Central Arkansas Christian knew at kickoff that Friday’s game with Ashdown would be the last for the Mustangs in 2013.
But Tommy Shoemaker was pleased with his team’s effort and fight in the 48-32 loss to Ashdown on Senior Night at Mustang Mountain.
"It was just a tough night, but I was really proud," Shoemaker said. "We didn’t have anything to play for other than just playing for our seniors and our own pride.
"We had our chances, but we just couldn’t quite get over the hump. Obviously, they were really good, and they figured out they were bigger and stronger than we were and wore us down a little bit, but I was real proud of our kids. They battled. We got down early and it looked like we were going to be blown out, but they battled back and had the lead in the third quarter. We made some plays; we just didn’t quite make enough."
So the Mustangs closed 4-6 overall, 2-5 in the 7-4A. They finished sixth in the top-heavy conference, one spot short of a playoff berth. When Pulaski Robinson knocked off Arkansas Baptist on Thursday, 30-20, the Senators seized the league’s final playoff position.
"That was disappointing," Shoemaker said. "It could’ve been a real big negative, but our kids are just really resilient and still came out and gave it everything they had. That’s all I could ask for."
Robinson had beaten CAC the previous week, 52-42.
Arkadelphia (10-0, 7-0), Malvern (8-2, 6-1), Ashdown (8-2, 5-2), Nashville (6-4, 4-3) and Robinson (6-4, 3-4) qualified for the postseason.
Friday’s game seemed to be a microcosm of CAC’s season. Ashdown built a 28-20 lead after one quarter, but the Mustangs rallied to take the advantage in the third before the Panthers went up by 35-32 late in the period. They added two touchdowns late.
"It just seemed like we were a few plays away," Shoemaker said. "Especially on defense, we had some opportunities and didn’t capitalize, even though I thought we played really well and got some turnovers. But in the second half when we had to have it, we didn’t make the plays. It’s real frustrating for the kids, frustrating for the coaches, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for the fans, too, but the thing I was really pleased with was our effort.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that’s really all you can ask for. Things just didn’t bounce our way. We had to overcome some mistakes early that snowballed on us, but we weathered it and got back in it slowly."
The Mustangs will graduate Wade Crews, Billy Sullivan, Jack Thomas, Jack Partlow, Kyler Simmons, Zack Pierce, Seth Doremus and Adam Weiner.
"They are great kids, great character people and leaders," Shoemaker said. "I just wish we’d had double that number. I was really proud of the way they led the team and the way they carried themselves. They were positive all the way through, even when it was tough to be that way. Our other guys look up to them in a lot of ways, and we can build on that going forward."
With realignment, the Mustangs will move next year to the 2-4A against Heber Springs, Helena, Lonoke, Newport, Riverview, Southside Batesville and Stuttgart.
"It’s a good league; I just don’t know that any league could compare to the athleticism we had in our conference this year, at least among the top four," Shoemaker said. "It’s hard to imagine anybody having that combination of size and speed like those four schools do.
"I thought (the 7-4A) was a pretty good league last year, but I’m pretty sure it’s better this year."