North Little Rock forced Rip Kirk into almost as many interceptions as completions in the first half. But when it mattered, Kirk made enough plays against the Charging Wildcats to beat them.
Despite North Little Rock forcing four South Panola turnovers, three of them first-half interceptions by Kirk (he only completed four passes in the first two quarters) , the senior quarterback hit on two throws -- one to covert a 3rd and 12 and another for a touchdown -- in a second half drive that proved to be the winning points in a 24-23 Tigers' win.
Although both teams had big-name running backs in North Little Rock's Juan Day and South Panola's Darrell Henderson, defense dominated early on, with North Little Rock scoring first on a 56-yard interception return by Payton Holmes for a touchdown with 9:23 left in the first quarter.
One of those big game backs broke out later in the quarter, with Henderson taking a screen pass 76 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the Tigers' third drive, to tie the game.
A 32-yard field goal by Sandy Burks regained the lead for the Charging Wildcats, but Henderson countered with his second big play of the night on South Panola's ensuing drive with an 80-yard run on first down to give the Tigers a 14-10 lead. Burk's second field goal of the night, made it a 14-13 game at halftime.
Neither team could punch it in early in the second half, with a Steven Collins 25-yard field goal being the only points of the third quarter, until Kirk connected on with Antavion Reed for 17 yards on 3rd and 12 from inside their own 30 for a first down. Five plays later, Kirk's play-action fake to Henderson gave him just enough time to hit Cole Rotenberry for the 26-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Juan Day finally broke through thanks to a broken play on the Charging Wildcats' next drive. Quarterback Heath Land scrambled in both directions before finding Day on a short pass along the sideline. Day did the rest, dodging two defenders and going in for a 65-yard touchdown. Burks' third field goal of the night made it 24-23 at the 5:41 mark.
South Panola was able to keep their next -- and final -- drive going thanks to a fake punt run by Dashawn Lindsey on 4th and 8 at their own 38 that got them 32 yards to the North Little Rock 30. The Tigers would end up winding the clock down to 33 seconds left before punting and the Charging Wildcats were unable to do anything in the final seconds, with Land throwing two incomplete passes and scrambling for no gain before failing to get their final play off on fourth down as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Read more about this story in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.