For a program that thrives on old school football, there probably wasn’t a much better way to win a state title and cap the school’s first playoff-era perfect season.
On a rainy night, they did it with defense — beating Warren 14-12 Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Specifically, the Bearcats (15-0) did it with a key sack by Justin Shackleford and a Matt Berry interception.
After a turnover on downs at the Lumberjack 10-yard line, the Bearcats needed to hold a vaunted Lumberjack passing attack one last time, for 67 seconds.
After a pair of incomplete passes the Lumberjacks (10-4) got a 20-yard Drake Jones to Jaylon Marshal pass to the Warren 30. Jones connected with Darveon Brown for 14 on the next play and the ball was at the 44. Two plays later the Bearcats were flagged for pass interference and Warren was at the Bearcat 41.
After back-to-back incomplete passes, Bearcat sack leader Schackleford made his biggest of the year dropping Jones for a 3-yard loss to bring up fourth down, and more importantly, with Warren out of time outs, kept the clock running.
On fourth down Jones and the Lumberjacks went after Berry, the leading interceptor this season for Booneville, one last time and Berry picked Jones off for the second time, touching off a celebration that was hurried and ultimately curtailed by stadium officials wanting the night to end.
That was because two weather delays totalling 2:09, meant the game did not end until 11:42 p.m.
The defensive effort of holding Warren to just 12 points not withstanding, Booneville also did it with an offensive line of Dalton Gray, Michael Drawbaugh, Wade Weaver, R.J. Haynes and Tanner Elliott.
The Bearcats ran the ball 70 times in the game for 356 yards. The per carry average was a little shy of their normal rate, but was still a healthy 5.1 per play and Booneville had the ball for 34:58 to 13:02 for Warren.
Normally, the Bearcats want to put their defense on the field first, opting to defer if they win an opening coin toss. Friday, they wanted the football to make a statement.
While the offense did not produce points, Bryson May went for 16 on the opening play and the Bearcats got inside the Warren 10 before turning the ball over on downs.
The offense got a second chance when Bryson May recovered a Jones fumble 34 seconds later and a short, five play drive was capped by Bryson May going 2 yards for a touchdown. Josh Smith’s point after made it 7-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Warren turned the ball over on downs at the Bearcat 39 on the ensuing possession but the Bearcats would have to punt themeslves with 1:50 left in the quarter and Cody Harrel pinned the Lumberjacks at their 8.
A 57-yard boot by Justin Gorman would give the Bearcats the ball back at their 39 again with 29 seconds to go in the quarter. From there it was typical Booneville, going 10 plays in 61 yards including a dazzline run on which Harrel lost his helmet.
In the end Bryson May took a handoff from James Ray and muscled his way into the end zone to make it 14-0 with 7:44 to play in the half — the fullback ran for 105.
After another Warren punt the Bearcats moved from their 31 to midfield and had a third-and-4 when the stadium was cleared for an hour and 23 minutes.
Out of the break Harrel got two and Bryson May picked up a first down on fourth. Bryson May added 12 then Shackleford 15 before the Bearcats bogged down and turned the ball over on downs at the Warren 7 with 32 second to go in the half.
Warren made a bid to score in that amount of time but Berry intercepted a pass in the end zone 4 seconds until halftime.
The Bearcats started the second half by forcing a punt and, after a 17-yard Harrel to Damon May pass and a third down conversion by Bryson May, appeared ready to take the game over on their first possession of the half until a holding penalty — the Bearcats had six penalties for 44 yards — an injured Lumberjack and a second weather delay of 46 minutes delayed the action.
Out of the break Harrel got 2 yards but a false start made it fourth and 21 and an incomplete pass, with a declined peanlty gave Warren the ball.
The Lumberjacks went 70 yard in just 2:23 to make it 14-6 on a 5-yard Kilay Cox run. Kevin Cortes was wide on the PAT.
The Bearcats responded by moving to the Warren 23 but a deflected Harrel pass was picked off by DaQuan Daniels with 16 seconds left in the quarter.
A Lumberjack punt was follwed by a giant drive by the Bearcats that included a 45-yard run by game MVP Harrel — he ran for 139 yards and threw for 40 — and the Bearcats were at the Warren 22. Again the drive stalled and Warren took over on their 28.
The Lumberjacks scored in five plays with Cox going 21 for the touchdown but Jones was wrapped up by Joseph Saldana on a try for two with 4:47 left.
Harrel hit Damon May for 23 yards on a third-and-7 on the ensuing possession and the Bearcats got to the Warren 19 on a 9-yard run by Shackleford before Warren used all three time outs and held on downs at their 10 with 1:07 to go.