Central Arkansas Christian defender Caden McCluskey, who missed seven games because of a lacerated spleen he suffered in the season's second week, intercepted three passes and returned a fumble for a touchdown as the Mustangs overcame Gentry 49-20 in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs Friday on Mustang Mountain.
CAC (8-3) intercepted four Brandon Atwood passes and forced a fumble at the end of the third quarter.
McCluskey said his big night was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. His first interception resulted in an 82-yard return for a touchdown to give the Mustangs a 21-12 lead with 4:38 left in the first half.
His final two interceptions came in the fourth quarter.
"I just try to play my hardest," McCluskey said. "It was really a team effort. I mean, I didn't cause the fumble [that was returned for the touchdown]."
Gentry got to the Mustangs for 20 points in the first half, scoring on its first possession using a lateral from a completed pass for a 46-yard score by Zach Jarnagan.
CAC scored on the next possession when running back Tyler Williams ran the ball three consecutive times from the 25, scoring on a 7-yard run for a 7-6 Mustangs' lead with 6:28 left in the quarter.
CAC defensive back Carlito London ended the Pioneers' next possession with an interception with 4:20 left in the quarter.
But Gentry (7-4) scored on a 39-yard pass from Atwood to Beau Tomblin, ending the quarter with its last lead of the game.
By the time CAC stopped Gentry on fourth down with 29 seconds left in the first half, the Mustangs had run just two offensive plays in the second quarter but scored 21 points to take a 28-20 lead at the half.
Miller scored on the Mustangs' first offensive play of the second quarter, then caught a 40-yard pass from Palmer Gilbrech for another score with 1:38 left in the half.
In between the two Miller scores, McCluskey intercepted an Atwood pass and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown.
Miller scored again on a 12-yard pass from Gilbrech with 4:16 left in the third quarter. McCluskey's fumble recovery covered 77 yards as time expired in the third quarter.
Williams scored CAC's final touchdown with 8:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. That touchdown was set up by McCluskey's second interception.
"I'm really excited for him," CAC Coach Tommy Shoemaker said of McCluskey before praising the entire defense.
"They really stepped up after we challenged them to do better in the second half."
Sports on 11/16/2019