To the victors go the spoils. After capping a perfect season, five members of Strong’s 2A 8-Man state championship team earned All-State honors.
The Arkansas Activities Association made the announcement earlier this week.
The Bulldogs were carried by a core of upperclassmen, including four seniors who made the squad.
Byron Maze, Treveon Daniels, Jayme Correa and Caneilus Betters finished their careers in grand fashion, as the Bulldogs overcame an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter to top Mountain Pine 66-60 in double overtime to win the state crown.
LaQuincy Shelton, a junior who was the MVP of the state championship game, also was tabbed as an All-State selection.
Shelton, who threw five touchdown passes in the state finals with three coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, finished the year with 1,434 yards passing and 22 touchdowns while completing nearly 52 percent of his passes.
He finished second on the team with 486 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns. He was also a key component on two-point conversions, registering 26 of them.
Shelton was also a force on defense, tallying 103 1/2 tackles, including 8 1/2 for a loss. He also led the Bulldogs with five interceptions with three fumble recoveries and 1 1/2 sacks.
“He was inexperienced at the quarterback position and it showed in the first couple of games,” Strong coach Sirl Wright said. “We would stay after practice and talk about schemes, how to break down defenses. He got better and better over the season. He was more over 70 percent a lot in those last several games.
“His passing got better throughout the season. Some games where we really needed to pass, he was phenomenal. In other games where we didn’t need to pass as much, just to keep the defense honest, he was superb. He had a phenomenal season at quarterback. He was our mainstay on two-point conversions. In short-yardage situations or running situations, he was a dual threat.”
If there was one word to describe Maze’s season, it would be dominant.
On offense, Maze caught 51 passes for 906 yards with 12 touchdowns while adding 107 yards rushing.
Defensively, Maze had 142 tackles to lead the team with a whopping 32 1/2 going for a loss. He forced 12 fumbles and recovered five of them. He had 11 1/2 sacks, and for added measure, he scored three touchdowns on defense and blocked a punt on special teams.
“He was a very versatile weapon and a very strong key to our success this year,” Wright said. “When times got rough, he was always that shining light that would always come out and encourage his teammates to continue on and get that momentum rolling. He was definitely a force to be reckoned with on defense. He had an outstanding year.”
Daniels will go down in Strong lore for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the state championship game, but he was also a force on both sides of the ball.
Daniels led the Bulldogs with 912 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns, but he was outstanding in the playoffs.
After racking up 100 yards on just nine carries against Cedar Ridge and 134 yards against Brinkley, the senior had 126 yards on 21 carries in the title game. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the playoffs, including a 71-yard return in the state finals.
Overall, Daniels had nine touchdowns in the three postseason games. He also returned an interception for a score against Cedar Ridge to give him one on defense as well.
Daniels finished with 56 1/2 tackles, including 11 1/2 for a loss on defense.
“He was our bell cow for us at running back,” Wright said. “He started kind of slow, but as the season went on, he started getting 100-plus yard games rushing more consistently. We never gave him the ball 30 times a game because the other teams would stack the line or something like that, but he was just consistent. The thing that made me proud about him is each week he was getting better. He would take the coaching and a lot of kids would shut down. He would just listen and the things that we said he was doing wrong, he improved on all fronts. It really showed. He was a dependable force in the state championship game for us on offense.
“He wasn’t a great receiver at first, but he came on and got 13 receptions and five touchdowns, so every other time he touched the ball, he was scoring as a receiver. Defensively, he was another standout outside linebacker. He helped out a lot. He had the safety that made the state championship game a one-possession game. He had a phenomenal year.”
Along with Maze, Correa gave the Bulldogs a duo that opposing offenses had difficulty slowing down.
Correa finished with 131 tackles with 20 1/2 going for a loss. He racked up 3 1/2 sacks. He forced two fumbles and recovered two fumbles.
Correa also played a pivotal role up front in the success of Strong’s offense, including what turned out to be the Bulldogs’ biggest play of the season.
“Him and Maze were the two team captains and they led us throughout the season,” Wright said. “If we needed anything consistent, those two were the two people we could hold our foundation on. The stats don’t show up as much for offensive linemen, but he was pretty much the only center in the league that would pull and wrap around. The touchdown that won the state championship, he wrapped up around the end position and sealed the linebacker and moved on and hit a defensive back.
“Daniels ran pretty much untouched just following the lead of Jayme. That’s a unique feat where you can snap the ball, outrun the running back around the corner and lead him all the way to the touchdown for 10 yards. He really capitalized this season. Defensively, he was a stud at the end position. Teams had to choose their poison. Either run at Maze or run at Correa. Both of them dealt with many double teams and Correa had some triple teams. He didn’t back down. He just kept coming. All the work of being in the weight room in the past few years paid off.”
Betters saved his best performance for the state championship game, catching touchdown passes of 16 and 59 yards to account for Strong’s first two touchdowns.
Overall, Betters caught 11 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns. He added 155 yards rushing and two scores on 30 carries.
“He played in all of them, but he was banged up after the first game,” Wright said. “From there, it was tough to get him in there, so from Game 2 through maybe Game 6, he was struggling with an ankle injury. He came on at the end of the year. He was healthy.
“He showed up where most people weren’t expecting him to show up, especially in the championship game. He had a heck of a game. When they were doubling and tripling Maze, he would take off the slack. They had to play us more honest because of Betters.”