White Hall rides defense into playoffs


WHITE HALL — White Hall’s success on offense is no secret. The Bulldogs have scored fewer than 29 points only once this season and won seven games by 12 or more points.

Those are statistics of a dominant team, but it’s on defense where the Bulldogs have really shined in recent games. They have intercepted 12 passes in the past four games, including six by safety Joseph Stewart.

“We’ve got a pass rush,” coach Mike Vaughn said. “Our upfront people are doing a good job. You’ve got to give them credit for that. The more we play, people are starting to throw it up more. Joseph and them are getting better and better every week.”

Tonight, White Hall (8-1) will host one of the best passing teams it’s faced all season to open up the 5A state playoffs. Forrest City (6-4) comes into the game with almost 2,000 passing yards and 23 touchdowns on the season from junior Ethan Adams, according to Hootens.com, and the Mustangs will see if they can have the upper hand on a Bulldogs defense that has shut down many offensive units through the air.

Since White Hall’s 48-41 victory over Watson Chapel in Week 7, teams have taken their best shots against the Bulldogs in the passing game, but failed.

“You can tell teams are throwing it more on us, and I guess after Chapel, I would too, by the way they completed quite a few deep passes on us,” Stewart said. “I just think we had a bad night that night, and people started taking their shots and we made the play.”

Stewart picked off two passes a week ago against De Queen, returning one of them 30 yards for a touchdown. But the senior’s best game came Oct. 19 against Hot Springs, as the Bulldogs had to come from a 21-14 deficit on homecoming.

Stewart made three picks, including two in the final 92 seconds, and White Hall escaped with a 40-28 victory, its second-closest win of the season.

“It was pretty close for most of the game,” Stewart said. “I remember catching the first interception in the second quarter. The second one was a pick-six, and the third was at the end of the game. They were trying to get something going.”

Like Stewart, many of White Hall’s key players have thrived on both sides of the ball, including classmates Percy Arnold and Quinton Winston. They’ve helped White Hall become a scoring and interception machine, as the Bulldogs also average 37.4 points per game.

Their play, along with the emergence of junior linebacker Robert Dooms, could be key against a Mustangs team that passes well with protection from a big line. Vaughn said only one offensive lineman for Forrest City weighs less than 300 pounds.

Defensively, Forrest City boasts defensive end Tevin Beanum, who’s verbally commited to Arkansas.

“It’s going to take a tremendous effort,” Vaughn said. “We’ve got to get lucky, kids have to play hard and not make any turnovers.”

The winner will possibly play Pulaski Academy, last season’s 4A champion which won the 5A-Central Conference and is a huge favorite against Vilonia. But Vaughn said that possible meeting is not a motivating factor for this game.

“If you can play one of the top seeds, that’s always one of the best games for your team, personally,” Stewart said. “I think probably our biggest motivation is that if we lose, we’re packing our stuff up.”

5A FIRST ROUND

Forrest City (6-4) at White Hall (8-1)

• 7 p.m. today at Bulldog Stadium

Seeds: Forrest City third in 5A-Central; White Hall second in 5A-South

Last week: Forrest City def. Blytheville 33-6; White Hall def. De Queen 42-7