By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
A handful of plays, those made by Prescott and those not made by McGehee, turned out to be the difference in a 26-0 victory by the Curley Wolves in a game much closer than the final score indicated on a damp and foggy night befitting of a contest between Wolves and Owls.
Pairing two evenly matched teams in terms of size and scope, both from similar small towns with similar high schools and winning football traditions, McGehee was a certainly worthy opponent coming into Prescott, losing 18-13 to Rivercrest in the state semifinals one year ago.
But playing through adversity and surviving some of their own errors, the Curley Wolves,now 11-1, took advantage of their opportunities, while the McGehee didn’t, and Prescott emerged as the winner of the Quad 4 bracket and moves on to the state semifinals next week against Booneville in a rematch of their 2014 playoff, won by Bearcats 42-30.
McGehee, in fact, got the ball first, drove to the Prescott 16-yard line, only to see Derrium Thompson intercept the ball at the seven-yard line ending the threat.
After stopping the Owls, Prescott then took advantage of their good fortune as QB Ryan Johnson along with key plays by Alex George and Thompson covered the remaining 93 yards on just six plays. Johnson himself scored on a 20-yard run to take the early 6-0 lead; a botched extra point, however, kept things tight, going into the second period.
George scored on a one-yard up the middle at the 11:15 mark in the second period, and with the made PAT, increased Prescott’s advantage to 13-0.
A dropped punt near midfield midway in the second period by Prescott gave McGehee one of their best chances — in only a handful — to score and possibly seize momentum in the game.
But, the Curley Wolves defense rose to the occasion, stopping McGehee on four downs, and the stunned Owls lost their break without scoring a point.
Then, there was an overthrown pass that missed a wide open Owl on a third down play, but there were the Wolves again, beating back another McGehee drive after another failed fourth-down conversion. And the first half ended with Prescott on top 13-0.
For Prescott, an opportunity to break the game open would come immediately as the Wolves took the second half kickoff.
Crisply moving down the field on the legs of the dynamic duo of Johnson and George, the Curley Wolves found themselves at McGehee’s 31-yard line when Johnson pealed off right end and kept running down the sidelines, apparently for a touchdown, when he was hit between the 3-and-2 yard lines; the ball came loose, and an Owl landed on it, keeping Prescott from expanding its lead.
But, the break the Owls created for themselves would be short lived; McGehee’s offense again held in check by an aggressive pack of Curley Wolves, the Owls were four-and-out. McGehee’s punt didn’t make it out of their own territory, landing at 41-yard, giving Prescott a short field.
And Prescott again, took advantage of their good fortune. After a run, a Johnson pass down the middle was short and incomplete, but an Owl defender ran into Prescott’s intended receiver, resulting in a pass interference call.
Four plays later, it was George going up the middle again, and the successful PAT put the score at 20-0 as the third period was coming to an end.
After squandering opportunities through three quarters, the Owls had one last realistic chance to make a run at the game following the kickoff. A short kick was taken to the McGehee 35-yard line, leaving them 65 yards away from a touchdown and the fourth and final quarter still to play.
Using a series of reverses and off-tackle plays, the Owls landed themselves on the Prescott 37-yard line as the third quarter ended and fourth quarter started.
But McGehee stalled again after an offsides call left them with a second-and-eight, and when the Curley Wolves corralled McGehee’s feature back Caleb Woodson, the Owls were left with another fourth down. Going for it, Owl QB Coryontae Smart rolled right, looking to pass, but instead found two Curley Wolves waiting for him. Prescott took over on downs, and for all practical purposes, Prescott had wrapped up the game there.
Given the remaining time, and its offense’s futility in solving the Curley Wolves defense all night, McGehee’s time had run out. With 7:49 left in the fourth period, Prescott added an insurance touchdown when Thompson scored from one-yard out, giving the Curley Wolves the final margin of victory at 26-0.
A final Owl drive stalled out at the Prescott 12-yard line with 3:49 remaining, but even if McGehee had produced some points, it would have been too little, too late.
Now winners of the Quad 4 bracket, this is Prescott’s deepest run into the state playoffs since their 2016 state championship season; their semifinals opponent will be 14-0 Booneville in a game three-hours away across the Ouachita National Forest and outside of Fort Smith.
Boonville had defeated Prescott’s conference rival, Camden Harmony Grove, 43-22 to win the Quad 3 bracket earlier Friday night.
The other 3A state semifinal matches Quad 2 winner Rison, also 14-0, against Quad 1 winner, the 11-1 Osceola Seminoles.
Prescott has now been in the state semifinals three-of-the-last four years. In 2015, Prescott met Harding Academy, but were upset 49-36. During 2016, Prescott won their semifinal game with Newport 41-8, before winning the state title against Charleston 37-26.
Going back to 2012, Prescott also played in the state semifinals, getting upset by Glen Rose 17-14.
Osceola had eliminated Prescott 41-20 in the second-round of the 2017 playoffs. Prescott was also upset in the second-round of the 2013 playoffs by Episcopal 14-6.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor