Cat Quick Tiger Fullback Position
PRAIRIE GROVE TIGERS ROMP PAST VIAN, OKLA., 41-21
PRAIRIE GROVE — Over the years running the football from the fullback position has become an afterthought to many coaches, not so with Danny Abshier of Prairie Grove.
Abshier’s tactics operating the Wing-T offense may be unconventional among contemporary circles, yet few would argue the effective result. The Tigers have been to the state 4A semifinals three times since 2012 and played in the 2015 state championship.
Abshier doesn’t always line up his biggest, strongest runner, instead he prefers a quick-hitter with good speed at fullback. Enter senior Aaron Preston, who measures all of 5-feet-7, 144 pounds. Preston rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries coming up big when the Tigers needed it as Prairie Grove defeated Vian, Okla., 41-21, Friday at Tiger Den Stadium.
“We didn’t get that versus Farmington (week one 36-13 win),” Abshier said. “We needed to establish the fullback a little bit better. Everyone was keying on Anthony Johnson. Vian is no pushover. They played extremely hard.”
Preston scored the game’s first touchdown on secondand-8 by ripping off a 12-yard carry to cap the Tigers’ opening 8-play, 74-yard scoring drive. James Meyers kicked the P.A.T. for a 7-0 Tiger lead. Prairie Grove’s defense held and the Wolverines attempted to punt but the snap went over Chris Logan’s head. He had no choice but to fall on the ball taking a 32-yard loss.
Prairie Grove took over at Vian’s 14. Johnson ran for 11 yards, then J.D. Elder connected with Stone Bryant on a 3-yard quick slant for a touchdown. Vian’s Bodhi Vann blocked the point-after kick but Prairie Grove led 13-0. The Wolverines’ best offense came on kickoff returns. They ran back two for touchdowns. Gray Cloud returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a score. Elijah Mendoza kicked the point-after for Vian to close within 13-7 after one quarter of play.
On the first play of the second quarter, Johnson ripped off 38 yards to Vian’s 23. Backup fullback Garrett Heltemes (6-0, 172) went off right tackle and broke through the line for a 22-yard scoring dash. Elder passed to tight end DeMarcus Cooper for an 8-yard conversion after a penalty and Prairie Grove assumed a 21-7 lead with 10:54 remaining in the first half.
Elder completed 10 of 18 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown. He threw one interception in the second quarter, but the Wolverines’ offense went in reverse and they punted from their own 16. In a repeat of last year, Prairie Grove scored right before the half to extend their lead. Heltemes jumpstarted the 54-yard drive with a 13-yard run, then took a screen pass 35 yards behind a block from pulling Will Hawkins, who got out in front of him. Johnson ran through tackles for a 6-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left in the second period giving the Tigers a 27-7 advantage.
For the second week in a row, Prairie Grove built a three touchdown halftime lead, then didn’t score in the third quarter. Vian’s only scoring drive cut the Tigers’ lead to 27-14 midway through the third. Preston answered for the Tigers. He rambled 53 yards for touchdown and Johnson added a 21-yard scoring burst to put the game out of reach as the fourth quarter wore down. Vian’s last gasp came on Vann’s 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but the clock soon ran out with Prairie Grove winning, 41-21.
“Our kickoff coverage will have to be revamped a little bit this week with them running back two on us,” Abshier said.
Prairie Grove out-gained Vian 475-136 in total offense. Johnson racked up 144 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for 30 yards. Cooper had three catches for 42 yards and twins Collin and Stone Bryant combined to catch four passes gaining 54 yards.
Ethan Guenther wreaked havock on defense, drawing praise from Abshier.
“He made 11 tackles from his defensive end spot, that’s terrific,” Abshier said. “He understood his responsibility and he pursued well. He’s worked hard. It paid off for him.”
Abshier also complimented middle linebacker Dustin Burton, whom he said is a good running back but his carries were limited so he could concentrate on defense.
“He’s made for it, he loves the defensive part,” Abshier said, adding the Tigers are trying to get that “platoon look” at running back.
The Tigers wrap up nonconference play on the road at West Fork Friday.
Prairie Grove senior DeMarcus Cooper comes down with J.D. Elder’s touchdown pass against Vian, Okla., Friday. Cooper caught three passes for 42 yards. The Tigers prevailed, 41-21.