Little Rock Christian ended Pulaski Academy's drive for five consecutive state championships with its defense Sunday afternoon.
The Warriors forced five turnovers, including three in the second half, to earn a 52-38 victory over the Bruins in front of 10,762 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
In the second half, Little Rock Christian (13-1), which trailed 31-21 at halftime, outscored Pulaski Academy 31-7 to earn its first state championship.
"We didn't really look at the scoreboard. We just keep competing," Warriors Coach Eric Cohu said. "We have some good players. We knew we had a good plan. We just tried to stay the course."
Little Rock Christian defensive coordinator Lance Clark, who is in his first year with the Warriors after arriving from Madison Academy in Alabama, credited his team for their play in the second half.
"It's all about these kids," Clark said. "We made some adjustments. Our kids played hard. I'm so proud of them."
The Bruins (12-2) won four Class 5A state championships in a row between 2014-17 and were attempting to win a fifth to become the first team in state history to achieve the feat in the modern era, which began in 1968.Gallery: Class 5A State Football Championship
"You hate to end with a loss, but there's a reason five in a row hasn't been done before," Bruins Coach Kevin Kelley said. "It's just hard. Everybody is gunning for you. You get their best every week. You're fighting complacency on your own team. That many times, that many shots in a row, eventually somebody is finally going to be good enough if you're not at your best to beat you.
"This is an extremely talented Christian team. Their coaching staff did a very nice job all year. Bottom line is, they played their best and I didn't do a good enough job with our guys."
Also, the Bruins' streak of 60 consecutive victories against in-state teams came to an end. Morrilton had been the last in-state team to defeat Pulaski Academy, which happened in the Class 5A playoffs in 2013.
Little Rock Christian took a 37-31 lead with 11:43 remaining on junior Kendel Givens' 7-yard touchdown run.
Then, with 11:26 left to play, senior linebacker Jack Mabry intercepted Pulaski Academy junior quarterback Braden Bratcher on a screen play and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to make it 45-31 Warriors.
"I saw it develop," Mabry said. "I just got in the right place. He threw it close enough for me to snatch it and take off with it."
Junior William Parker Kerfoot intercepted Bratcher on the Bruins' next drive, which set up senior quarterback Justice Hill's 4-yard touchdown run to extend the Warriors' lead to 52-31 with 5:02 remaining.
Kerfoot had two of the Warriors' four interceptions Sunday.
"We came out and were aggressive," Kerfoot said. "We just followed the path all year and we were successful."
Hill, the game's MVP, accounted for 330 yards and 4 touchdowns, including 2 passing and 2 rushing. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 218 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. On the ground, he had 112 yards and 2 touchdowns on 15 carries.
Junior wide receiver Chris Hightower caught 4 passes for 92 yards and 1 touchdown. Senior wide receiver MJ Loggins added 2 receptions for 56 yards and 1 touchdown and had 8 tackles on defense.
Bratcher, who entered the game with 4,316 yards and 52 touchdowns, finished 30-of-50 passing for 417 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.
Senior John David White led the Bruins' receivers with 9 receptions for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns (4, 17, 65 and 35 yards).
Little Rock Christian was making its first appearance in a state championship game since 2007. The Warriors' only loss in 2018 was 56-14 to Pulaski Academy on Sept. 28. Hill did not play in the game because of a hamstring injury.
But for the first time since 2009, the Warriors defeated the Bruins and it came in the most important game of the season.
"I told our guys to believe. The pressure was on them," Cohu said. "They beat us by 42 the first time we played them. I told them to go out and have fun. Our guys went out and had fun and made plays."
Little Rock Christian linebacker Grant McElmurry (43) hits Pulaski Academy quarterback Braden Bratcher (12) as he throws during the second quarter Sunday. The Warriors forced five turnovers, including three in the second half, as they ended Pulaski Academy’s drive for five consecutive state championships.
Sports on 12/03/2018
Print Headline: Defensive delight: Little Rock Christian tightens, ends Pulaski Academy's title hold