SPORTS >> Searcy, Harding Academy do well in ‘Raid’
Leader sports writer
IN SHORT: The Searcy Lions finished third and the Wildcats fourth in the Sonic 7-on-7 football tournament.
A total of 16 teams competed in the Sonic Air-Raid 7-on-7 football tournament at Harding University on Saturday. Local teams Searcy and Harding Academy, along with 13 other Arkansas schools and Boyd-Buchanon High School from Tennessee took to the eight different fields in the double elimination tourney.
Each team played three games in the preliminary round, and the eight teams with the best records moved into the afternoon championship bracket, while the rest played in the Land-O-Frost consolation bracket.
Shiloh Christian eventually went on to win the overall championship, defeating Fayetteville in the championship game and going undefeated in the tournament. Searcy finished third overall, with Harding ending up fourth in the final standings.
The Lions finished with a final tournament record of 6-2, with HA just one shy of Searcy’s winning mark with a 5-2 record.
Searcy and HA both made it to the championship bracket, and eventually squared off in a rare cross-town rivalry game in the quarterfinals of the losers bracket after both teams lost in the first round of the championships.
Both schools went 3-0 in the preliminaries, but Harding had a difficult time with the CAC 2 squad in the first round of the championship, losing 29-6. Searcy led Stuttgart through most of its first-round matchup, but a last-second play for Stuttgart stole the win from the Lions 22-21.
The Lions and the Wildcats both ended up in the loser’s bracket, but both teams were determined to still make it to the championship. Harding Academy pulled out a 27-19 win over Forrest City in the first round of the losers bracket, while Searcy held off a stubborn Bryant team 20-14 to advance to the next round.
In the 3 p.m. games, HA beat Stuttgart 28-18, while the Lions easily handled CAC 2 33-12, setting up a much-anticipated game between the two schools.
Neither team scored on their first possessions. The 30-minute scrimmage went scoreless until 20:38 remaining, when Justin Rowden hit Matt Cramblett from nine-yards out for the first Searcy score. The extra-point throw was completed, and the Lions went up 7-0.
Harding Academy answered on the following possession, when Luke Tribble made a 1-yard shovel pass into the end zone for the score.
Tribble found another receiver for the extra-point conversion, but the Lion defenders stopped him on the 1-yard line to keep a slim 7-6 lead.
Searcy’s next score came on a hail-Mary looking pass from Rowden to a crowd of Searcy and HA players. The Lion receiver caught the ball, and was pushed out of the back of the end zone by the Wildcats. The pass was deemed a catch by the officials, and Searcy added to its lead 13-6.
Searcy intercepted Tribble on the next possession, but gave the ball right back to Harding on downs.
The Wildcats would score this time when a pass from Tribble was scooped up at the 2-yard line after the intended receiver fell down.
The receiver behind the play snagged the ball just before it hit the ground and ran in for the score. The touchdown cut Searcy’s lead to 13-12 with only 5:54 remaining, but both teams still had another score left.
The Lions scored their final TD with 2:18 left on a 1-yard toss from Cramblett to Easton Valentine. The extra point was no good, leaving the score at 19-12 in favor of Searcy.
The Wildcats had to hustle with the continuous clock, but managed to put it in the end zone with a little more than 30 seconds remaining.
HA had the option to go for the one-point conversion from the 5-yard line for the tie, or go for the win with a 2-point conversion from the 10-yard line. Coach Tommy Shoemaker opted for it all, with a 2-point attempt on the final play of the game.
Tribble launched the ball into the end zone, but it bounced off the HA receiver’s extended hand, giving Searcy the win 19-18, and putting the Wildcats out of the tournament.
“That was a lot of fun,” Shoemaker said after the game. “We were about out of gas, so we went for the win there. I thought we had a good play; we just didn’t get it done. It was a good game, and good for the city. I know there are probably a lot of people who were excited to see the two of us mix it up.”
Even with a light practice schedule over the spring, Shoemaker was impressed with his young team, especially receiver-turned-quarterback Luke Tribble.
“Luke done a great job,” Shoemaker said. “He was a little shaky in the first game and threw a couple of interceptions, but he was right on the money in the rest of the games. He’s a good competitor, and I was impressed with how well he threw the ball.
“We have a lot of young guys, and I thought they did really well. We have some technique stuff to work on, and we have to decide where some guys fit, but they picked up things well, especially with so little time to practice.”
Searcy faced Fayetteville in the semifinals with the winner moving on to face Shiloh Christian for the championship.
The Lions led 15-14 with seven minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the final minutes to take the win 26-15, and ending Searcy’s impressive run.
Lions second-year coach Bart McFarland was very pleased with the team’s effort, especially the leadership he got from the seniors.
“We have come a long way from last year,” McFarland said. “To reach the final three is a great accomplishment for this team. Everybody stepped it up today. All of these guys were tired, but we came back and competed. Justin did great all day, I think he only had one interception the whole tournament. Easton and Matt both made some unbelievable catches out there.
“We’re doing exactly what we’re going to do on Friday night, right here. We had a lot of guys take it to the next level out there, and that’s what we’re going to have to do all season during the fall in order to be successful.”