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The Pea Ridge Blackhawks football squad whipped cross county rival Gravette 42-0 to remain undefeated in conference play.

The win was the 'Hawks' fourth straight victory over the Lions on Gravette's home field and it was by the largest margin in the Blackhawks' five wins over the Lions. The 'Hawks' widest winning margin previously was 30 (46-16) in head coach Stephen Neal's first year at the helm in 2016.

The victory all but cinched a spot in the 2018 4A state playoffs with an important game with Prairie Grove looming this week. The Tigers and Blackhawks were last year's 4A-1 district co-champions.

"We had a great week in practice," coach Neal said. "We had a lot of players contribute and I had to say they played up to expectations. Tate Busey ran the offense exceptionally well."

Busey has firmly established himself as a dual threat play with the junior field general rushing for 182 yards on just eight carries, while passing for 88 more on seven of 14 attempts. He scored twice on the ground, and twice more through the air.

The 'Hawks got the game off to a sensational start after Gravette took the opening kickoff. The first Lion play was a deep pass to their top receiver, with the 'Hawks defender Carson Rhine knocking the ball loose, then snatching the loose pigskin out of the air before falling to the turf with the interception.

Rhine then got the call on the 'Hawks' first two plays, ripping through the Lion defenses for 8 then 6 yards for a first down on the Gravette 42. Busey then tossed a 7-yard pass to Trevor Blair, then handing it off on the next play to Rhine who rambled halfway to the goal line on a 17-yard gallop. Hunter Rains took a 2-yard pitch, with Busey following that with a pass to a streaking Brayden Ralph who crossed the goal line from 15 yards out with 9:35 left in the first quarter. Rhine ran in the PAT to give the 'Hawks an 8-0 lead.

While the hosts could not move the ball on their second possession, they did get a 15-yard penalty in their favor to move the ball to their own 37. However, Gannon Conrad and Gavin Warden teamed up to drop the quarterback for a 5-yard loss, which led to a punt.

The 'Hawks were hit with another penalty on their ensuing possession, eventually being forced to punt it back to the Gravette 11. Gravette's leading ground gainer, Tajae White, then ran three times for 33 yards to the Lion 46, but the 'Hawks slammed the door to force another punt.

The 'Hawks then made short work of the Gravette defense when Busey broke loose on first down, outmaneuvering and outrunning a host of defenders 75 yards straight up the middle to the end zone. Luis Reyes booted the PAT to put the 'Hawks up 15-0 with 3:55 left in the first.

The Lions went three and out again, with a strong rush on the punter giving the ball back to Pea Ridge on the 50-yard line. Samuel Beard snapped off a 22-yard gainer but a holding call wiping out all but 5 of the yards. Two plays later Busey rectified the situation by dashing 22 yards himself to the Gravette 33. Facing a third and 7 moments later, Ralph gathered in his second pass for an 11-yard gain to the 22-yard line. Beard rushed for 2, then 14, and then 6 more to score the 'Hawks' third touchdown. With 10:36 showing in the half, Pea Ridge had a 22-0 lead.

Gravette started their next possession with good field position, but when they faced a third and 6 from their own 47, Reyes darted in to nail the Lion ball carrier for a 6-yard loss to force still another punt, which was their best one of the evening, traveling 44 yards. The 'Hawks could do little with their next possession so the Lions got the ball back on the Pea Ridge 48.

The short field seemed to boost the Lions as they began to move the ball for the first time. Quarterback Cy Hilger and White teamed up to move the ball on the ground 34 yards on six carries to the 'Hawk 16. Three plays then netted them 6 yards to the Pea Ridge 10. Hilger threw a fourth down pass on target into the end zone but Justin Koon got a hand on the pass to knock the ball away and preserve the shut out.

The teams then traded punts until the last moments of the half. The Lions had the ball on their own 23 with 1:41 left. On first down, Warden dashed in to drop the quarterback for a 7-yard loss. Tristin Brewer barged right through the blockers to take down a ball carrier for a 3-yard loss on second down. Mike Mahoney, Tristin Brewer and Reyes then completed the defensive trifecta by sacking the quarterback for an 8-yard loss on third down back to the Gravette 5. A 35-yard punt gave the ball back to Pea Ridge on the Lion 40.

With 38 seconds left in the half, the 'Hawks proved that was more than enough time to score as Busey shot a first down pass to Ralph who motored it in for a 40-yard score. Reyes' kick was true, sending the Blackhawks into intermission with a 29-0 lead.

The 'Hawks got the ball first in the second half, but a fumble gave the ball to the hosts near midfield at the Gravette 45. The Lions rushing tandem of White and Hilger got their offense rolling, moving the ball all the way to the 'Hawk 5. However, Gravette faced a fourth down and goal and a Lion runner looked like he had a seam to roll into the end zone. Brewer came knifing over to drop the Lion just inches from the goal line to extinguish the threat.

Busey went up the middle for 3 yards to the 4, with Mahoney coming in smash forward for 3 more. Beard then ran around the left side to pick up 14 yards and give the 'Hawks a first down and breathing room on the Blackhawk 21. The next play saw the 'Hawks take the breath away from the Lions as Busey broke loose to scamper 79 yards to pay dirt. The touchdown ignited the mercy rule as Pea Ridge now led 35-0 with 5:41 left in the third quarter.

Though the 'Hawks were substituting liberally, the Lions couldn't get anything going and were forced to punt before the end of the quarter. The 'Hawks took over on the Gravette 40, and for the third time in the game, Pea Ridge had a one-play scoring drive. Beard took the first down hand off then raced into the end zone with 1:26 left in the period. Reyes' successful kick put the final touch on the 42-0 shellacking.

Cole Brown made waves in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball. The sophomore athlete rushed five times for 37 yards in the next 'Hawk possession, then came up with a pair of defensive gems in the Lions succeeding set of downs.

A pair of long runs by White and Hilger put the Lions on the 'Hawk 30, giving the home team a hope of avoiding the shut out. On first down on the 30, a Hilger pass was on the mark but Blackhawk David Snarr succeeded in batting the ball away for an incompletion. On second down, Brown cut in to intercept the pass, but a penalty away from the play wiped out the effort. Brown got the last laugh, though, when he stripped the ball away from the Lion ball carrier inside the 10-yard line to wrap the game up with a fumble recovery.

In addition to Busey's heroics, Beard rushed for 98 yards on just 10 carries, with Rhine getting 52 yards on seven tries. All told, the 'Hawks averaged over 11 yards a carry on 32 attempts.

Busey connected with Ralph three times for 63 yards, with two of his passes going to Rains for 18 yards, along with his early 7-yard pass to Blair.

Reyes led all tacklers with nine stops, with Warden and Adam Trammel coming up with eight each. Conrad had six tackles with Rhine, Brewer and Arnoldo Rascon adding five each.

Pea Ridge piled up 467 yards compared to Gravette's 203 total. The Blackhawks stayed on top of the 4A-1 District tied with Shiloh with 3-0 conference marks. Gravette dropped to 0-3 in the league to drop into a three-way tie for sixth along with Green Forest and Berryville.

The 'Hawks will now travel the Prairie Grove Tigers to play an important conference game Friday on the road.

The 'Hawks have only beaten the Tigers twice all-time in Washington County, but Pea Ridge is favored to win. The Tigers suffered a large number of turnovers to get beaten 56-14 last week at Shiloh. The proud perennial contenders will be hoping to keep their conference championship hopes alive and a tough game will be expected.

Sports on 10/10/2018

Print Headline: Blackhawks hammer Gravette

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