RISON — It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Rison Wildcats got a crucial win Friday night when they turned back the Strong Bulldogs 21-8 in an 8-2A Conference clash at Wildcat Field.
The homecoming victory by Rison (6-3, 5-2 in 8-2A) all but locked up third place for the Wildcats in the conference and assured them of a first-round playoff game at home on Nov. 9. Rison will close out its regular season Thursday night at Hampton. Rison is now 61-7 in homecoming games in the post World War II era.
“We were sloppy, but we’ll take the victory,” Rison head coach Clay Totty said. “We’re proud to get the win against the defending state champs, something we’re not. We put the ball on the ground twice and had a bad snap on a punt. Our defense bowed up and made some stops when we needed it.”
The Bulldogs (5-4 overall, 4-3 in 8-2A) knocked on the door of Rison’s goal-line four different times without scoring, reaching the Wildcats’ 7-yard line twice, the 11 and 23.
Strong’s last chance to score on an offensive possession came after a high snap from center on a Wildcat punt attempt gave the Bulldogs field position at the Rison 27.
However, down 13-0 at the time, the ‘Dogs could get no closer than the 23 and turned the ball over on downs with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
Then the Wildcats used over 7 minutes of the clock to drive 77 yards for a touchdown, capped by Jokenzie Broughton’s 24-yard TD run around the right side. Broughton added a two-point conversion plunge to give Rison some breathing room, 21-0 with 9:37 to go in the game.
All of Rison’s yardage in the long scoring drive came on the ground. The Wildcats finished with 322 yards, all on the ground, and it was the fourth consecutive game that Rison had no passing yardage.
After the Wildcats built their three-touchdown cushion, the ‘Dogs advanced into Rison territory. But the Wildcats’ Dillon Smith tackled quarterback Jontay Hicks for a 5-yard loss on fourth down to stop the drive at midfield.
Rison appeared to be marching for a touchdown to ice the game, but quarterback Nathan Wilson was hit at the Bulldogs’ 25 and fumbled. Strong’s Taylor Hicks scooped up the loose ball at the 26 and raced 74 yards for a touchdown to pump new life into the Bulldogs. Jamarian Ford ran across a two-point conversion to slice Rison’s lead to 21-8 with 3:41 left.
On the ensuing onside kick, the Wildcats’ Jordan Mason covered the ball at the midfield stripe. Then the Wildcats exhausted the remaining time on the clock.
The Wildcats’ had only 44 yards to go for their first touchdown, which was capped by Broughton’s 27-yard TD scamper with just 3:58 gone in the game. Zuntario Oliver added the extra point to make it 7-0.
Rison’s next offensive series resulted in a 5-play, 57-yard scoring march. Jarvis Broughton covered the final 41 yards after taking a toss around the right side. The PAT kick failed, leaving the score 13-0 with 4:03 left in the opening quarter.
The ‘Cats never threatened again until they tacked on their last touchdown in the final period. In between Rison had to dodge a few bullets to keep Strong out of the end zone.
Led by the passing and running of Hicks, Strong mounted a drive that reached the Rison 13 for a first down late in the first quarter. After a 6-yard gain to the 7 on first down, the ‘Dogs suffered an 8-yard loss and then had an incomplete pass. Antonio Green then had an interception and returned it three yards to the Rison 9 on fourth down and the ‘Cats took over.
A 41-yard punt by Oliver backed the ‘Dogs up to their own 8 early in the second quarter. But on second-and-12 from the 6, Hicks’ quick pass to the outside was gathered in by Jacoby Heard, who streaked 84 yards down the sideline to the Rison 10, where Jarvis Broughton made a TD-saving tackle.
After Strong reached the 7, Rison received some big tackles by Tristian Ward and Kolton Hooks to leave the Bulldogs facing fourth and goal from the 15. On a halfback pass from Ford, William Smith had the ball just go off his fingertips in the end zone to end another Bulldog threat.
On their first offensive series of the second half, the ‘Dogs marched to the Rison 11 for a first down. But a 5-yard sack by Ward, a couple of Strong penalties and an incomplete pass left the ‘Dogs with third and 25. Smith tackled Hicks for a 2-yard gain and then the quarterback passed incomplete under pressure to give the ball back to the Wildcats with 8:45 to go in the third period.
Strong, which had 175 yards of offense in the first half, netted just 43 in the second half for total yardage of 218 in the game.