Junction City and Hazen both have ridden sturdy ground games to reach the 2A state finals, averaging 600 yards per game combined between them.
And while the battle in the trenches will certainly go a long way towards determining the 2A state champion Friday night in Little Rock, the arms of Junction City quarterback Brady Hutcheson and Hazen quarterback Blayne Toll could also factor in.
A junior, Hutcheson could surpass 1,000 yards passing for the season with 47 yards against the Hornets.
Hutcheson has been outstanding in the playoffs, completing 20 of his 28 passes for 550 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception.
For Junction City coach Steven Jones, Hutcheson has emerged as a big-play weapon for his offense.
“He continues to get more comfortable each week,” Jones said. “He’s spearheaded our offense. He’s been a big reason why they haven’t been able to load up and stop Dhante (Gibson).”
Although he doesn’t run the ball very much, Hutcheson did pick up 24 yards on eight carries in last week’s semifinal win at Foreman.
“You don’t really see it on the scoresheet, but he’s having two or three carries a game that are big carries to get first downs and things like that,” Jones said. “He’s done a really good job of throwing the football for us lately, but he’s also been efficient in the run game.”
Just before halftime, Hutcheson scored to push the Dragons’ lead to 19-7. That coupled with Jakiron Cook’s touchdown early in the third quarter helped the Dragons pull away from the Gators.
“He has that warrior mentality,” Jones said. “Whatever we ask him to do, he’s going to do it. He’s going to give it his all. We saw that in the quarterback sneak that he scored on right before the half at Foreman.
“They had everything that they wanted. They really had him stopped in the backfield, but he just decided that he wasn’t going to be tackled. He was going to get into the end zone, and he found a way in there. That’s the way he’s played since we put him at quarterback.”
Hazen coach Joe Besancon has been impressed with the way Hutcheson has guided the Dragons in the postseason.
“From what I’ve seen on film, he does a real good job of managing the team,” Besancon said. “They do a real good job of putting him in situations where he’s successful. They throw a lot of those quick bubbles and quick hitch passes to the outside. He puts the football right where it needs to be so his teammates can be successful once they get it in their hands.”
Hutcheson’s favorite target during the playoffs has been senior Kevontae Haynes, who could reach 1,000 yards this season with 99 yards against the Hornets.
Although Haynes has only 34 catches this season, he has shown his ability to make big plays by averaging 26.5 yards per catch with 10 touchdowns.
“Kevontae has made big plays down the stretch that kept drives alive,” Jones said. “I think he can be a big factor Friday night. He’s been a leader for us, and another one that has really led by example. He’s quietly really had a good season on the defensive side of the ball, but we’ve seen some explosion out of him on offense, so I think that he can be the X-factor in the game.
“I think that when they load up to stop it, we’ve got a guy out there that’s a threat and can go score, and we have to take advantage of that and get him the ball at the right time and use him as much as we can.”
While Hutcheson is certainly more of a passing quarterback than a running quarterback, the opposite is true of Toll.
A junior, Toll is listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds and is also a stalwart on the defensive line for Hazen. He has rushed for over 700 yards with eight touchdowns, but also has thrown for 458 yards and five scores.
“He is going to play tight end in college,” Jones said of Toll. “They’ll run some quarterback design runs with him. They’ll run their counter trey and just have those backs go in the opposite way and Toll will keep it.
“We’ve just got to be very disciplined in our reads and not let the wrong thing take us out of the picture. We’ve got to read our keys and meet them punch for punch right there and keep everything happening at the line of scrimmage.”
Although the Hornets may not throw the ball as much as the Dragons do, junior Rasheed Mills will be a receiver the Dragons will have to keep an eye on.
There are also times where Toll may not always line up at quarterback.
Besancon said he’s used him at fullback and tight end if necessary with senior Jacob Weems playing at quarterback when the switch has been made.
“It’s good,” Besancon said of his quarterback’s versatility. “If we’re having trouble blocking across the front trying to block some Junction’s bigger guys, I always have that where I can take the tight end that I have in there and move him to quarterback and take Blayne and move him to tight end to help us with the run game or with blocking schemes. He’s a big power guy, and we use him in short yardage. I can line him up just about anywhere I want to, and he can help us at all three of those positions.”