Batesville kicker Osvaldo Espericueta missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired, allowing Morrilton to hold on 27-24 for the program’s first state championship in 40 years Saturday in the Class 5A state title game at War Memorial Stadium.
The miss capped a wild final few minutes. The Pioneers (11-3) scored to pull within three points with 3:34 left in the game, then intercepted Devil Dogs’ (12-2) quarterback Toney Hawkins on a pass over the middle less than a minute later to set up the games’ final sequence following a 9-play drive that got Batesville to the Morrilton 20-yard line.
On the final play before the missed field goal, Pioneer quarterback Kenton Crawford was sacked with 3 seconds left. But an illegal procedure penalty — which was declined by Morrilton — stopped the clock temporarily to reset the ball, allowing Batesville enough to get its field goal unit into formation and attempt the potential game-tying kick.
The Devil Dogs looked as if they were trying to set the tone of a high-scoring affair early, with quarterback Toney Hawkins hitting Rayshod Criswell for a 67-yard touchdown on the games’ second play for a 7-0 lead with 11:05 left in the first quarter.
But both teams would trade punts through the rest of the first quarter, then the Pioneers tied the game 13 seconds into the second quarter on a Joey Rodriguez 1-yard dive into the end zone.
The two teams would trade missed opportunities in the second quarter, with Batesville failing to convert on a 4th and inches at the Morrilton 33-yard line when quarterback Kenton Crawford was stopped for no gain. On the ensuing drive, Hawkins threw an interception on a deep pass to Jalen Haynes at the Batesville 29.
Following a Batesville punt, the Devil Dogs took the lead again when Hawkins took a keeper 3 yards for the score with 7:02 left in the quarter for a 14-7 lead. Morrilton had a chance to increase its lead before halftime, but a 25-yard field goal attempt by Jorge Rivero sailed wide left as time expired.
Reese Heidenreich scored both second-half touchdowns for Morrilton, the first on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hawkins at the 3:22 mark in the third quarter and then on a 19-yard pass with 6:10 left in the game to cap the scoring for the Devil Dogs. The senior wide receiver finished with five catches for a 96 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Hawkins, who was named the game’s most valuable player for Morrilton, finished with 317 total yards (261 passing, 56 rushing) and four total touchdowns. Jalen Haynes finished with 135 rushing yards on 17 carries for the Pioneers.
Read more about this game in tomorrow’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.