SPRINGDALE — Almost as one, the 11 defensive players for Springdale Har-Ber sprinted off the field, some with gloved fists held high for a celebration on the Wildcats’ sideline.
With the game’s outcome still very much hanging in the balance, the Wildcats threw up a stone wall and held Bentonville West out of the end zone from inside the Har-Ber 2 on four straight plays. The last was a double-reverse that resulted in a 9-yard loss that helped the Wildcats preserve the 10-point lead.
After starting the season 0-4 in a brutally tough opening stretch, the suddenly hot Wildcats have won three straight after a 33-17 win Friday night in Wildcat Stadium in 7A-West Conference action.
“That really boosted our confidence right there,” said Har-Ber senior outside linebacker Will Haney. “We’re just going out there and playing for each other and that makes us stronger as a whole.”
Haney said the defense has adopted the slogan “NADY” which stands for “not a dang yard” and the Wildcats didn’t give up much more than that in the second half, holding West scoreless after giving up 17 points in the first half.
“We were glad our guys stayed disciplined, stayed on their side,” said Haney on the double-reverse from the 1. “We did not want them to chase and I was just really happy that they were there.”
The game featured a host of momentum-changing plays, but none was bigger than the goal-line stand, said Har-Ber coach Chris Wood.
“I thought our defensive staff did a great job at halftime with some adjustments,” said Wood. “Our kids have a lot of heart and soul. They have a lot of fight in them. I really like our defense, the passion, and the energy they play with and I thought they really displayed that on that goal-line stand.
“That was the game right there.”
In a back-and-forth first half, Har-Ber (3-4, 3-1 7A-West) took the early lead, but West was able to tie the score at 17-17 by scoring on back-to-back possessions late in the second half. The Wolverines (4-3, 2-1) took a 14-10 lead by driving 80 yards, getting big completions from Dalton McDonald to Luke Miller and Stephen Dyson, the last a 48-yarder that set up Carlos Hall’s short touchdown run with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first half for a 14-10 lead, then a Konner Brown field goal with 22 seconds left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff following Brown’s field goal, Har-Ber’s Lane Reiter returned the kick 70 yards to the West 27. With only 5 seconds left in the half, Wood sent kicker Christian Ramirez in for a 44-yard field goal try, and the sophomore crushed it, giving the Wildcats a 20-17 halftime lead.
“That was huge because that second quarter went back and forth,” said Wood. “We matched score-for-score, but I thought the field goal right before half was really huge after the kick return.”
The Har-Ber defense set the tone for the second half on the Wolverines’ opening possession. Although West managed a big 25-yard pass from McDonald to Carson Morgan, the Wildcats held West near midfield to force the first punt of the game.
Starting from their own 18, the Wildcats drove 82 yards in 9 plays. Three times in the drive Har-Ber faced third-and-long situations, and each time quarterback Drue Mc-Clendon came through with big plays, including an 18-yard draw, a 17-yard completion to Hudson Brewer and a 44-yard pass to Peyton McKee. That completion set up Brewer’s 6-yard run with 6:27 left in the third quarter and gave Har-Ber a 27-17 lead.
From there, Har-Ber’s defense did the rest, coming up with the big plays that helped turn West away and earn a big win as far as potential playoff seedings for later in the season, Wood said.
“This was a huge win because of how everything is set up this year,” Wood said, “especially with teams not being able to play all their conference games. The tie-breakers will go to total conference wins, so the more wins you can get under your belt, the better off you’re going to be when you get into seeding for the playoffs.”
• Har-Ber defense not only pitched a second-half shutout, but it also held West to just 94 yards on the ground and 13 of those came on one play before the late goal-line stand.
• The Wildcats ran for 216 yards in the game, but almost one-third of that came on one play as Brewer, who rushed for 137 yards, had an 80-yard gain after the big defense stop to set up Har-Ber’s final touchdown.
• McClendon was 12 of 21 passing for 234 yards with one interception for the Wildcats. Ethan Fender caught 3 passes for 101 yards including a 51-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter.
• Next week, Bentonville West will be on the road at Rogers Heritage, and Har-Ber will host Fort Smith South-side. Both games have 7 p.m. kickoffs.
Chip Souza can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAChip.