BENTONVILLE -- Will Kennedy provided the defensive play Conway needed during an offensive shootout Thursday night.
The senior free safety gave the Wampus Cats a lead they never relinquished when he picked up Will Jarrett's fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown, and Conway held off Bentonville West for a 48-40 victory in a Class 7A quarterfinal playoff game at Tiger Stadium.
"All week long, it was, 'Defense, we have to make some stops,' " Kennedy said. "You watch Bentonville West on film, and they are the best offense in the state -- I don't care what people say. But we like the challenge. It went bad for us early, but I think it was our defense that turned the game around.
"I had the little fullback guy, and the quarterback started scrambling around. The ball went on the ground, and it was right there. So I said I was picking it up, then I saw some offensive line chasing me so I tried to outrun them to the end zone."
Kennedy's score gave Conway (9-3) a 21-17 lead with 10:04 remaining in the first half, less than a minute after Conway's Brennan Clark scored on a 1-yard run. It was part of a 28-point outburst by the Wampus Cats in the second quarter that led to a 35-17 halftime lead.
Michael George, who finished with 271 yards on 39 carries after sitting out last week's first-round game against Rogers, scored on a 13-yard run with 8:17 before halftime. Conway completed its first-half scoring when Andrew Hreha hit Nick Richmond with a 33-yard touchdown pass with 4 seconds left in the half.
"Once our guys settled down, I thought we played really hard and played really well. Then our offense started clicking," Conway Coach Clint Ashcraft said. "The biggest thing was we needed to calm down. They were in a hurry-up mode, and our guys were on our heels for a little bit defensively.
"They finally calmed down, and when they got a stop that gave them some confidence. Then our offense was able to put together some scores, and it turned out to be big."
Bentonville West (9-2), however, didn't make things easy. The Wolverines started the second half with Jarrett's 27-yard touchdown pass to Stefan Banda. Kendall Young's fumble recovery set up Jarrett and Banda again -- this time a 20-yard touchdown pass -- and cut Conway's lead to 35-30 midway through the third quarter after a two-point try failed.
Then Bentonville West had a chance to possibly regain the lead when its defense forced a punt, and the Wolverines took over on their 15 with 4:17 left in the third quarter. West picked up a quick first down, but had to punt three plays later.
"It was one of those things where we didn't play very clean," said Wolverines Coach Bryan Pratt, whose team is now 0-2 in playoff games in its short history. "We got ourselves in a big hole and had to battle back, and we kept fighting.
"We just couldn't get that drive going, and it seemed like what we did a lot throughout the game. Once we got a drive going, we felt fine but we had too many three-and-outs."
George, who had a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, gave Conway a 41-30 lead heading into the fourth with a 10-yard touchdown run. After Blake McDoulett's 32-yard field goal pulled Bentonville West within 41-33, Hreha scored from 4 yards out with 2:47 remaining to make it 48-33.
Bentonville West answered when Jarrett, who finished 22 of 37 for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns, hit Banda with a 13-yard pass with 1:13 left. Conway, however, recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock, setting up a semifinal game between the winner of today's game between Fort Smith Northside and North Little Rock.Gallery: Conway at Bentonville West 11.16.2017
Conway running back Michael George (30) celebrates with teammate Matt Lloyd after scoring a third-quarter touchdown Thursday to help the Wampus Cats beat Bentonville West 48-40 in the Class 7A state playoffs.
Conway safety Jackson Freeman (18) forces a fumble with a hit on Bentonville West quarterback Will Jarrett on Thursday at Tiger Stadium in Bentonville.
Sports on 11/17/2017
Conway 48, Bentonville West 40
West — Prince 11 pass from Jarrett (McDoulett kick), 9:16.
West — Prince 7 pass from Jarrett (McDoulett kick), 3:50.
Conway — George 57 run (Wicks kick), 3:37.
West — FG McDoulett 25, 2:11.
Conway — Clark 1 run (Wicks kick), 10:57.
Conway — Lloyd 16 fumble recovery (Wicks kick), 10:04.
Conway — George 13 run (Wicks kick), 8:17.
Conway — Richmond 33 pass from Hreha (Wicks kick), 0:04.
West — Banda 27 pass from Jarrett (McDoulett kick), 9:52.
West — Banda 20 pass from Jarrett (pass fail), 6:33.
Conway — George 10 run (pass fail), 0:22.
West — FG McDoulett 32, 6:20.
Conway — Hreha 4 run (Wicks kick), 2:49.
West — Banda 13 pass from Jarrett (McDoulett kick), 1:13.
Print Headline: Defensive TD gets Conway rolling