Redhawks Roll Over Tigers, Advance to Round 2

Jalen Smith (3) chews up the yards at Conway Friday. (Photo/Robert Anderson)

Jalen Smith (3) chews up the yards at Conway Friday. (Photo/Robert Anderson)

CONWAY (Nov. 23, 2015) – Conway’s best football season since 2008 came to a close Friday night as visiting Westwood used a strong ground attack to pave the way to a 34-13 victory over the Tigers in round one of the Class 4A/Division II playoffs.

Conway couldn’t contain Westwood’s backfield triumvirate of running backs Rudy Mitchell and Andrew Plante and quarterback Jalen Smith, who combined to churn out 400 yards on the ground.

Mitchell collected 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Plante added 57 yards and three scores, and Smith tallied 83 yards.

“That back (Mitchell) was good and that offensive line was the best we’ve seen all year,” Conway head coach Chuck Jordan said. “They had two Shrine Bowl players on the offensive line and we’re young on the line on both sides of the ball. The three games we lost, people handled us up front.”

Nursing a 14-13 lead midway the third quarter, the Redhawks scored the game’s final 20 points to break the game open.

“We knew looking at the film that we would hammer the ball,” Westwood head coach Rodney Summers said. “We wanted to take some shots down field, but when the running game is working, it’s hard to get away from it.”

After Conway lost the ball on a fumble on their opening possession, Westwood drove 57 yards in five plays with Mitchell doing the honors from 12 yards out with 6:58 remaining in the opening stanza. Brandon Howard added the first of four successful PAT kicks to make it 7-0.

Conway tied the game when Peyton Derrick found Darren Stanley along the home sideline and the junior broke free for an 82-yard touchdown with 3:54 left in the first quarter. Brady Fulmer added the PAT.

Westwood blocked a Fulmer punt at the Conway 11 to set up Plante’s first touchdown run from 5-yards out with 8:43 remaining in the half.

Conway missed a golden opportunity to tie the score before halftime when Derrick’s fourth-down pass from the Westwood 10 was off the mark with 36 ticks remaining before intermission.

“I think two things influenced that game in a dramatic way,” Jordan said. “One was not scoring at the end of the half and the other was the blocked punt. We forced a three-and-out and then we went three-and-out and gave them the ball up close.”

The Tigers needed just three plays to drive 70 yards with the second half kickoff and pull within a point on Derrick’s 35-yard scoring strike to Juwon Moody. The PAT was no good and Conway trailed 14-13 with 10:41 remaining in the third period.

The Redhawks answered with a 77-yard drive that Plante capped with an 11-yard scoring run at the 5:52 mark of the third quarter. Howard’s PAT kick made it 21-13.

After a three-and-out by Conway, Westwood drove 60 yards to paydirt, with Plante going the final 10 yards with 1:27 remaining in the third quarter.

Mitchell ran 12 yards for the last touchdown with 4:40 left.

“We felt like coming in, looking at the film, that Conway was very talented offensively,” Summers said. “We thought if we could get a few stops on defense and just answer with a field goal or touchdown we’d be OK. In the first half we hurt ourselves. We had too many mistakes. We did a better job in the second half.”

Westwood improves to 9-3 while Conway falls to 9-3.

The Redhawks travel to 2-seeded Northwestern Friday for the second round. Northwestern knocked out Laurens last Friday, 46-7. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.