For the first time in 30 years, the Arkadelphia Badgers’ football team will play in the state championship game after defeating Pea Ridge 51-26 Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 4A state playoffs.
PEA RIDGE, Ark. – For the first time in 30 years, the Arkadelphia Badgers’ football team will play in the state championship game after defeating Pea Ridge 51-26 Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“It feels great. I’m excited for these players. I’m excited for Arkadelphia, and I’m excited for our coaching staff,” Arkadelphia Head Coach J.R. Eldridge said. “It’s fun to win. I think these guys deserve to be where they are because of how hard they’ve worked in the past.”
The Badgers were not predicted to win by a 25-point margin, and the game did not look like it was going to be a runaway Badger win early on. Pea Ridge actually held a 10-0 with just a minute played in the second quarter, but Zion Hatley shifted momentum in the direction of the Badgers on his team’s first offensive play of the second quarter. Hatley broke a 66-yard touchdown run down the left sideline to cut the Blackhawk lead to 3.
On Pea Ridge’s ensuing drive, Arkadelphia defensive end Ricky Rogers, Jr., recovered a fumble to set up a 3-yard touchdown run from Hatley to give the Badgers the a 14-10 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the quarter. The Badgers went into halftime with a 28-18 lead and dominated the second half for an impressive victory.
A large part of Arkadelphia’s win was their defense. Early on, Pea Ridge was able to move the ball easily. However, Arkadelphia toughened up as the game progressed and only allowed eight points in the second half.
“Our defensive coaching staff does a really nice job of making adjustments,” Eldridge said. “They made some really good adjustments on the sideline during the game. Pea Ridge got into some formations we hadn’t seen, but we were able to make adjustments and stop what they were doing.”
Entering the game, Pea Ridge was averaging 213 rushing yards per game and senior running back Drew Winn had accumulated over 2100 rushing yards on the season. Arkadelphia, however, held Pea Ridge to only 138 rushing yards and kept Winn at 115 yards and a touchdown on the night.
The stout Arkadelphia run defense was led by an experienced linebacking corps of Kyron Harrison, Josh Wallace and Josh Burnham. Harrison led the group with eight total tackles, while Wallace made seven and Burnham completed five.
Another huge key to Arkadelphia’s victory was the run game. The team rushed for 309 yards and six touchdowns and averaged an impressive 6.4 yards-per-carry. Leading the Arkadelphia attack was Hatley. The junior running back rushed 22 times for 176 yards and five touchdowns.
“Zion did a great job tonight,” Eldridge said. “I think he would say this too, that our offensive line did an excellent job of dominating their defensive front, while at the same time he did an excellent job running the football.”
Sophomore quarterback Cannon Turner rushed 22 times for 130 yards. Senior linebacker Josh Burnham scored a one-yard touchdown on his only carry of the night. In the receiving game, Alec Ruble caught three passes for 49 yards. The Badgers had 92 passing yards on six completed passes.
Arkadelphia will face the Warren Lumberjacks in the 4A State Championship game this Saturday. Kickoff from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock is scheduled for 12 p.m.
Advance tickets will be sold at the main entrance of AllCare Field at Badger Stadium from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.