Re­silient Dragons

Junc­tion City in state fi­nals thanks to come­backs

El Dorado News-Times - - Sports - By Ja­son Avery News-Times Staff

Frayed nerves. Mo­ments of angst. High drama. And vic­tory.

This has been Junc­tion City’s run to the 3A state fi­nals in a nut­shell, and it cer­tainly has been far from con­ven­tional.

In all three of their play­off wins, Junc­tion City has trailed in the fourth quar­ter.

Against Hard­ing Academy, Hish­mma Tay­lor’s suc­cess­ful run on a two-point con­ver­sion fol­low­ing a 17-yard touch­down run on fourth-and-3 with 1:13 left gave the Dragons the lead for good.

A week later against Clin­ton, the Dragons went right to the wire, as Shu­vas­ceiaye Fra­zier’s 1-yard run with nine sec­onds left proved to be the dif­fer­ence in the con­test.

Last week against Osce­ola, the Dragons didn’t need last-sec­ond hero­ics from the of­fense to pull out a win, it was the de­fense, namely Keyvon­tae Haynes’ sec­ond fourth-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion in the red zone cou­pled with Tay­lor and the Dragons’ of­fen­sive line be­ing able to run out the re­main­ing 2:40 that sealed the win.

The mo­men­tum swings in the last two games have been vast.

Against Clin­ton, the Dragons led 36-13 mid­way through the third quar­ter only to see the vis­i­tors

rally to take a 43-42 lead be­fore Fra­zier’s afore­men­tioned touch­down run was the fi­nal say on mat­ters.

Last week, the swing was even big­ger.

Junc­tion City raced out a 30-7 lead just mo­ments into the sec­ond quar­ter, but the Semi­noles scored 38 unan­swered points to lead 38-30 be­fore the Dragons’ third con­sec­u­tive fourth-quar­ter rally sent them to Fri­day’s cham­pi­onship game against River­crest.

Need­less to say, fans at­tend­ing Junc­tion City’s three play­off games have got­ten their money’s worth along with hoarse voices and chewed nails.

“We made mis­takes in all three of the games that we prob­a­bly could’ve put one or two of those teams away if we played mis­take-free foot­ball,” said Junc­tion City coach Steven Jones. “But just the bat­tle and the body lan­guage of our guys that you see on the field, they just feel like they’re never out of it.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what the score is. As long as there is time left on the clock, we re­ally feel like we have a chance to win, and our kids keep com­pet­ing.

“That’s why we have the op­por­tu­nity to win a state ti­tle.”

Close wins in the play­offs have been a rar­ity for the Dragons.

Junc­tion City’s three play­off wins this fall have all been in sin­gle dig­its by a com­bined 14 points.

In the 14 play­off games the Dragons played dur­ing their run of 2A state ti­tles from 201214, Junc­tion City played only two games that were de­cided within 10 points with the Dragons’ dra­matic 28-27 win over Bear­den in the 2012 state cham­pi­onship game be­ing the clos­est.

The only other two play­off wins the Dragons own that were in sin­gle dig­its in this decade came in con­sec­u­tive weeks in 2011 when Junc­tion City topped Min­eral Springs 21-20 in over­time be­fore down­ing Mag­a­zine 9-3 the fol­low­ing week.

Although Junc­tion City’s games have had many peaks and val­leys, Jones said he keeps his fo­cus on mak­ing ad­just­ments.

“We just try to play the game,” Jones said. “We just try to keep push­ing our kids to com­pete and keep fight­ing and keep bat­tling.

“We try to make a lot of cor­rec­tions and see the mis­takes that we’ve made through­out the game and have those fixed, put to­gether a good fourth quar­ter and be there at the end.”

Fast starts and strong fin­ishes have been a sta­ple of the 2017 play­offs for the Dragons, who have outscored op­po­nents 28-7 in the open­ing pe­riod and 36-16 in the fourth quar­ter.

Junc­tion City’s de­fense also has pitched shutouts in four of those six quar­ters.

The Dragons have also have had a pen­chant for forc­ing turnovers at crit­i­cal junc­tures.

In ad­di­tion to his two in­ter­cep­tions against Osce­ola, Haynes had one against Clin­ton to end a drive in Junc­tion City ter­ri­tory, and the Dragons had two huge turnovers in the fourth quar­ter against Hard­ing Academy to help start and end their win over the Wild­cats.

With Hard­ing Academy lead­ing 30-23 and just five yards away from ex­tend­ing their lead, Fra­zier in­ter­cepted a pass in the end zone.

After the Dragons marched 80 yards to take the lead on Tay­lor’s fourth-down run and two-point con­ver­sion, Dhante Gib­son stripped the ball loose from quar­ter­back Davis Mor­gan and Ter­rell Gib­son re­cov­ered the fum­ble to end the Wild­cats’ hopes for a come­back of their own.

The de­fense has also played a piv­otal role in the Dragons’ fast starts, scor­ing twice in the open­ing quar­ter.

Jalen Davis re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down to open the scor­ing against Hard­ing Academy, and Gib­son did like­wise against Osce­ola.

The fast pace that Junc­tion City plays at on of­fense has also paid off in the fourth quar­ter, par­tic­u­larly against Osce­ola when Junc­tion City’s of­fen­sive line paved the way for Tay­lor to pick up 46 yards on the ground to run out the clock.

“You’ve got to be able to run the ball to be suc­cess­ful,” Jones said.

“Our con­di­tion­ing is a big part of that, and to be able to push those guys around in the fourth quar­ter shows how hard our kids work in prac­tice. They get ready and work hard through­out the week and go out on Fri­day night and have fun.”

Re­gard­less of how close the Dragons have come to elim­i­na­tion, sur­vive and ad­vance is the name of the game at this time of the year, and time and again, Junc­tion City has a found a way to do just that.

“This late in the sea­son, just com­ing out with a win is the most im­por­tant thing,” Jones said.

“Once the clock is out of time, and you’re on top, you don’t re­ally look back and think about the neg­a­tive part of it. You just cor­rect the mis­takes that you’ve made and move for­ward to the next week.

“I’m proud of the re­sponse from our team. We cut down on penal­ties tremen­dously last week. I think we had only five penal­ties, so just try­ing to con­tinue to get our guys to put their best prod­uct on the field and give great ef­fort. That’s what they’ve done all year.”

Ter­rance Arm­stard/News-Times

Wrap­ping up: Junc­tion City's Jva­cye Cook (20) tries to make a tackle on Clin­ton's Ethen Drake dur­ing their show­down in the 3A quar­ter­fi­nals at David Car­pen­ter Sta­dium. The Dragons will take on River­crest for the 3A state cham­pi­onship Fri­day at 7 p.m. at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock.

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