SPRINGDALE -- Shiloh Christian entered tournament play Saturday as a 7-seed in the 27-team field. The Saints' strong play earned them a top-four finish.
Coach Jeff Conaway's team knocked off Gentry and Rogers High to begin the day before battling with Oklahoma power Bixby in three overtimes. Shiloh Christian fell, 55-44, but the Saints didn't allow the loss to deter them.
"You know, it's hot out here, and there's not much time for a break," Conaway said. "You have a game like that and you get a little fatigued, but we handled it nicely. It was a good day."
The Saints proceeded to take down three Oklahoma schools -- Broken Arrow, Bishop Kelley and Owasso -- in consecutive games to find themselves two wins away from the tournament finals. Shiloh Christian's day ended with a 27-12 loss to Aurora (Ill.) Christian.
Senior receiver Jake Nelson starred for Shiloh Christian in the win against Bishop Kelley, hauling in two touchdown catches. Jaret Russ also had a big day alongside Nelson.
"(Nelson) is a three-year starter and is that big-time playmaker," Conaway said. "He can stretch the field vertically and also has the ability to be a possession receiver. We're fortunate to have some good players and some good kids."
Quarterback Eli Reece thrived running the Saints' offense as well. Conaway turned the offensive play-calling over to the 5-foot-8 sophomore to further his development. The coach said he learned a lot about his team over the two-day event.
"We found out we've got a lot of tough players," Conaway added. "They rose to the expectation, and we talked about that before the tournament began. They accepted it, knew the challenge and grew a lot."
Miller, Bentonville avenge loss to Aurora Christian
It was only Bentonville High's second game of the day after a first-round bye, but it went a long way into the Tigers ultimately grabbing their second Southwest Elite 7-on-7 Showcase title.
Bentonville edged Aurora Christian 22-20 to move to the quarterfinals of the winner's bracket. Aurora Christian beat Bentonville, 37-30, Friday at Springdale High on a touchdown pass with one second remaining.
"Aurora Christian does 7-on-7 about as good as anyone here," Bentonville coach Jody Grant said. "I'm happy with the win simply because now we don't have to fight back through the loser's bracket. It was a very competitive ballgame."
The Tigers' Easton Miller shined in the win Saturday. Miller caught two touchdown passes in the win against the Eagles, including a juggling grab in the end zone. His second touchdown catch put Bentonville ahead 21-14 with under three minutes to play.
He then helped the Tigers reach the tournament finals with a scoring grab against Bixby with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to play, putting Bentonville ahead 20-12.
Miller is able to make big plays out of the backfield and at receiver, Grant said. With defenses attention focused on receiver Kam'ron Mays-Hunt, Miller could be a difference maker this fall for Bentonville.
Bixby (Okla.) staff takes caution with receiver
Throughout the day, players and coaches searched for the metal tubs of ice water set along the home sideline at Champions Stadium.
Many dipped their faces or the top of their heads in the ice-cold water to cool down following games. Bixby's Eric Calton-Watkins took it a step further. The receiver was ordered to sit in the tub for five minutes after mention of sickness and feeling lightheaded, a Bixby assistant coach said. He did not play in the Spartans' final three games.
Calton-Watkins was also seen sitting in a lawn chair beneath the home bleachers with three fans cooling him down. Bixby fell to Bentonville in the tournament finals.
Fanning the flames of a budding rivalry
The Bentonville-Bixby tournament finals matchup provided somewhat of a preview for the teams' week 2 matchup in Oklahoma.
But one thing the Saturday evening matchup certainly catered was anticipation for the showdown this fall. Players on both sides exchanged one-liners throughout. "Y'all better be ready for pads," one Bixby player shouted following Bentonville's 21-18 win.
"People are already doubting us," Tigers receiver Mays-Hunt said. "We figured we'd just come out and wake them up."
Bentonville grabbed a high-scoring 44-34 win over the Spartans in Week 2 last season at Tiger Stadium. The 7A-West's top receiver already has an idea what the Sept. 8 meeting will be like.
"I feel like it will be a real physical game," Mays-Hunt said. "We beat them at our place last year."
Sports on 07/16/2017
Print Headline: SOUTHWEST ELITE 7-ON-7 NOTEBOOK Nelson, Russ star in Saints' final 4 finish