Junior Tigers Get Kick Out Of Special Weapon
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.