North Little Rock used a combination of big plays and a grind it out drive to beat Conway, 49-14, Friday in the Class 7A semifinals.
The win advances the Charging Wildcats to the state championship next Saturday and kickoff is set for noon. North Little Rock will face Bentonville in the finals at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium. Tickets are $7 for adults and $6 for students. The can be purchased in advance at the school, or day of the game at War Memorial.
This is North Little Rock's second consecutive trip to the championship game, something that North Little Rock coach Jamie Mitchell knows.
“We got to find a way to win this thing,” Mitchell said. “We are on the doorstep now.”
North Little Rock lost to Fayetteville in the state title game last season. It was North Little Rock's first shot at the state championship since the modern era of the playoffs began in the 1970s.
Mitchell is familiar with state title appearances taking his Mississippi high school teams to three and winning one for Starkville and now has a title of five championship appearances.
The game got out of hand early as North Little Rock jumped out to a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and were up 35-0 before Conway scored in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
“Never saw that coming,” Mitchell said. “We just hit some plays early. Explosive plays.”
Up 35-7 at the half, North Little Rock scored on the opening drive of the third quarter to go up by 35 points as the mercy rule and its running clock started.
North Little Rock scored one last touchdown before Conway set the final margin with a score in garbage time late in the fourth quarter.
While Bentonville isn't quite a rematch, North Little Rock faced them in a pre-season jamboree in northwest Arkansas before the start of the season.
It wasn't pretty, for Bentonville at least, as North Little Rock ran wild and beat the Tigers, 41-18, in one half of action.
“Different team, different times,” Mitchell said. “I was telling the coaches, we have to get ready but we are going to enjoy this one tonight.”
North Little Rock rolled to 490 yards of total offense with senior quarterback David Chapple leading the way, again.
Chapple passed for 190 yards on a six-of-10 night and three touchdowns. His scoring plays were 80, 62 and 23. The first two were to tight end David Martin and the last went to senior Deontae Montgomery. Chapple also rushed for four yards, but scored two touchdowns, each on one-yard carries.
“He's lethal.” Mitchell said of Chapple. “He doesn't even come close to getting the attention he deserves.”
In the pre-season scrimmage, Chapple set the tone, and scored three touchdowns on the ground.
Brandon Thomas, the North Little Rock sophomore, led all rushers with 166 yards on 16 carries. He added two touchdowns. Senior kicker Savana Melton was perfect on the night and hit all seven extra point attempts.
North Little Rock's defense shutdown Conway running back Michael George to just 62 yards on 16 carries. George, a 2,000 yard rusher, had been limited to under 100 yards just once, earlier this season.
History isn't on North Little Rock's side as a team from the 7A-Central hasn't won a state title since 2004 when Little Rock Central beat Gus Malzahn's junior-laden Springdale squad. That team led by marquee names like Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams won the next season and that started the West's championship run of more than a decade.
North Little Rock is looking to break that streak.