Shiloh Fends Off Ju­nior Tigers To Re­tain Con­fer­ence Crown

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

PRAIRIE GROVE — Prairie Grove fought back from a 21-0 deficit tak­ing the game into the fi­nal 34 sec­onds be­fore Shiloh Chris­tian claimed the 4A-1 Ju­nior High foot­ball con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, 21-14, Thurs­day.

“We kept shoot­ing our­selves in the foot there a lit­tle bit, couldn’t get it done like we needed to, dis­ap­point­ing,” Elder said. “They (Shiloh) are a good team and we needed some breaks tonight. We got one on the on­side kick and we got some breaks on the blocked punt, couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize. When you get those breaks you got to be able to cap­i­tal­ize and we couldn’t do that.”

Shiloh’s de­fense was tough against the run. Al­though Prairie Grove mounted an 11-play drive that used up 5:40 on the open­ing pos­ses­sion, the ball was turned over on downs at the Saints’ 26.

“We strugged a lit­tle big in the first half mov­ing the ball on them,” Elder said. “We made some ad­just­ments on of­fense at half­time and it helped us out and we started mov­ing the ball bet­ter in the sec­ond half.”

The ju­nior Saints’ of­fense dom­i­nated the first half rack­ing up 227 pass­ing yards by com­plet­ing 12-of-14 passes be­tween quar­ter­backs, Jax­ton Rut­ledge (8-of-9, 154 yards, 2 touch­downs), who com­pleted his first six passes, and Caleb An­der­son (4-of5, 73 yards, 1 touch­down). Shiloh scored on Rut­ledge passes to Eli Wis­dom (20 yards) and Ja­cob Solomon (4 yards) plus An­der­son’s 18-yard toss to Cooper Hutchin­son, who re­cov­ered a pair of ju­nior Saints’ fum­bles to keep drives go­ing in the first half.

The ju­nior Saints at­tempted on­side kicks at vir­tu­ally ev­ery kick­off op­por­tu­nity. Prairie Grove ex­pected the tac­tic and re­cov­ered all four short kick­offs. The one time Shiloh kicked the ball deep fol­low­ing its third touch­down, Trevor May’s 25-yard kick re­turn set up Prairie Grove’s only score of the first half.

The 7-play, 57-yard drive be­gan with a pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty against Shiloh. Lan­don Sem­rad picked up 11 yards and first down on a pass re­cep­tion. Held score­less for the first 15:46, Prairie Grove scored on a 31-yard touch­down pass from Paytin Hig­gins to Ethan Miller on fourth-and-10 with 14 sec­onds re­main­ing in the first half. The point-after kick failed, but Prairie Grove was on the board trail­ing, 21-6, at in­ter­mis­sion.

For all their first-half bril­liance, Shiloh couldn’t get things go­ing be­yond in­ter­mis­sion as Prairie Grove’s de­fense clamped down main­tain­ing a sec­ond-half shutout. Shiloh never com­pleted a pass in the sec­ond half, go­ing 0-for-5 and rushed 10 times for a pal­try 9 yards. The Saints never made a first down in the sec­ond half. Shiloh in­serted Wis­dom as a third quar­ter­back, but did not at­tempt a pass on its fourth series.

“Our de­fen­sive coach did a good job of mak­ing some ad­just­ments at half­time,” Elder said.

The is­sue wasn’t set­tled un­til Prairie Grove turned the ball over on downs after re­cov­er­ing an on­side kick and driv­ing to the Saints’ 23 in the fi­nal minute. Shiloh, which stopped three Prairie Grove drives in­side the Saints’ 10 dur­ing the fourth pe­riod, nearly blew its lead with an ill-ad­vised at­tempt to con­vert fourth-and-two from its own 11. In­stead of punt­ing, the ju­nior Saints’ lined up in their reg­u­lar of­fense with eighth-grade quar­ter­back Wis­dom tak­ing the snap. He piv­oted at­tempt­ing to run but was im­me­di­ately brought down by a swarm of ju­nior Tigers giv­ing Prairie Grove pos­ses­sion at Shiloh’s five.

Twice ear­lier the ju­nior Saints dodged bul­lets by re­cov­er­ing fum­bles, and kept Prairie Grove out of the end zone with a turnover on downs.

The ju­nior Tigers forced Shiloh into go­ing three-and­out on the first pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half.

Prairie Grove then ran off 12 straight plays pick­ing up three first downs and burn­ing the fi­nal six min­utes of the third quar­ter. Miller had a 10-yard run on sec­ond-and­nine, then added a 20-yard jaunt to Shiloh’s seven on third-and-10 sand­wiched around Hig­gins’ 7-yard com­ple­tion while on the run to Sem­rad. The drive reached Shiloh’s four, then lost a yard and ended on fourth-and-goal when Miller was stopped at the seven on the first play of the fourth.

Play­ing in­spired de­fense, Prairie Grove forced a punt end­ing Shiloh’s en­su­ing series in four plays. The ju­nior Tigers set up shop at Shiloh’s 45 and marched to the one be­fore fum­bling the ball away. Miller had car­ries of 8, 6, and 21 yards, but lost the han­dle on first-and-goal with Shiloh re­cov­er­ing at the six.

The ju­nior Tigers dug in show­ing heart on de­fense. Erick Bartholomew dropped Ben Baker be­hind the line of scrimmage at the two, foil­ing a jet sweep. The next two Shiloh passes fell in­com­plete and on fourth down the ju­nior Saints at­tempted to punt.

The kick was par­tially blocked by Miller and an alert Sem­rad caught the ball and headed for the end zone. He was brought down at the two.

“Heads up play by Lan­don, he did a great job,” Elder said.

On first-and-goal an­other Prairie Grove fum­ble fell into Shiloh hands at the three. Elder used all three of his time-outs set­ting the stage for one more ju­nior Tiger de­fen­sive stand when Wis­dom was nailed for a six-yard loss on fourth down.

This time Prairie Grove would not be de­nied. Fol­low­ing an in­com­plete pass, Asher Sam ran up the mid­dle to pay­dirt with the de­fense key­ing on Miller run­ning left as a de­coy. Hig­gins passed to Sem­rad for a 2-point con­ver­sion to pull the ju­nior Tigers within, 21-14, with 2:32 to play.

When they had to have the ball back to have a chance, Hig­gins re­cov­ered an on­side kick for Prairie Grove.

“It was a great play, it just kind of went off them and I knew some­body was go­ing to end up get­ting it right there,” Elder said. “It kind of squirted around there and Paytin came up with it.”

Hig­gins con­verted fourt­hand-15 by find­ing Matthew Ve­lasco for 30 yards. He was sacked but came back with an­other com­ple­tion to Sem­rad for 13 yards set­ting up third-and-five at Shiloh’s 23. On third down Hig­gins scram­bled to his right, waited and waited, show­ing pa­tience for a young quar­ter­back then de­liv­ered a sharply-thrown pass that went off the hands of an in­tended re­ceiver in the end zone.

The near touch­down scared the liv­ing day­lights out of Shiloh and the ju­nior Saints took time-out to or­ga­nize their pass de­fense. They forced an in­com­ple­tion on fourth down to pre­serve the 7-point win and claim the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship.

“These guys from where they were from sev­enth grade to ninth grade to where they’ve come I’m so proud of them,” Elder said. “This was a team that we didn’t ex­pect a lot of great things. It hap­pened this year and they made it hap­pen. We’re play­ing in the cham­pi­onship game so we’re just re­ally proud of these guys and the great sea­son they’ve had. We’re look­ing for­ward to build on that.”

MARK HUMPHREY EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

Prairie Grove wing­back Lan­don Sem­rad makes a div­ing at­tempt to catch a pass. Sem­rad recorded six catches for 42 yards con­vert­ing key first downs, but the ju­nior Tigers were de­feated, 21-14, by Shiloh Chris­tian in the 4A-1 Ju­nior High foot­ball con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship on Thurs­day.

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