Except for two big offensive plays by McGehee, the Simmons First/Hootens.com Kickoff Week Tuesday opener was quite the defensive battle.
Junior David Shepard turned in one of the big plays, an 80-yard dash early in the second quarter, and intercepted two passes in leading the Owls to a 12-0 victory over Monticello before 3,500 at Golden Lion Stadium. Shepard finished with 109 rushing yards on nine carries and McGehee, ranked No. 2 in 3A by Hooten’s Arkansas Football, outgained Monticello in total yards, 259-91.
“It’s all about the line,” Shepard said. “They gave me the blocking and they gave me the hole to run in.”
The Owls’ second biggest play set up their second score. On their next possession after Shepard’s long touchdown, Maurice Hudson connected with Davondrick Lison for a 57-yard completion to the Monticello 1, setting up Hudson’s quarterback keeper. McGehee missed an extra point and had a two-point conversion run stopped.
Take away the big plays, and the Owls still won a defensive battle, shutting down the Billies’ option all night.
“Just got whipped in every phase of the game,” Monticello coach Greg Tiner said of his team. “Didn’t play very hard, didn’t play very well, got whipped up front on both sides of the ball. Not very tough. I thought defensively we did some good things other than some big plays, but we’ve got to be a lot tougher than we are, and we have to be a lot more hard-nosed than we are.”
Monticello senior Will Naron completed 5 of 16 passes for 26 yards and the two picks by Shepard, who also played defensive back. The Billies could not get their ground game going, failing to score despite starting three possessions within McGehee’s 49-yard line. Twice they started at the Owls’ 25, but they were forced to punt the first time and turned it over the second time with Shepard’s second interception. Still, Monticello had 11 first downs to McGehee’s 10 for the game.
“Earlier we had a chance to make plays. We had some good balls that we threw but didn’t make plays, then when we had big plays, we drew a penalty,” Tiner said.
Each team earned only one first down through one period. Monticello running back Diante Barnhill started the second period with a 39-yard dash to the McGehee 43, but the Billies had to punt. On the Owls’ next offensive play, Shepard found a big gap to his right and went 80 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s like you tell the kids, you never know who’s going to have to step up,” McGehee coach Marcus Haddock said. “You never know what play is going to be there or is going to count.”
McGehee’s defense sacked Naron three times and held Monticello to 1 of 10 in third-down conversion attempts. McGehee was 3 of 9.
Stephon Lee had 68 yards on 10 carries and Steven King 20 yards on three for McGehee. Barnhill ran seven times for 56 yards and Demarius Blanks caught three passes for 25 yards for Monticello.
McGehee entered the game with the challenge of staying healthy against a Monticello team that dropped down to 4A and had more numbers and actually was bigger up front. Many players on both sides fell victim to cramps in the second half, but attrition proved to be a non-factor for the Owls.
“We had 10 two-way starters and they had four or five at the most,” Haddock said. “It makes it tougher when you’re only sitting out one guy on offense or defense and they sit six or seven. Not a lot of platooning tonight, but we had some guys step up tonight and guys who played in this game who didn’t think they were going to.
“That’s what I love about this game: Sometimes people are going to have to step into roles they didn’t think they were going to have to do. We had five or six that had to do that tonight, while I was figuring how to make a guard into a fullback.”
Both teams will now wait until Sept. 7 for their next games. McGehee will travel to Desha County rival Dumas, while Monticello hosts Magnolia.