Central Arkansas Christian came close to upsetting the No. 1 team in Class 4A last week, but the Mustangs will instead use the experience as a confidence-builder for the rest of the season.
CAC, which secured a berth in the Class 4A state playoffs two weeks ago, fell to 4-3 overall, (3-2 in the 7-4A) after a 21-18 loss at Malvern last week. Tommy Shoemaker’s Mustangs will celebrate Senior Night at Mustang Mountain on Friday when Pulaski Robinson (2-6, 0-5) visits.
"In my mind, there are no moral victories," Shoemaker said. "I think all of us believe we should’ve won the ball game, but I think we will draw some confidence from it going forward, knowing if we’re prepared, we can compete with the best.
"But we’ve got to get over it and move on."
Robinson fell to Nashville last week, 49-13. The Senators returned six starters on offense and four on defense from a team that finished 4-6 in 2011 but that won 11 games two years ago. They lost their last four games last season.
"They have been struggling, but I think sometimes those teams are the most dangerous," Shoemaker said. "The teams that aren’t in the playoffs, with only a couple of games left, they’re the ones that come out and play like they have nothing to lose, and those can be dangerous. I think we learned our lesson a couple of weeks ago against Bauxite. We overlooked them, didn’t get mentally prepared, and it showed up, especially in the beginning.
"I hope we’ve learned our lesson to overlook our records and get ourselves ready to play. We’ve been playing well lately and we need to keep doing that. You want to be playing your best football going into the playoffs. That’s where our focus is."
Against Malvern, CAC took advantage of Leopard fumbles on the first two kickoffs. Chase Dowell hit Dylan Huckaby for a 13-yard score off the first one at 10:34 of the opening quarter. Beau Barnes kicked a 31-yard field goal at 8:59 for a 10-0 CAC lead.
Malvern rallied to take a 14-10 lead with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns — a 45-yard run by quarterback Austin Warford and a 23-yard pass from Warford to Kaylen Burks. Warford ran for the two-point conversion on the second TD.
Malvern added a 22-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, 21-10. CAC pulled witin 21-18 on Marquelle Nelson’s one-yard run and a Dowell pass to Josh Holland for the two-point conversion with 3:03 left. The Mustangs were driving late before Burks intercepted Dowell in the end zone as time expired.
Malvern improved to 8-0 and 5-0 in 7-4A.
"We felt like we had a great week of preparation and were ready to play," Shoemaker said. "I thought for the most part we played very well and should’ve won the ball game. I thought we played better than they did. We just made a few mistakes that cost us, and you just can’t do that.
"We’ve been telling our guys all year we can play with anybody in the state. I don’t know if they believed us, but they believe us now."
CAC earned 461 yards of offense (340 passing, 121 rushing). Dowell completed 25 of 42 passes for 340 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Six Mustangs caught passes, led by Holland (seven for 89 yards). Barnes caught five for 60 yards; Nelson and Huckaby caught four apiece for 61 and 50 yards, respectively. Dowell was the leading rusher with 80 yards on 15 carries.
"I’m really proud of them," Shoemaker said. "Defensively we played great. We gave up a couple of big plays, but they have a lot of great athletes, and offensively, even though we were outmatched up front, I thought our line did a good job. Chase played really well for a guy that coming into the season wasn’t expecting to play quarterback, and he’s had back-to-back 300-yard games. He’s doing a nice job for us and got us in a position to win, and that’s all you can ask for."
Five teams will qualify for the playoffs from the 7-4A. CAC could finish third, fourth or fifth, depending on the outcome of the final two regular-season games.
"They’re going to keep fighting and playing," Shoemaker said of his Mustangs. "If they just do what we ask them to do — play like there’s no scoreboard, keep playing — something good will happen."