Shiloh Fends Off Junior Tigers To Retain Conference Crown
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.”
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.