By Steve Andrews
ELKINS – Before the dense fog began to blanket the field in the second half of Friday night’s Class 4A quarterfinal between the hometown Elks and Nashville, it seemed to resemble more of a track meet than a football game.
Elkins held the lead for nearly 42 of the game’s 48 minutes, but with only six seconds remaining, Nashville senior quarterback Sloan Perrin threw a desperation heave down the middle of the field that connected with a streaking Toddrick Watson for a 76-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 62-61.
Without batting an eye, Scrapper head coach Mike Volarvich decided to go for two, instead of kicking the game-tying extra point.
“Not much of a decision to it,” he said afterward. “We came here to win the game.”
Elkins (10-3) was penalized for having too many players on the field, moving the 2-point attempt to the 1-yard line, before Perrin took the snap and barged off tackle for the successful conversion and a 63-62 victory.
“I can’t speak highly enough of my guys -- they’ve played their tails off all year,” Volarvich said. “Everybody doubted us from the beginning – ‘We’re not supposed to be here’. ‘We’re too small’. ‘Not enough talent’. And these guys just keep fighting with the heart of a champion.
“Elkins has got a really good squad, with a lot of good players. They made a bunch of plays tonight ,and we busted some coverages in the back end that they were able to take advantage of. But I have all the confidence in the world in our offense to go out there and score.”
The teams combined to put up 1,128 total yards to complement the 125 points on the scoreboard.
Elkins shot out of the gate with a 21-0 lead just six minutes into the game, as junior Da’Shawn Chairs opened things up with a 45-yards touchdown run. Junior quarterback Dizzy Dean followed with two straight TD passes – first, a 59-yard strike to Aden Williams, followed by a 55-yarder to Chairs.
“We got off to a great start, scoring 21 early, and then I think we got a little complacent and thought we were going to run away with this thing,” Elks coach Zach Watson said. “But when you play a great football team like Nashville you can’t do that. You’ve got to fight for four quarters.
“But I though our guys came back after that and responded really well.”
Perrin finally got the Scrappers on the board with a 6-yard run early in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
But Elkins extended the lead once again with a 19-yard pass from Dean to Jusiah Betencourt to make it 28-7 with 7:01 left in the first half. Dean completed 19 of his 26 passes on the night for 382 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air.
Nashville (10-2) began to even the playing field offensively, with the help of three successful onside kicks. Each team scored four touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the second quarter,
Junior tailback Tre Hopkins reach paydirt on a 23-yard scamper to cut the lead to 14. Then following their first onside kick, made it 28-21 with a 9-yard TD run.
“If we played better on special teams this would not be an issue,” Watson said. “You can coach these kids up to do what you want them to do, but these are 16-, 17-year-old kids who are going to make some mistakes, and that’s all that was. But we got beat by a good football team tonight.”
Dean connected with Williams on a 43-yard score, only to see Hopkins retaliate two minutes later with a 9-yard run.
Williams caught eight passes for the Elks for a total of 268 yards and 3 scores.
Four touchdowns were scored in the final 1:43 of the first half. Hopkins scored his third of the game on a 15-yard run for Nashville, just before Dean hit Williams with an 81-yard bomb to put Elkins back in front, 42-27.
Perrin tossed a 33-yard TD to Donte Gilliam for the Scrappers, but the Elks’ John Townsend returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards up the left sideline to cap the first half scoring, and sending Elkins to the locker room with a 49-35 lead.
“They came out strong against us early in the game, but then we were able to settle into our offense and start putting points on the board,” Perrin said. “We have just continued to fight all year and that’s what we did tonight.”
Elkins opened the second half with a 12-play drive – the longest of the game for either team – as Dean’s 2-yard plunge extended the lead to 55-35.
Nashville then scored two straight times in less than two minutes.
Alex Mendiola scored on a 39-yard run, before the Scrappers recovered their second onside kick at the Elkins 49. Perrin then completed a 5-play drive with a 9-yard TD run, cutting the margin to 55-49.
After a third onside recovery at the Elks’ 47, Nashville turned the ball over on downs at the at the 15. But the Scrapper defense was able to knock the ball out of Dean’s hands, allowing Omari Benson to recover it in the end zone for a Nashville touchdown to tie the score.
Williams blocked the extra-point kick for Elkins to keep the game knotted at 55-55 with 9:01 left.
“I’m just fired up and happy for our kids,” Volarvich said. “They’ve played their hearts out all year and I couldn’t ask anything more from them.”
Chairs, who finished the game with 138 yards on 16 carries, put Elkins back in front by seven with a 57-yard run with 7:34 on the clock, as the teams then traded empty possession in the final minutes.
With 31 seconds remaining, Elkins punted the ball back to Nashville at the Scrappers’ 20-yard line.
Perrin hit Gilliam with a short pass that left just six ticks on the clock. He then made his final throw of the night count the most.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our seniors,” a somber Watson said. “They were the group that led us and were the head of the spear. And I’m proud of all our guys that stepped up all year in some big games. It was a great year. Our guys gutted it out and they don’t have anything to hang their head about tonight.”
The victory for Nashville now pits the Scrappers against Malvern (11-2) – a 27-21 victor over Warren – in next Friday’s semifinal clash. The winner will advance to Little Rock to play for the state championship.