OFFENSIVE LINEMEN hunker down in trenches.
Old-school football coaches love games like the Class 2A state football title game Friday night.
Junction City’s 36-22 victory over Hazen at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock consumed 2 hours, 16 minutes and included 18 passes. It was dominated by players along the line of scrimmage, which coaches for both teams knew was inevitable.
On the game’s opening possession, Hazen took 15 plays to go 51 yards in 7:20 on a drive completed by senior running back Tarrall Penn’s 1-yard run through a gap opened by senior guards Ross Harper and Ross Seidenschwarz, and senior center Jackson Shelman. Only artificial turf and cold mist prevented the stereotypical cloud of dust.
“These games are always won or lost in the trenches,” Hazen Coach Joe Besancon said.
“We thought the linemen in this game matched up pretty evenly,” Junction City Coach Steven Jones said. “Really, all the way up and down the board, we thought we were kind of mirror images of one another.”
Junction City (12-2) broke the ground-game mold on its final possession of the first half with a drive that featured three passes, including one for 38 yards to the Hazen 1 from junior quarterback Brady Hutcheson to senior D.J. Hill. Senior Dhante Gibson scored on the next play 10 seconds before halftime to pull Junction City within 16-12.
Hutcheson gave all the credit to his linemen.
“Our line gave me a lot of time,” he said. “They absolutely did their job. They kept me safe.”
Hutcheson finished with 156 passing yards, 116 of which came in the second half.
“They were playing nine guys in the box, and we knew that would mean man coverage,” Jones said. “We have some explosive guys out there who can make big plays.”
Besancon’s praise of his linemen started with senior tackle and linebacker Kade Perry.
“Everything starts for us with Kade Perry,” Besancon said. “He’s a warrior.”
Junction City senior tackle and defensive end Semaj Levingston echoed Besancon’s praise.
“He’s great,” Levingston said. “He’s a phenomenal player, and I want to congratulate him for the way he played tonight.”
Hazen (13-1) also broke from the running norm on its first possession of the second half when, on third and 8 from its 42, junior quarterback Blayne Toll threw his team’s first pass of the game. It was good for 58 yards and a touchdown to freshman receiver Quincey McAdoo to give Hazen a 22-12 lead.
McAdoo’s catch resulted in Hazen’s final points.
Junction City began the game with 51 players, 21 more than Hazen, and its depth advantage became apparent as it pulled away with 24 unanswered points.
“It was a battle in the trenches, man,” Besancon said. “They finally just started wearing us down.”
“We have a big depth chart, and we can get fresh guys on the field,” Levingston said. “That’s a big help. I could tell some of their key guys were tired, and we had guys on the sideline that came in and stepped up.”
Junction City offensive lineman Semaj Levingston (left) blocks Hazen linebacker Kade Perry. The Dragons rushed for 255 yards. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE