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It's been 35 years since Searcy last played for a state championship, but Coach Mark Kelley and the Lions are ready for the moment Saturday.

Searcy is playing in its first state championship game since 1984 and will face Benton in the Class 6A state championship game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

In its last state title game appearance, Searcy lost to Crossett 28-21 in the then-Class AAA final.

[HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Scores, photos, stories, rankings + more » arkansasonline.com/arpreps/]

The Lions (11-1) won the 6A-East Conference, then earned playoff victories over Pine Bluff and two-time defending state champion Greenwood to reach the Class 6A final.

It's been a rewarding season for the Lions, Kelley said.

"Everybody is excited about this Saturday," he said. "They're excited for our kids and for our community. We're excited to come down here and represent Searcy and a community that's done so much for us. We're exciting about representing and competing."

This year's Class 6A state championship game is the first since 2014 that doesn't feature Greenwood. Greenwood defeated Searcy 35-0 in last year's Class 6A quarterfinals, but the Lions defeated the Bulldogs 50-38 on Friday to end Greenwood's two-year run as state champion.

"It was a big step," Kelley said. "Any time you can beat legends like Rick Jones and Greenwood, you feel really good. We're exciting about what we've accomplished, but we also know that we have a big task ahead of us against Benton."

Searcy is averaging 45.3 points per game and is led by senior quarterback Bryce Dixon, who has completed 258 of 435 passes for 3,648 yards with 41 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

Other key offensive players for the Lions include senior running back Johnson Guthrie (1,089 yards, 15 touchdowns); wide receiver Marlon Crockett, a junior with a team-high 13 touchdown receptions; and senior wide receiver Tanner Leonard, who has 11 scores.

Kelley said this team has been a fun one to coach.

"There are a lot of guys you enjoy being around," Kelley said. "A lot of great guys that do the right things. Of course, when they get out on the football field, they'll make plays. It's been an amazing experience with a great group of guys and a great group of coaches."

Kelley was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach at Searcy in 2015. The Lions are 43-17 since Kelley took over, and they have made it to the Class 6A playoffs in each of his five seasons as head coach.

Now the Lions are one victory away from a state title. Kelley has been appreciative of his players and coaches, past and present, who have turned the program into a contender.

"We have a lot of great coaches around us," Kelley said. "We have a lot of people who have put a lot of time and energy into this program. It was eventually going to turn and that's what it's done in the last couple of years. We're headed in the right direction."

Sports on 12/03/2019

Print Headline: Searcy's title shot 35 years in making

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