If athletes can learn more from adversity than they can from easy victories, the Blackhawk football team got a year’s worth of lessons from their hard-fought 29-19 victory over the Booneville Bearcats in a road battle last week.
Though they were facing two long road games against two formidable opponents in the opening week of action, the ’Hawks were nevertheless installed as favorites to win both contests. Head coach Stephen Neal was much more wary of Booneville calling the hosts “a great school in a great community, and no team can expect an easy time playing in their stadium.” Neal’s comment proved prophetic.
It looked for a time that Pea Ridge may get blown out early, falling behind 19-0 in the first 11 minutes of the game. Blackhawk turnovers, mistakes and with Booneville making the most of their opportunities, the Bearcat crowd was exulting in the huge upset that seemed to be brewing.
However with the ’Hawk defense rising up to choke off Booneville’s initially productive offense, key runs by tailback Drew Winn, with numerous completions made from quarterback Jakota Sainsbury to Jordan Witcher and Hayden Holtgrewe, Pea Ridge shut out their hosts the rest of the way while scoring the last 29 points of the contest. It proved to be the ’Hawks’ 11th straight nonconference victory.
After being a non-factor in the first quarter, Winn exploded for 160 yards on 17 carries in the last three quarters, scoring three times, all but one of the Pea Ridge touchdowns. Sainsbury scored the Blackhawks’ first TD in the second period to start the comeback.
Pea Ridge won the toss and accepted the opening kickoff. Things were going well with Sainsbury hooking up with Witcher twice for over 20 yards total with the senior signal caller also gaining 9 yards on two keepers. However, after driving deep into Booneville territory, an alert Bearcat picked off an errant pass and flipped the field, returning it to the ’Hawk 36. Five running plays took the ‘Cats into the end zone where they assumed a 6-0 lead with 6:53 showing in the first quarter.
Missed blocks on the ’Hawks’ next possession resulted in a big loss, with a subsequent bad snap that rolled free hanging an additional 15-yard loss on the visitors. Facing fourth and 32, the ’Hawks punted and the Bearcats nearly returned it all the way, getting down to the ’Hawk 5. Two rushes later and the Bearcats were back in paydirt, boosting their lead to 12-0 after the run for the PAT failed with 3:27 showing.
Bad things weren’t through happening to the ’Hawks as the ball was turned over to the hosts inside Pea Ridge territory. Three plays later, the Bearcat tailback scampered loose, knifing into the end zone to raise their lead over Pea Ridge to an astounding 19-0 with less than a minute to play in the opening period.
Passes to Holtgrewe and Witcher seemed to get the moribund ’Hawk offense stirring, but the first of many officiating calls to go against Pea Ridge derailed the drive, forcing a punt with 10 minutes left in the half.
Sainsbury’s punt was a gem, rolling down to the Bearcat 2-yard line to start the Bearcats’ new possession. Incredibly, the Bearcats got to run off 11 plays but could not get past their own 25 before being forced to punt.
It was this stiffening resistance that helped get the ’Hawks untracked. On the very first play after the punt, Winn broke left then sprinted 30 yards down the sidelines to get into Bearcat territory at the 25. Winn slashed his way forward on the next play for 11 more yards to the 14-yard line. Winn then had to leave the game for a time when a Bearcat player personally attacked him, though no flag was thrown.
Sainsbury then located a flying Holtgrewe, flinging him a pass for 11 yards to the Bearcat 1-yard line. Two plays later saw Sainsbury sneak it in. The 2-point conversion try was accurate, with Holtgrewe taking a pass to get into the corner of the end zone and reduce the deficit to 19-8 with 2:47 left in the half.
Blackhawk defenders came up huge two plays later, knocking the ball loose from the Bearcat quarterback with Robby Pickthal picking up the loose pigskin, running it back to the Booneville 21. On first down, Winn shot up the middle to pick up 19 yards and a first down on the Bearcat 2. Two plays later saw Winn burst into the end zone with 0:52 left in the half. The PAT failed leaving the ’Hawks down at the intermission, 19-14.
The ’Hawks started the second half off right, holding the hosts to -2 yards in their first series. Bad luck wasn’t finished making itself known to the ’Hawks, with the visitors getting just one play off before fumbling possession back over to Booneville on their own 42. The ’Hawks kept the heat on the Bearcats, allowing just 3 yards of offense in eight plays, with only penalties moving the ball forward for Booneville.
After taking over at their own 29 with 6:02 left in the half, a pass from Sainsbury to Holtgrewe netted 14 yards to the ’Hawk 43. All-State Winn got the call for five straight runs, accumulating 20 yards to the Bearcat 32. A couple of quick passes to Witcher for 8 then 6 yards got the ’Hawks a first down inside the red zone. Two plays later saw Winn burst free to blow into the end zone, but a late call erased the scoring run. Then came, perhaps, the play of the game.
The fourth and 11 call on the 32 was jammed up by the Bearcat defense, with one of the Booneville linemen knocking the ball loose to the ground. An alert Winn scooped up the loose pigskin, ran to the right end, then bolted along the north sidelines to make his second trip to the end zone. Winn’s scoop and score gave Pea Ridge the lead for the first time with a scant 0:36 left in the period. Holtgrewe brought down a pass from Sainsbury for the PAT as Pea Ridge now lead by 3, 22-19.
After gaining but a solitary single yard of offense in the third quarter, Booneville showed some signs of life, picking up 10 yards of rushing to their own 42 to start the final period. However, a crashing defense brought the ball out to give the ’Hawks another chance to move the ball, starting from the Bearcat 44. A deep pass to Holtgrewe netted 18 yards, but a subsequent pass was nabbed, leaving the Bearcats with a chance to come back.
The ’Cats were initially successful, with a first down pass netting 13 yards. Two straight penalties set them back as did two incursions by defender Jackson Tillman that resulted in losses of -2 and -11. However, after the punt, the ’Hawks could not get anything going and the Bearcats regained possession with a little more than 5 minutes left in the game.
Down by only 3 at 22-19, the hosts desperately needed a first down starting from their 20, but three efforts only lost them a yard. A Booneville punt gave the ball back to Pea Ridge with 4:53 left in the game. Two passes to Witcher netted 9 yards and a pair of runs by Winn netted the same totals. Another run by Winn nearly scored, but the refs brought it back, pushing the ’Hawks into a second and 15 from the Bearcat 40. The next play lost 6 yards so Pea Ridge was staring at third and 21 with the game on the line.
Lightning struck for the third time, as Winn got up a head of steam then plowed around the left end, dashing to the end zone with 2:01 left in the game. The kick by Evan Green was good to give the ’Hawks a safe 29-19 lead.
The Bearcats somehow managed to run 17 plays in the game’s last two minutes but never approached mid-field as Pea Ridge held on to win and go 2-0.
“I’m glad Drew can be Drew,” said a relieved coach Neal after the game. “His scoop and score in the third period, then his touchdown run facing a third and 21 were great. Overcoming all this adversity will help us greatly down the road.”
“This was an answer to a challenge, not just by our program but also by our whole community,” Neal went on. “We have such great support from the community, the boys never feel out of any battle no matter how bad things may look to them.”
The victory by the ’Hawks ends the two-game series that Booneville and Pea Ridge started together. Next year, the ’Hawks will have 5A schools Harrison and Maumelle on their non-conference slate along with 5A Farmington.
Meanwhile, the varsity will have a deserved rest after the week’s activities. Their next game will be the Blackhawks’ first home game on Sept. 15, hosting the Farmington Cardinals.
Blackhawk defenders came up huge, knocking the ball loose from the Bearcat quarterback with Blackhawk senior Robby Pickthal (No. 24) picking up the loose pigskin, running it back to the Booneville 21, opening the way for senior Blackhawk Drew Winn to make the second touchdown of the evening. Teammates congratulated Pickthal!
Senior Blackhawk Hayden Holtgrewe (No. 23) signals a touchdown for cheering Blackhawk fans as the Blackhawks turned around the game against the Booneville Bearcats Friday night in Bearcat Stadium.