Batesville coach Dave King knew Osvaldo Espericueta was well within his range late in Friday night’s 5A semifnals clash with Alma.
He said he hoped he hadn’t been too conservative while setting up for Espericueta’s game-winner.
The Pioneers’ junior kicker capped a late comeback by kicking a 24-yard field goal with 1:12 left to play as Batesville stunned Alma, 31-28, to earn a berth in next week’s 5A championship game with Morrilton.
"I thought we got a little conservative there at the end, but he (Espericueta) can punch them in from anywhere pretty far out, so I wasn’t worried," King said. "They (Alma) have an excellent team. It’s a tough place to play and their kids played well."
Alma (10-3) took a 28-21 lead with 9:03 left to play on Malachi White’s 3-yard run.
But Batesville responded by driving 66 yards for the tying touchdown, which featured a huge 40-yard pass on third-and-six to the Alma 7. Two plays later, quarterback Kenton Crawford, who was 7-of-8 for 122 yards, scored from a yard out to tie the game.
"He can throw it," King said. "With this line, that’s not where we live, but he can throw the football and he (Justin Gallant) made a great catch."
"I was thinking, if we could just get that one stop - that’s all we needed," Alma coach Doug Loughridge said. "I asked coach (offensive coordinator Chris Gunter) if he could knock six minutes off the clock and he said yes.
"We just didn’t get that stop."
Alma started its next drive from its 31, and two plays later moved to the Batesville 48.
But on third-and-long, Alma quarterback Evan Burris was hit from the blindside and fumbled the ball into the awaiting arms of lineman Jordge Romero.
"There were some things you can’t overcome to win and still win the ballgame, and they (Batesville) got the breaks," Alma coach Doug Loughridge said. "(But) these guys did more in a year than I thought they would. What they did in a year I thought would take two or three."
"It was a very hard fought game that could have gone either way, and it came down to that big play," King said. "I felt good once we got the ball."
Alma got as far as the 49 following Espericueta’s field goal, but couldn’t regain its first half passing magic. Burris was 13-of-15 in the first half, but finished 16-of-26 for 192 yards.
Sophomore Heath Friddle, who caught eight passes for 109 yards, started the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Batesville went in front, 14-7, on Crawford’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Riley Caraway and Crawford’s 1-yard run.
But Alma tied the game on Burris’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Mlaker, and then went in front, 21-14, on Alex Burris’ 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
"They (Batesville) just made one more play tonight than we did," Loughridge said. "We made those plays all year to get us to this point."