PRAIRIE GROVE Prairie Grove ran for 410 yards and put two rushers over 100 yards, but it was a swarming defense that forced five turnovers and four punts Friday that spearheaded the Tigers’ 43-27 victory over Mena in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs at Tiger Stadium.
Prairie Grove (8-3) scored on its first five possessions en route to a 31-14 halftime lead, but Mena (5-6) couldn’t take advantage of the Tigers’ sometimes-sputtering offense in the second half.
The Tigers made several momentum-changing plays on defense, the last coming late in the third quarter.
Mena quarterback Austin Warren broke loose for a 77-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in the quarter to get the Bearcats within 31-21. Mena then recovered a fourth-down fumble by Weston Bartholomew, but the Tigers’ Kristian Denton intercepted a Warren pass at the Prairie Grove 20.
“I got a little too greedy and their safety made a great play on the interception,” Mena coach Jeff Weaver said. “If we could’ve got it in there, we might have been able to turn the game.”
The Tigers then put the game away on a pair of Colby Elkins touchdown runs of 18 and 2 yards in the fourth quarter.
“We got the run going again,” Prairie Grove coach Danny Abshier said “That was nice.”
Elkins, part of a quarterback rotation filling in for injured starter Cooper Winters, rushed for 114 yards. Weston Bartholomew had 24 carries for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
Mena needed only three plays to take a 7-0 lead. Malachi McGee split two defenders down the center of the field to haul in a 63-yard touchdown pass from Warren 44 seconds into the game.
The Tigers struck just as quickly to tie. Bartholomew had a 33-yard run and Daniel Schrock followed with a 16-yard run. After an offside penalty against Mena, Bartholomew scored from the 5 to forge a 7-7 tie with 10:15 left in the first quarter.
After a Mena punt, Bartholomew scored on a 4-yard run to cap a 12-play, 54-yard drive with 3:17 left in the quarter.
Mena also drove 54 yards to the tying touchdown, Ben Graves running the final yard with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
Bartholomew ran 52 yards on the final play of the quarter for a 21-14 Prairie Grove advantage.
The Tigers forced a fumble, with Jacob Kahl recovering at the Mena 10. Bartholomew’s 10-yard touchdown was wiped out by an illegal block, and Prairie Grove had to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Landon Allen for a 24-14 lead with nine minutes left in the first half.
Mena appeared to get a break when it recovered a fumbled punt at Prairie Grove’s 22, but Landon West intercepted a Warren screen pass to thwart the Bearcats.
Schrock capped the ensuing 64-yard drive with a 3-yard run with 4:30 left in the half for a 31-14 lead.
“They did a fantastic job defensively,” Weaver said. “They whipped us up front, which made it really hard for us to run outside of busting a few plays.
“They got pressure by collapsing the pocket. We couldn’t get our quarterback out on the edge.”
Warren was 14 of 25 for 184 yards passing. He also rushed for 84 yards as the Bearcats gained 131 on the ground.