All the positive feelings from the regular season couldn’t extend into the playoffs.
Conway lost 34-13 to Westwood in the first round of the Class AAAA, Division I playoffs Friday night. The Redhawks used a steady offensive attack to end the Tigers’ season — one that included nine victories after back-to-back nine-loss years.
“They brought their ‘A’ game; we brought our ‘C’ game,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan said. “You can put it a lot of ways. But they played better on offense than we did and they played better on defense than we did. They played better in the kicking game than we did.”
While the latter two were certainly true, what stood out most was Westwood’s ground game.
Tailback Rudy Mitchell went for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Back-up Andrew Plante finished with 57 yards and three scores.
And quarterback Jalen Smith, after essentially doing little but handing the ball off in the first half, put up 83 yards of his own. The fact that those three combined for exactly 400 yards was everything coach Rodney Summers’ team needed to advance to the second round.
“I want to throw it more, but it’s hard when you sit back there and see what we’re doing,” said Summers, whose team will play Northwestern in the second round next week. “You look at some coverages and you know you can probably go over the top, but you’re scared to get behind the chains and back a down when the run is working so well.”
Until Mitchell — who entered the game with 1,628 yards and 20 touchdowns — Plante and Smith were yanked late in the game with Westwood leading by the final tally, there was basically no issue with the Redhawks losing yards.
In 51 carries between those three, Conway stopped them for a loss just four times. It was part of the reason that the Tigers’ couple of spark-type plays didn’t amount to more.
At the end of the first half, Tigers defensive back Rakim Bellamy chased down Mitchell after a 76-yard gain — stopping him seven yards shy of the goal line to prevent Westwood from entering the locker room with more than a 14-7 advantage. Then, coming out of the break, Conway needed just three plays to close the gap to 14-13 when quarterback Peyton Derrick hit Juwan Moody for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
The Tigers’ only other score of the game came when Darren Stanley took a short pass, broke a tackle and went 82 yards. The play pushed Derrick into the Conway High record book as the school’s all-time leader for passing yards in a single season, surpassing his older brother, Dakota.
But Westwood’s rushing attack made sure that and Bryan Edwards’ U.S. All-American Bowl jersey presentation were about the only true highlights in the final game of a season filled with them.
Edwards will be gone, as will a handful of others. But a Conway squad returning Derrick, Stanley and as many as 14 sophomores who saw significant playing time will usher the Tigers into the realm of Class AAAAA football.
“We did some good things,” Jordan said. “But we’ve got to learn to do it in the playoffs. … That’s a learning process. Hopefully what we can learn from this — this might be the youngest team I’ve ever had — but hopefully we can build on that.”
WEST — Rudy Mitchell 12 run (Brandon Howard kick)
CON — Darren Stanley 82 yard rec from Peyton Derrick (Brady Fulmer kick)
WEST — Andrew Plante 5 run (Brandon Howard kick)
CON — Juwan Moody 35 rec from Derrick (PAT failed)
WEST— Plante 10 run (Howard kick)
WEST— Plante 10 run (PAT failed)
WEST — Mitchell 13 run (Howard kick)
▪ RUSHING: WEST: Rudy Mitchell 28-260, Jalen Smith 13-83, Andrew Plante 10-57. CON: Peyton Derrick 6-39, Jah’Maine Martin 12-35.
▪ PASSING: WEST: Smith 1-5-1, 6 yards. CON: Derrick 11-24-1, 211 yards.
▪ RECEIVING: WEST: Plante 1-6. CON: Darren Stanley 3-112, Tyrone Bennett 4-47, Juwan Moody 1-35.
▪ RECORDS: Westwood 9-3; Conway 9-3