MALVERN, Ar. — Some say the 4A State Championship was decided Friday night when Harding Academy upset No. 1 Arkadelphia on the final play at Harding, 31-28. Don’t tell Malvern that.
The Leopards rallied from an early 13-0 deficit to score on seven consecutive possessions and eliminated Nashville in the 4A semifinals, 56-37.
“We hadn’t planned for Harding or Arkadelphia; we were only concerned with Nashville,” said Malvern coach J.D. Plumlee. “I’ve seen no film of Harding yet, but we’ll start on that tomorrow. We weren’t worried after falling behind by two touchdowns early. Nashville’s plan was to stop our running game, and Cedric Simmons (quarterback) had a great game running and throwing. I’m so proud of Simmons.”
Simmons passed for 326 yards and five touchdowns, while running for 166 yards, including a 62-yard six-pointer.
Junior Jalen Caradine and senior Dante Cagle were Simmons favorite targets. Caradine led the Leopards with eight catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Cagle took over in the second half, finishing with seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Dupree perseveres for Malvern
Nashville (10-4) shut down Leopard running back Jalen Dupree in the first half, but he still contributed 76 yards and three touchdowns.
The Scrappers got two touchdowns in the first quarter from senior Alex Mendiola on runs of 19 and 52 yards. He also caught a 72-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to cut Malvern’s advantage to 35-31. Quarterback Sloan Perrin scored with 2:26 left in the opening quarter to make it, 19-7. Nashville converted only two PAT’s in the game. Perrin rushed for 124 yards and passed for 225.
Simmons gave Malvern its first lead (21-19) with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Caradine with 3:03 left before intermission.
The Leopards (11-2)poured it on in the third quarter. Caradine caught a 16-yard scoring pass. Jalen Dupree and Simmons also scored in the third period as Malvern took command, 42-31. Two more touchdowns followed in the fourth quarter with Dupree putting the game out of reach with a 2-yard scoring run with 3:10 left.
Malvern and Harding Academy play for championship Dec. 10 at noon in War Memorial Stadium at Little Rock.