With a playoff berth secured and seeding locked in, Coach Jeromy Poole worried about his young Newport Greyhounds as they traveled to Independence County last Friday night - not because he felt like they would let down but because they had one 2-4A conference game left.
"I don't think that people realize just how competitive this conference is. It is true," Poole explained just moments after his Greyhounds knocked off Southside 30-20.
"When you have Lonoke beating Stuttgart and these guys playing us as close as they did, it is a very, very tough conference."
Despite conference marks Poole knew that his squad was in for a tussle, which is exactly what they got, he pointed out.
"I tell you what, I don't care what anyone says, I told Coach Simpson before the football game, 'ya'll are a very good football team. Ya'll have just had some unlucky breaks.'"
The Southerners made their own breaks throughout most of the night starting on the game's first play from scrimmage as Jordan Childress raced untouched for a 54-yard score. A successful two-point conversion gave them an 8-0 lead after one play.
Newport answered five plays later when Gunnar Bullard connected with Deandre Elston on a fourth-down pass from 8-yards out. Carl Turner added the two-point conversion for an 8-8 tie.
Then the game changed drastically. Both defenses settled in and a field position battle ensued.
It was an unfortunate break for the Southerners that seemed to turn the game however.
Following the recovery of a Southside fumble by Hunter Bowen, the Southerners intercepted Newport's Gunnar Bullard at the Southside 3-yard line to escape still tied at 8-8.
A fumbled handoff set them up at their own 1-yard line and a 14-yard punt gave the Hounds great field position.
Newport took advantage four plays later when Kristen Crite scored on a 5-yard run with 3:49 remaining in the first half. Crite's two-point conversion left the Hounds with a 16-8 advantage at intermission.
In the second half, Newport extended their lead to 22-8 when Bullard found a leaping Charley Bell in the back of the end zone - again on fourth down. The point after attempt was blocked.
An 8-yard scoring run by Childress on the ensuing Southside drive trimmed the lead to 22-14 as they also missed their point after.
Crite's second touchdown of the night - a 2-yard scamper - came on the next Newport possession. Bullard connected with Garrett Smith on the two-point conversion to stretch the Newport lead to 30-14 with 1:08 to go in the third quarter.
Childress scored for the third time in the contest as he raced in from 13-yards out with 5:02 to go in the game for the final margin as Newport moved to 7-3 on the season and 5-2 on the year.
"those kids are playing lights out because they have nothing else left and my hat goes off to Coach Simpson and these guys, they played very hard and he has got them moving in the right direction," Poole noted after the game about the Southerner effort.
"But, on the other hand, our kids battled hard and made plays when they had to. I'm so proud of their effort and their fight tonight."
While the offense struggled at times trying to get into a rhythm, Offensive Coordinator Don Harrison had no trouble finding the play of the game.
"The play of the game was Charley Bell's fourth down catch in the back of the end zone. That was huge," he explained.
"Fourth down and goal and we got to have it, I call a play and its Charley Bell that scored. I don't think they thought that was what was going to happen but Gunnar read it, he threw it in the hole and Charley Bell makes a great catch. It just goes to show that there is a kid that was willing to be coached and willing to do anything and worked his butt off and by gosh, he makes the play of the game in Week 10."
Offensively, the Greyhounds were led by Turner's 132 yards on 23 carries, Bullard had 39 yards on 5 totes and Crite had 12 carries - 2 for touchdowns - and 24 yards rushing.
Bullard was 7-14 passing for 112 yards and2 picks.
Smith led the reception charts with 2 catches for 38 yards, Bell had 2 for 27 yards and a score. Asante Shell had 1 for 34, Elston had 1 for 8 and a touchdown and Crite had 1 for 5.
Defensively, Divante Armstrong led the way with 8 tackles and a sack. Khairan Stafford had 7 stops while Tim Brown and Stephen Neal had 5 each. Chris Grady, Reid Johnson and Hunter Bowen had 4 tackles each. Shufon Alcorn had 3 stops while McCabe Cordell, Maurice Killingsworth and Markus Neal had 2 each. Elston had 1 stop.
The Greyhounds will open their pursuit of a state championship tomorrow night as they host the Farmington Cardinals. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Greyhound Field.