Central Arkansas Christian’s football playoff hopes took a big hit last week at Pulaski Robinson, and now the Mustangs need a little help to make it to the postseason.
By the time Ashdown visits Mustang Mountain for Senior Night on Friday, the Mustangs will know if they can advance with a win or whether they will be playing for pride alone.
The Mustangs are 4-5 (2-4 in the 7-4A) after a deceptive 52-42 loss at Robinson. If the Senators (5-4, 2-4) beat Arkansas Baptist on Thursday, they will advance to the Class 4A State Playoffs as the fifth and final seed from the 7-4A.
If Baptist beats Robinson and CAC beats Ashdown, the Mustangs would be in.
"It’s not beyond reason," CAC coach Tommy Shoemaker said Sunday. "The only thing we can do is do our part — take care of our business and start trying to get ready to play."
Already having clinched a playoff berth are Arkadelphia and Malvern, both 6-0, who will play for the conference championship Friday; Ashdown (4-2) and Nashville (3-3). After Robinson and CAC at 2-4 are Arkansas Baptist (1-5) and Bauxite (0-6).
Ashdown will roll into Mustang Mountain 7-2 overall and will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Helped by the more than 50 players (led by 18 seniors) who participated in spring football, the Panthers have had a good turnaround from their 3-7 finish last year, which included a 35-20 loss to CAC in the regular season finale. They tied for fifth in the conference despite losing their final five games. Eight starters return on either side of the football from that team.
"They’re really talented," Shoemaker said. "They’ve got a few kids playing who weren’t playing last year and some really good skill people. They’ve always done a good job on defense, and this year their offense is a lot better. It’s a tough combination — well coached and good athletes."
The Panthers have lost only to Arkadelphia and Malvern in conference play and rolled over Arkansas Baptist last week, 48-24.
At Robinson last week, the Senators’ senior kicker, Adam Toler, made a 28-yard field goal with eight seconds left that broke a 42-all tie. The Senators added an unexpected final touchdown with a 44-yard interception return on the final play of the game.
"I thought we were going to overtime," Shoemaker said. "Next thing I knew, they were flying down the field again. We had the ball with three or four minutes left and had to punt with about a minute and a half left. We pinned them pretty deep, but their quarterback made a big run to get them out of bad field position and they got in position to kick a field goal and the kicker made the kick. The last score was just a fluky thing."
He said he would have felt pretty good about facing overtime.
"That’s why I punted," he said. "But we just didn’t make plays, and that’s been our story all year. We just have really struggled defensively. We’ve tried different combinations of personnel and those things haven’t worked out. That’s been really frustrating, especially because we have been scoring and moving the ball on offense.
"But we’re still trying to do different things to try to find a combination that will work for us so we can get (the opponent’s) offense off the field."
Robinson’s Keemon Otay returned the opening kickoff 75 yards for the game’s first score. The Mustangs tied it shortly afterward when Jack Thomas hit Zack Pierce for a 45-yard scoring play. Robinson went up 21-7 after a couple of TD runs by its sophomore quaterback, but the Mustangs closed within two points by the end of the first quarter on Braylon Harris’ two-yard run and Thomas’ 33-yard pass to Stephen Flanigan. The first extra point try was blocked, and the Mustangs were unsuccessful on the two-point conversion on the second.
Thomas’ 7-yard TD run and Kyler Simmons’ run for the two-point conversion gave the Mustangs a halftime lead of 27-21. But Robinson answered with Johnson’s 20-yard pass to Kody Williams, and the PAT gave the Senators a 28-27 lead before CAC rallied again. The Mustangs led by 42-35 early in the fourth quarter on Thomas’ 10-yard pass to Kayleb Scallon before Robinson answered with another long pass play from Johnson.
Shoemaker called it "a bizarre night." Coaches found out Tuesday going in that center Chandler Hamilton had a concussion and wouldn’t be available, so they moved in junior James Terry.
"He did OK, but we weren’t consistent, and we had to get a new deep snapper," Shoemaker said. "It was a different kind of week, but at the end of the day, if we play well on defense that’s not an issue. There were times we didn’t capitalize on offense, but we had the ball with three minutes left, so in my mind, we should go down and win the ball game."