By Steve Andrews | Photos by Sadie Rucker
SPRINGDALE — In what appeared more like a track meet than a football game Friday night, Fort Smith Northside piled up 740 yards of total offense to bounce back from a 14-point, third-quarter deficit to edge Springdale Har-Ber, 63-56.
The Wildcats (0-3) put up 650 total yards themselves, but it was a late turnover that cost them the game for the third time this season.
“It was a fun high school football game, and I thought both teams played really hard, but it just came down to critical plays in the end,” Har-Ber coach Chris Wood said. “They made the plays late, and we didn’t, but a lot of big plays both ways. Both defenses had a tough time stopping the other.”
Northside (3-0) tied the score at 56-56 with 1:50 left in the game on a 63-yard strike from senior quarterback Walker Catsavis to his favorite target, T’kavion King.
“Our defense has carried us the past two games, so it was our turn to return the favor,” an elated Catsavis said. “When we got down two touchdowns, we knew there was still a lot of time on the clock, so it was just a matter of staying in the game and continuing to make plays.”
Har-Ber’s Lane Reiter appeared to swing the late momentum right back in the Wildcats’ favor, returning the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the Grizzlies’ 28. But on the first play of the drive, Pum Savoy picked off the Har-Ber pass at the Northside 13 with 1:21 to play.
Catsavis proceeded to complete four of his next five passes, including a 42-yarder to Zion Morris, before connecting with Josh Hardwick for the game-winning 39-yard touchdown with just 23 seconds remaining. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 296 yards in the game.
“It was just a straight go-play for all three of our receivers and their outside corner stayed down in the flat, so it was just an easy throw for me,” Catsavis said of his final completion. “But that interception was huge for us. Basically, won us the game.”
Northside may be the biggest surprise in the state’s Class 7A this year, winning its first three games against stiff opposition, including a 29-20 defeat of 6A No. 1 Greenwood last week.
“Twice we got behind by two scores tonight, and our kids just keep fighting, keep fighting,” Northside coach Mike Falleur said. “This group of kids never puts their heads down, because they want to win so bad. I didn’t really expect this high scoring of a game, but I knew Har-Ber was going to put it together. I knew it was going to be a good game, but I never in my life thought we would put up that many points.”
Har-Ber opened the game with a methodical 12-play, 84-yard drive, with a mixture of accurate passes by quarterback Luke Buchanan and effective runs from Hudson Brewer, who scurried in from five out to put the Wildcats up early, 7-0, just three minutes into the game.
After holding the Northside offense into a three-and-out, Har-Ber ran the ball six straight times for 42 yards, before Buchanan hit Drew McClendon for a 29-yard touchdown strike. After the extra point was blocked, the Wildcats led 13-0 midway through the first quarter.
The Grizzlies then began to unleash their duo of running backs, Sundquist Church and Ty Massey, who alternated carries throughout the game. Northside moved the ball 75 yards with Massey finishing the 10-play drive with a 1-yard run to paydirt, cutting the lead to six. The two helped the Grizzlies amass 444 yards on the ground. Church racked up 226 yards on his 22 carries, while Massey finished with 145 yards on 18 carries.
“Our two running backs are special, but I tell you, our offensive line doesn’t get enough credit for what they do up front,” Falleur said.
Both teams then found the end zone on each of their next two drives.
Brewer scored on a 12-yard run for the Wildcats, then Catsavis capped another 10-play drive for Northside by outrunning the defense to the pylon.
Buchanan, who finished 21-of-32 through the air for 436 yards, threw his second touchdown of the night on a 40-yard pass to Peyton McKee midway through the second quarter. McKee had 11 catches for 228 yards.
“Luke Buchanan is such a great competitor, and I though he did a lot of really good things tonight,” Wood said. “Everybody just wants to remember the last one or two plays, but his body of work all night was just really good.”
Down 27-14 with less than two minutes left in the first half, Northside rallied for a pair of scores to take a 28-27 lead into the intermission. Catsavis connected with Massey on a 20-yard score, then after a quick three-and-out by Har-Ber, the Grizzlies drove 58 yards to take the lead. Massey again did the honors with a 2-yard plunge.
The Wildcats scored on their first two possession of the second half, on scoring runs by Buchanan and Brewer to take a 42-28 lead.
After a 37-yard scoring run by Catsavis, an interception by Grizzlies safety Jack Green set them up again. Massey broke loose for a 62-yard run early in the fourth to tie it at 42-42.
Buchanan’s 24-yard run on a fake handoff put the Wildcats back ahead briefly, until Church tied the score at 49-49 when he broke four tackles and hurdled a defender en route to a 43-yard touchdown run.
Northside will host defending state champ Bryant, who had its 32-game winning streak snapped at Longview, Texas, next Friday night, while Wood hopes to get his team in the win column against 7A-West foe Bentonville.
“I told my guys after the game tonight that I am so proud of them, but I am frustrated for them – I hurt for our kids, because they have been playing with their heart and their soul,” Wood said. “We let the first two games slip through our fingers, we let this one slip through our fingers a little bit, but it also has to do with the opponents we are playing. The first month of our schedule is just a brutal deal, but I’ve seen growth in our kids every week. Our time is going to come.”