HOT SPRINGS — Watson Chapel’s defense forced three turnovers, including two for scores, in rolling to a 47-6 win over the Hot Springs Lakeside Rams in 5A-South action at Chick Austin Stadium on Friday night.
Watson Chapel (5-3, 5-1 5A-South) controlled the tempo all night on both sides of the ball while Hot Springs Lakeside (2-7, 1-5) could never answer on Senior Night. Watson Chapel head coach George Shelton said they have relied on the defense all year to set the tempo for the offense.
“It came at the right time,” Shelton said of his defense’s performance. “Certainly with the implications of victory (Friday night) for them to play the way they did, it was very timely. Certainly this was a type of performance we needed to be able to give our offense a little bit of breathing room. Our hats are off to them.”
The Watson Chapel defense came up with two critical plays after Lakeside tried to gain some momentum. Late in the first quarter with the game still scoreless, the Rams had the ball at the Wildcats’ 42-yard line facing a fourth and one. Running back Blakely Lawless lined up in the quarterback formation and tried to throw a pass in the middle of the field but was picked off by Kirel Young, who took it the house for a 68-yard TD return. The Wildcats led 6-0 as the two-point conversion was no good.
Watson Chapel forced another timely turnover late in the third quarter to seal all hope of a Lakeside comeback. Although Chapel was leading 19-0, Lakeside had just made a crucial stop in their own territory and forced a Chapel punt in which a low snap carried the ball back to Chapel territory at the 37-yard line. On the very next play, running back Marcus Fisher fumbled the ball away as Quentin Douglas picked the ball up and ran 63 yards the other way for the touchdown. Watson Chapel added the two-point conversion and led 27-0 with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.
“We’ve said and known all along that we felt like our best personal is on the defensive side of the ball,” Shelton said. “We put the burden of responsibility on them to live up to that ability they know they have. They’re just doing with they should be doing with the amount of talent that they have.”
The Wildcats used senior running back Devonte Battles at quarterback against Magnolia last week, but saw the return of Kris McCullough on Friday night as Lakeside decided to stack the box against Watson Chapel. McCullough responded with an effective night, finishing 7-of-9 passing with 246 yards and one TD, including a 45-yard strike to wide receiver Austin Goodwin.
“What they do defensively dictates what we do offensively,” Shelton said of bringing back McCullough. “He did a good job throwing the ball. They loaded the box and gave us some one-on-ones. The perception is that we don’t throw the ball at all, but we do play quite a bit of seven-on-seven and we can throw a vertical or two. Our guys’ eyes get big and they feel like they can win those one-on-one (matchups).”
Battles had a particularly quiet night as Lakeside concentrated on the run all night, but made his presence felt in the second half when he broke for a 69-yard TD run to give the Wildcats a 34-0 lead late in the third quarter. Battles finished the night with seven carries for 84 yards and one TD.
“Well, I’m sure he was relieved to be able to make a play,” Shelton said of Battles long TD run. “It was late in the game. That’s a great time to be able to make a big play. It takes a lot of stamina, strength and perseverance to be able to still make a play late in the game. He’s got the right name, Battles will battle you.”
Battles and company had room to run all night as the offensive line paved the way for the Wildcat running backs. Shelton said that despite a few penalties, the offensive line deserved some praise for their play.
“They came off the ball (well),” Shelton said. “We made some plays in the passing game to help them out and it was a good performance.”
Watson Chapel will host Camden Fairview in a pivotal 5A-South matchup next week with a conference championship on the line.
“We’re just so thankful to have an opportunity to play for a championship,” Shelton said. “That’s something we have been aspiring to do all along, is to have a chance to play for one and we get a chance (next week).”