With Arkadelphia coming to Mustang Mountain for Central Arkansas Christian’s homecoming on Friday, the Mustangs have no time to spare worrying about a disappointing loss to Nashville last week.
Tommy Shoemaker’s Mustangs are 2-2 overall, 1-1 in the 7-4A, after a 49-21 loss to Nashville, which was then ranked No. 6 in Class 4A by one statewide newspaper. Arkadelphia is 5-0 for the first time since 1987 after a 48-19 win over Arkansas Baptist. The Badgers, ranked third, are 2-0 in conference play.
"There’s no time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," Shoemaker said. "Our kids will bounce back. They’re used to playing tough games back to back. I expect them to be ready to go, and I’m certain we’ll get their best effort. They always seem to get themselves ready to play and play hard for us. A lot of our goals are still in front of us. We just have to clean up some mistakes."
The Badgers had a balanced attack — offense, defense and special teams — last week against Baptist. Junior quarterback Jakahari Howell rushed three times for 114 yards and two touchdowns and senior safety Derius Holt returned a pair of interceptions 31 and 44 yards, respectively, for TDs and added another on a 90-yard kickoff return.
The Badgers have already won more games than they did all last season, when they finished 4-7 but tied for third in the 5A-Southwest to reach the playoffs, where they fell to Greenbrier in the first round, 35-16. The wins included a 28-26 decision over CAC. Four starters return on offense and nine on defense from that squad.
"I’m not surprised by the level of athletes they have," Shoemaker said. "I’ve seen them on the basketball floor, but for whatever reason, they weren’t playing football before this season. They’re certainly one of the most athletic teams you’ll see in (Class) 4A."
He said the major difference in this year’s Badgers is they’ve added offensive explosiveness to a sound defense. Howell, a junior, has moved from receiver to quarterback and is "a big playmaker," Shoemaker said.
The key for CAC, though, is to focus on itself.
"We’ve got to fix the mistakes we’re making," the coach said. "Obviously, we have to prepare for Arkadelphia, but if we don’t fix some of the things we’re doing, it won’t matter, and quite frankly, if we had done some of those things Friday, we’d have been in a lot better shape."
Nashville put up 29 points in the third quarter to crack open a close game. The Mustangs scored first, covering 65 yards in 11 plays on their opening drive. Quarterback Chase Dowell and running back Marquelle Nelson moved them down the field early before Dowell hit Beau Barnes for a 31-yard gain. Dowell rushed for the final four yards; Barnes’ kick at 6:05 of the opening quarter gave CAC a 7-0 lead.
After forcing the Scrappers to three-and-out on their first drive, CAC lost an interception to Eric Perez at the Nashville 3. The Scrappers went 97 yards in nine plays on the ensuing drive, with Jakaree Gaines, Kyler Lawrence and Tesean Green sharing rushing duties. Gaines scored on first-and-goal from the 6 with 11:33 left in the second quarter. Jalen Whitmore’s PAT tied the game at 7.
After a CAC punt, Nashville converted an eight-play, 63-yard drive to take the lead. Joel Hendry hit Levonte Thomas for the 11-yard score with 6:09 before halftime; the kick was blocked, leaving the Scrappers up by 13-7.
After the teams exchanged three-and-outs, CAC reclaimed the lead with a 60-yard drive. Nelson went for 30 yards and a touchdown on the eighth play; Barnes’ extra point made it 14-13 CAC at 1:04 of the second quarter.
But it didn’t take long after the break for Nashville to reassert its dominance. Hendry hit Lawrence for 68 yards on the first play from scrimmage of the second half. Whitmore’s kick made it 20-14 with 11:42 left in the third quarter. After Jacolby Lampkin snagged his second interception, the Scrappers took just one play to score again, this time a 23-yard pass from Hendry to Thomas. The kick was blocked again for a 26-14 Nashville lead with 9:09 left in the quarter.
Jack Partlow’s interception set up CAC at the Nashville 38 midway through the third, but the Mustangs were unable to convert. After CAC’s drive stalled at the Nashville 17, the Scrappers required four plays to cover the 83 yards. Hendry hit Thomas for a third second-half TD, this one for 26 yards. Lamichael Pettway’s run for the two-point conversion made it 34-14 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
The Scrappers had another quick-strike score after CAC’s punt on the ensuing drive. Gaines scored from 63 yards out on second-and-five. Pettway ran again for two, 42-14 with 37 seconds left in the period.
Nashville’s first drive of the fourth quarter covered 67 yards in two plays, with Pettway getting loose for 68 yards and a score with 9:47 left. Whitmore’s kick made it 49-14. The Mustangs managed one more score, covering 60 yards in 15 plays. Dowell hit Stephen Flanigan for the 12-yard score with 1:02 left; Barnes’ kick made the final score 49-21.
"It kind of snowballed on us in the second half," Shoemaker said. "We knew coming in they’ve been a big-play team, and they have a lot of great athletes. We knew that we were going to have to limit their big plays, and I thought we did a really good job in the first half. We played really well in the first half to give ourselves a chance, and then we let things get away from us in the second half.
"I was proud of our effort and the way several guys played. I know we gave great effort. We were giving up quite a bit in terms of size and athleticism. Whenever you play a team as talented as Nashville, you can’t make mistakes, and we made some that turned out to be very costly."
Nashville finished with 505 yards on 41 offensive plays. CAC managed 240 on 68. The Mustangs more than doubled time of possession (32:18 to 15:42). Gaines earned 184 yards on 11 rushes; Pettway added 79 on three carries. Nelson led CAC’s rushing stats with 44 yards on 11 carries.
Hendry completed 11 of 15 passes for 192 yards with one interception. Lawrence caught three for 103 yards; Thomas and Pettway also made three catches each, for 50 and 15 yards, respectively. Dowell completed 23 of 38 passes for 154 yards with three interceptions; Barnes caught nine passes for 71 yards; Nelson caught five for 26 yards.