bentonville, which gave North Little Rock (13-0) its first state title under the present playoff format.

The Charging Wildcats amassed 474 total yards, including 383 rushing, on 68 plays.

[HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCOREBOARD: Results + recaps, photos and more]

Fullback Tyler Day, a bullish 210-pound junior, scored what proved to be the clinching touchdown on a 13-yard run with 1:27 remaining in the game.

Leading 37-30, North Little Rock used six consecutive running plays to cover 47 yards for its two-touchdown cushion.

"That's what we pride our football team on -- being physical and getting off the ball," North Little Rock offensive coordinator Blake Pizan said. "It's what we call, 'Bending face masks.' Eventually over time, we feel like we're more physical than teams and we'll stick with it and stick with our plan."

Senior quarterback David Chapple completed only 7 of 15 passes for 91 yards and was intercepted twice. But the final pass of his high school career, a 68-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Aaron Griffin, gave North Little Rock the lead for good, 37-30, with 5:34 remaining in the game.

Chapple was able to find Griffin over the middle after faking an inside run and a reverse.

"I always have a good feeling about that play," Chapple said. "That's a bread-and-butter play. Even if it goes bad one time -- you saw it went bad one time -- we're still going to try it again."

Chapple was referring to an underthrown pass into double coverage that was intercepted late in the third quarter.

But on the touchdown, Griffin -- who missed last year's Class 7A title game loss to Fayetteville with a torn ACL -- was able to split two closing defenders when making the reception near the Bentonville 35.

"I knew when coach called the play, I was like, 'This is the only play I score on,' " Griffin said. "I know nobody can't hold me. So I just ran and then when I saw the opening, and they split, I just caught the ball and kept running."

Griffin was North Little Rock's leading receiver with three receptions for 77 yards.

Brandon Thomas, North Little Rock's prized sophomore tailback, was named the game's most valuable player after rushing 23 times for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns (24 and 8 yards).

Thomas, at times, also lined up at fullback.

"Whatever will get this team to win," Thomas said. "Whatever gets us to win."

Junior tailback Oscar Adaway, who often lined up at wing back, ran 15 times for 91 yards and 1 touchdown (20 yards). The bulk of Adaway's yardage came on speed sweeps.

Day finished with 45 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries. Chapple ran 7 times for 38 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown that gave North Little Rock a 29-24 lead with 8:49 remaining in the game.

Chapple credited his line for a dominant offensive performance.

"Whoa! Those are some dogs, man," Chapple said. "They gave me plenty of time in the pocket. They open up holes wide enough for a bus to go through. Bending face masks, hitting them with a brick. That's what we call it."

Sports on 12/03/2017

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