SPORTS >>Badger rally turns to heartbreak
By RICK BUTLER
Leader football writer
The Beebe Badgers almost did it again.
With a number two seed in the Class 5A state playoffs on the line, the Badgers watched as Batesville’s Nick Reynolds booted a 25-yard field goal with five seconds left, lifting the Pioneers past Beebe, 23-20, Friday night here at Bro Erwin Stadium.
Reynolds’ kick sends the Badgers on the road to begin the playoffs as Beebe, now a number three seed, will travel to meet Greenwood, the number two seed from the 5A-West.
Batesville, whose only conference loss came to league champ Blytheville (22-21), will host Siloam Springs in a first-round matchup next Friday.
Just as they did several times early in the season, the Badgers fought back from a deficit to turn what could have been a blowout into a thriller.
Trailing 14-0 at the half, Beebe battled back to tie the game at 20, setting up Reynolds’ game-winner.
“Great teams make great plays when they have to,” Beebe coach John Shannon said afterward. “Batesville is a great team. They proved that tonight when they made the great plays to get the field goal at the end.”
Trailing 20-6 late in the third quarter, Beebe set out on a journey that would take more than nine minutes off the clock before cutting into the Pioneers’ lead. A rare Batesville mistake – a fumble by tailback Tim Hughes – was recovered by defensive end Ethan Quick, setting the Badgers up at their own 49. A 13-yard pass from quarterback Charlie Spakes to a sliding Brandon Pursell and, three plays later, a three-yard James Anderson run, kept Beebe in business in Batesville territory.
The Badgers converted three consecutive third-down situations and used nearly an entire quarter before Sammy Williams bulled his way over from a yard out. Roger Glaude’s PAT cut the lead to 20-13 with 6:29 left in the game.
“That was a big drive for us right then … and that’s usually how our drives are,” Shannon said. “We needed to speed it up a little, but we did a good job moving the ball and avoiding mistakes on that drive.”
The momentum stayed on Beebe’s side when senior defensive back Josh Turner stepped in front of a Nick Palese pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown with 5:31 left. Holder Ryan Williams got a high snap down on the PAT and Glaude tied the game at 20 with 5:31 to play.
The Badgers, though, wouldn’t see the ball again, save for a desperation kickoff return.
The Pioneers, who relied primarily on the hard-running Hughes in the first half, turned to the right arm of Palese, a senior, on the game’s final drive.
Starting at the Batesville 35, Palese hit Brandon Owens for 13 yards on third-and-8 from the 37, then moments later connected with Reynolds for four yards on fourth-and-three from the Badgers’ 43-yard line.
With 1:20 left, Palese hit Owens again, this time for seven yards on third-and-seven from the Beebe 36. Another pass from Palese to Owens, this time for 9 yards, and a two-yard run by Hughes with 10 seconds left, set up Reynolds’ game-winning field goal.
Shannon and the Badgers attempted to ice the senior kicker by using both of their remaining timeouts but to no avail. With five ticks left, Reynolds calmly knocked it through to send the Badgers to Greenwood.
“Beebe has a great group of kids and they played hard,” Batesville coach Dave King said. “I’m proud of our kids and the way they fought back, too, though. They really bounced back when we had to have it.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Pioneers made Beebe pay for a mistake early in the second quarter.
A botched handoff attempt gave Batesville the ball at the Beebe 19 and Palese connected with Ethan McBride for a TD strike on the first play for a 7-0 lead.
The Badgers attempted to respond, using a 27-yard pass from Spakes to Turner to drive to the Batesville 30. On second-and-13, though, Spakes’ pass was picked off by the Pioneers’ Darius Davis. Batesville used nine plays to set up Hughes’ three-yard TD run that pushed the lead to 14-0 with 53 seconds left until the half.
With hopes of hosting a first-round playoff game fading, though, the Badgers fought back to open the second half. On Beebe’s second play, James Anderson burst through a hole on the right side of the line and sprinted 63 yards to cut the lead to 14-6.
The glory was short-lived though, as Hughes ran four times in a five-play drive that covered 69 yards. Hughes’ 17-yard scoring run pushed the lead back to 14 points at 20-6 with 9:13 left in the third quarter.
Hughes had 116 yards in the first half and finished with 187 on 29 carries. Palese completed 13-of-18 passes for 111 yards.
Williams got most of the calls for the Badgers’ offense. The junior carried 26 times for 105 hard-fought yards. Anderson finished with 71 yards on seven carries. Spakes was 3-of-6 passing for 58 yards.
Shannon, a former assistant at Class 7A Cabot High School, will be taking his first crack at the 5A playoffs.
“I haven’t been in 5A before this year, so I haven’t seen Greenwood,” Shannon said. “All I know about them is the reputation. We’ve played well on the road all season, though.”