For the second consecutive, North Little Rock is playing for a state championship.
This time, the game will be at noon on Saturday and the Charging Wildcats will face Bentonville in a game that will be played at 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. Parking will be $5 and on the stadium’s east side.
North Little Rock enters the game 12-0 and riding a hot streak that started back in September, while Bentonville is 10-2 but one loss was to perennial national powerhouse Kansas City Rockhurst. The other was to Conway, the team that North Little Rock beat last Friday in the semifinals, 49-14. North Little Rock also defeated the Wampus Cats during the regular season.
This is not the first time this year that North Little Rock and Bentonville have squared off though. In a pre-season jamboree at Springdale Har-Ber, North Little Rock beat the Tigers, 41-18, in one half of action.
“Different team, different times,” North Little Rock coach Jamie Mitchell said after the Friday night win against Conway. “I was telling the coaches, we have to get ready but we are going to enjoy this one tonight.”
Key in that game was senior quarterback David Chapple, who set the tone, and scored three touchdowns on the ground.
At a Monday press conference, Bentonville coach Jody Grant, said the pre-season loss was a “wake-up call” and “they got after us. It showed us, the coaches, the things we needed to do to improve and we took those lessons with us.”
Both of Bentonville’s losses were in September, but have since reeled off nine consecutive victories.
Against Conway, North Little Rock used big plays to get the win.
“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.
North Little Rock rolled to 490 yards of total offense with 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.”
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.