Lake Hamilton’s bludgeoning ground game proved too much for El Dorado to handle Friday as the Wolves pulled away to a 50-14 victory in the Class 6A quarterfinals in Pearcy.
The Wildcats, who began the season 0-3, finished with a 5-5 record.
“I thought we continued to battle right through the fourth quarter,” said El Dorado coach Steven Jones. “Our guys competed. They’ve done that all season long. The seniors did an awesome job of holding everything together.”
Fullback Tevin Woodley battered and bruised El Dorado’s defense to the tune of 217 yards on 27 totes as the Wolves churned out 373 yards on the ground. Owen Miller added 107 yards rushing for Lake Hamilton, which improved to 10-1 on the season.
“They’re just so good at running the football. We just couldn’t get them off the field. That was tough,” said Jones.
“Those two backs are really good. I think Lake Hamilton is probably going to win the state championship. They have a really good team.”
The Wildcats surprised the Wolves by recovering an onside kick to start the game. El Dorado drove 51 yards in 15 plays, converting three fourth downs along the way. Branden Moore would score on a 1-yard run on fourth down. Dave Carruth’s PAT staked the Wildcats to a 7-0 lead with 7:05 left in the first.
Lake Hamilton would respond with a 60-yard drive in seven plays, capped by Miller’s 6-yard run. Alex Hurtz kicked the extra point, tying the game with 4:21 left in the first.
The Wolves returned the special team’s favor and recovered the ensuing onside kick. But El Dorado’s defense got the ball back, stripping the ball away and recovering a fumble three plays later.
But Lake Hamilton’s Izaiah Clenney picked off Eli Shepherd’s pass three plays later and returned it to the 13. Three plays later, Wolves’ quarterback Grant Bearden scored on a 4-yard run. The PAT gave Lake Hamilton a 14-7 lead with 1:13 left in the first.
The Wildcats pushed the ball near midfield before Shepherd’s 50-yard punt penned the Wolves back at their own 2-yard line. Lake Hamilton used 12 plays and a couple penalties to maneuver 98 yards with Miller scoring on an 8-yard run with 6:28 left in the second quarter, pushing the lead to 21-7.
El Dorado needed to respond and did, driving 80 yards. Sharmon Rester connected with Kamron Bibby for 46 yards. Shepherd hit Jackie Washing for 16 before Moore plunged in from three yards out. Carruth’s kick cut the margin to 21-14 with 3:47 left in the half.
Again, El Dorado’s defense made, what appeared a game-turning stop when Mario Ganter intercepted Bearden’s pass.
But the Wildcats couldn’t move the ball and punted it back to the Wolves’ 7. The ensuing 93-yard drive took just six plays with Kendrick Martin scoring on a 23-yard run. Bearden ran for the 2-point conversion and a 29-14 advantage with 46 seconds left in the half.
“We’d have the momentum and then we’d give it right back to them. There were a couple times it happened in the first half,” said Jones. “I mean, it was a battle in the first half. I thought, right there at the end, they capitalized at the half to take a two-touchdown lead.”
El Dorado couldn’t pick up a first down to start the third and, after a 22-yard punt, the Wolves took over at the EHS 45. Again, the Wildcats’ defense clawed the ball away with Javin Steward recovering a fumble at the 23.
But El Dorado failed to pick up a first down on any of its first three possessions of the second half.
Meanwhile, Lake Hamilton kept bludgeoning.
The Wolves scored on a 64-yard drive, which included five consecutive running plays before Bearden tossed a 28-yard TD pass to Miller. The junior caught the pass in the flat, broke a tackle and raced to paydirt as the lead swelled to 36-14 with 1:21 left in the third.
The Wildcats tried to answer but their 12-play drive stalled at the 26. The Wolves marched the other way on six running plays, capped by Woodley’s 32-yard run with 6:30 left in the fourth.
The Wolves’ Dalton Isom recovered a fumble, which led to Lake Hamilton’s final score, a 3-yard run by Bearden with 2:30 left in the game.
Jones was asked if Lake Hamilton did anything different in the second half defensively.
“No, we just didn’t execute in the second half, couldn’t get anything going,” he answered. “We’d have a big play and then have a mishap behind it via penalty or turnover or whatever it may be. We couldn’t hold a drive together. Lake Hamilton did a good job of keeping us out of the end zone.”
El Dorado was held to just 62 yards rushing in the game. Rester completed 11-of-22 for 168 yards while Shepherd was 5-of-12 for 48.
Standout receiver DeAndra Burns did not play for the Wildcats.
“He was still nursing that ankle. I just felt like it was best to hold him out,” said Jones.
Despite the season-ending loss, the coach reflected on where the Wildcats ended up, compared to where they started.
“From start to finish, I felt we were one of the most improved teams in the state of Arkansas after you look at our non-conference schedule to a state quarterfinal finish,” he said. “I’m proud of how they didn’t give up and always fought. We’re looking forward to a bright 2021. We’ve got a lot of great players coming back.
“The senior class meant a lot to me with how they kept competing and kept fighting.”