SEARCY -- Mark Kelley tried to remain calm after Searcy's 6A-East Conference finale against Sylvan Hills on Thursday, but his reserved demeanor didn't last long.
Searcy established a big first-quarter lead, then held off a spirited second-half rally to knock off the Bears 38-21 at Lion Stadium to capture the school's first league championship since 1991.
"It feels good about the accomplishment," the fifth-year coach said. "It'll probably sink in some after the season. This was a big game for us.
"We'll definitely celebrate this, but we also know we've got bigger things to take care of, like hopefully getting to the state championship."
Thanks to Marion's 34-25 come-from-behind victory over Jonesboro, Searcy (9-1, 6-1) will enter the Class 6A playoffs as the top seed from the 6A-East and have home-field advantage throughout.
Searcy forced a pair of turnovers and scored on its first four possessions to build a 24-0 lead before Sylvan Hills registered a first down. The Bears picked things up after halftime, but the early barrage from the Lions was too much to overcome.
"If we don't start as slow as we did ... we were right there," Sylvan Hills Coach Jim Withrow said. "I told the guys that we're right there on the cusp of being there with some of the best teams in the state. We just have to play four solid quarters of football, and we didn't do that in this one."
Senior running back Damien Young ran 9 times for 100 yards and accounted for 3 touchdowns for Searcy, which will have a first-round bye in the playoffs. Senior quarterback Bryce Dixon tossed 3 touchdown passes, and classmate Tanner Leonard caught 6 passes for 111 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Corey Washington had 236 yards of offense and scored two touchdowns for Sylvan Hills (4-6, 3-4), which will be the conference's No. 6 seed when the postseason starts next week. The Bears will travel to either Greenwood or Lake Hamilton in the opening round.
Young's 32-yard touchdown run with 10:56 left in the first quarter put Searcy on top 7-0.
The Lions would recover a fumble on Sylvan Hills' first offensive play and cashed in when Dixon threw a 3-yard score to Young to cap a six-play, 31-yard drive.
Searcy pushed its lead to 17-0 with 2:48 remaining in the quarter on Ethan Clegg's 31-yard field goal. After holding Sylvan Hills on downs on the next series, Dixon tossed a 17-yard touchdown to Young with 10:36 showing in the second quarter to finish off a 12-play, 64-yard march.
Sylvan Hills shaved seven points off its deficit when Washington sprinted in for a 6-yard touchdown run with 19 ticks left in the half.
The Bears carried that momentum into the third quarter and pulled within 24-14 when senior running back Cole Bland ended an 11-play, 77-yard drive with a 2-yard score with 2:29 to go. Dixon fired a 51-yard touchdown to Leonard on Searcy's next possession, but Washington's 2-yard scoring run with 7:12 left in the game again cut the Lions' lead to 31-21.
Dixon squashed Sylvan Hill's hopes with a 9-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Nick Saunders at the 4:22 mark.
"They controlled the clock on us in the second half," Kelley said of Sylvan Hills. "Our start was huge for us because if you look at it, they've played a lot of really close games. We were trying to get a little bit of distance from them.
"That's what we were finally able to do and kind of sustain that. We wanted to spread it out a little bit further in the second half, but they played well."
Sports on 11/08/2019
Print Headline: Searcy revels in first conference title since 1991