Cat Quick Tiger Full­back Po­si­tion

PRAIRIE GROVE TIGERS ROMP PAST VIAN, OKLA., 41-21

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS - By Mark Humphrey

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.

MARK HUMPHREY EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

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.

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