Ju­nior Tigers Get Kick Out Of Spe­cial Weapon

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS - MARK HUMPHREY IS A SPORTS RE­PORTER FOR THE EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER. Mark Humphrey

When a drive bogged down and Prairie Grove faced fourth-and-four at Farm­ing­ton’s 13, some ju­nior Tiger fans thought a field goal might be forth­com­ing Thurs­day.

Hind­sight is 20/20, yet look­ing back at Prairie Grove’s 12-0 loss in the sea­son-opener at ri­val Farm­ing­ton, head coach John El­der dis­dained a field goal at­tempt late in the third quar­ter although fresh­man Paytin Hig­gins is ca­pa­ble of kick­ing a 3-point field goal, some­thing he did suc­cess­fully sev­eral times last sea­son. Prairie Grove trailed 6-0 at that junc­ture and a 30-yard field goal was likely within Hig­gins’ range, which, if good, would have cut the deficit in half and pulled the ju­nior Tigers to within a field goal of ty­ing the game.

Lead­ing 6-0 at half­time, Farm­ing­ton got off to a rough start to be­gin the sec­ond half and nearly al­lowed Prairie Grove to get back in the game. On their first two plays from scrim­mage, Farm­ing­ton suf­fered a sack and a fum­ble, which line­man We­ston Phillips re­cov­ered to main­tain pos­ses­sion for the ju­nior Car­di­nals. Farm­ing­ton punted from its own 27 and Prairie Grove re­turner Lan­don Sem­rad made a good run­back to set the ju­nior Tigers up with a first down at Farm­ing­ton’s 35.

Ju­nior Tiger half­back Ethan Miller ran 16 yards to the 19 be­fore he was tack­led by Farm­ing­ton’s Kyler Pe­tree. On third and two from Farm­ing­ton’s 11, Mar­cus Cle­venger made a key stop cut­ting down Miller in the back­field for a two-yard loss. The ju­nior Tigers failed to ex­e­cute on fourth-and-four from the 13 and turned the ball over on downs when the snap from cen­ter was fum­bled wast­ing a golden op­por­tu­nity to put points on the board.

“We needed a touch­down at that point, not just three points right there,” El­der said. “Some other time we can go for three, we needed the touch­down there and just a lit­tle mis­take. A lit­tle fum­bled snap, we couldn’t get in there.”

Prairie Grove couldn’t over­come the snafu while Farm­ing­ton coach Cody Napier cel­e­brated a key turn­ing-point in the con­test that saw both teams strug­gle with early-sea­son of­fen­sive mis­cues. Napier pulled out all the stops, un­leash­ing a half­back op­tion pass that Devonte Donovan com­pleted to Tate Pick­ens for 67-yard touch­down to put the game away in the fourth quar­ter.

“We had some mis­takes early on that hurt us big time,” Napier said. “Just some men­tal mis­takes. We had some flags and some penal­ties that kind of got us down, those things kind of kill the mo­men­tum and the kids kept their heads up. They kept fight­ing on de­fense. They got down there on our 10-yard line and our kids didn’t give up. We got the ball back and we took it down the field and put our­selves in po­si­tion to score and be suc­cess­ful. I’m very proud of that and I told the boys tonight, ‘you can’t beat peo­ple who don’t quit,’ and we never did that. We never quit. We kept fight­ing re­gard­less of the penal­ties and ev­ery­thing that hap­pened that was self-in­flicted. Our boys kept dig­ging and I’m very proud of them for that.”

El­der ad­mit­ted dur­ing pre­sea­son he is still get­ting used to the ju­nior Tigers pos­sess­ing a field goal kick­ing game. Last sea­son El­der opted to go for a field goal on sev­eral oc­ca­sions that Hig­gins suc­cess­fully con­verted as an eighth-grade field goal kicker.

“That’s one thing we do dif­fer­ent, I’ve never done, is since last year kick point-af­ters and field goals,” El­der said.

Dur­ing the 2017 sea­son, as­sis­tant coach Nik Paroubek re­minded El­der a cou­ple times the game sit­u­a­tion might merit a field goal.

“Hey, coach, why don’t you kick a field goal right here?” Paroubek sug­gested.

El­der ad­mits his ini­tial re­ac­tion was, “What?”

The vet­eran coach didn’t be­come suc­cess­ful by be­ing in­de­ci­sive. He sent the field goal unit out and they ex­e­cuted with Hig­gins putting points on the board.

“He made a hand­ful of field goals, and I’m like, ‘Wow,’” El­der said. “One big one at Shiloh, he made a big one and kind of stunned their crowd.”

Suc­cess­ful kicks serve a two-fold pur­pose. Be­side de­mor­al­iz­ing the de­fense, the field goals ex­cite Prairie Grove play­ers.

“They love it,” El­der said. “So it’s been a good deal. We spend a lit­tle bit of time on it in prac­tice.

Hig­gins is good enough, he’s likely to be pro­moted to var­sity if the se­nior Tigers, as ex­pected, qual­ify for post­sea­son.

“He is prob­a­bly the best foot­ball kicker in the school,” said ju­nior high de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ma­son Pink­ley.

Hig­gins as­sumes the start­ing quar­ter­back role after work­ing all last year as a backup and play­ing in eighth grade games in 2017. De­spite the shutout at Farm­ing­ton, El­der fully ex­pects Hig­gins’ game man­age­ment to steadily im­prove.

“We’ll get bet­ter on that, it’s his first time to start,” El­der said. “He did fine tonight.”

Hig­gins kicks off well and also punts. Hig­gins’ leg gives the ju­nior Tigers an of­fen­sive weapon not all teams have, which ju­nior Tiger fans an­tic­i­pate will be uti­lized.

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