Pea Ridge won its debut in arguably the toughest conference in Class 5A, scoring a pair of unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally to a 35-28 win over Alma on Friday night at Citizen’s Bank Field at Airedale Stadium.
Pea Ridge (1-3) also earned former Southside head coach Jeff Williams his first win as head coach of the Blackhawks.
"It’s a big win for Pea Ridge, the first conference win in 5A," Williams said. "It’s a tough league. It’s always been a difficult place to play. I’ve got some great memories over here, just in scrimmages and stuff."
Alma (1-3) led, or the game was tied, from start to almost finish.
Alma led 7-0, 14-7, 21-14, and 28-21. The Airedales scored on their first three possessions, but Pea Ridge answered every time to force a 21-21 tie at the half.
The Airedales took a 28-21 lead with 4:20 left in the third quarter on Logan Chronister’s fourth rushing touchdown of the game.
After Pea Ridge missed a field goal, Alma looked to go up by two scores.
The Airedales drove to the Pea Ridge 5-yard line and had first and goal before losing a fumble on the quarterback-running back exchange on the third play of the fourth quarter.
"It was a bad exchange," Alma head coach Rusty Bush said. "The ball got on the ground, and it didn’t go our way."
Pea Ridge then drove 94 yards on 11 plays to tie the game on a 4-yard run by Joe Adams.
2.Two minute warning.
Pea Ridge took its only lead of the game after stopping a fourth-down run on a fake punt.
Tied at 28-28, Pea Ridge took over at its own 44 and needed just six plays to go up, 35-28, with exactly two minutes remaining on a 20-yard run by Adams.
"That’s what we told them at halftime, we’re two stops and a turnover away from winning," Williams said. "They made enough plays.’
Cole Brown then preserved the lead when he intercepted a pass across the middle with 1:10 remaining.
Pea Ridge committed zero turnovers in its 5A-West opener while Alma committed three.
"We just can’t get any right now," Bush said. "There’s a couple laying out there on the field."
Alma threw two interceptions, one on its final possession of the first half and the other that sealed the win for Pea Ridge with 70 seconds left. In addition, Alma lost the fumble on first down after a first-and-goal at the Pea Ridge 5.
"We got some breaks and took advantage of them," Williams said. "We took care of the football and they didn’t. That’s the difference in the game."
4. Four play.
Four plays in the fourth quarter doomed the Airedales, and all four had to go Pea Ridge’s way for the Blackhawks to win.
The first was the lost fumble on first and goal at Pea Ridge’s 5 that led to the tying score.
The second came on Pea Ridge’s game-tying 94-yard drive when the Blackhawks fumbled at midfield. Alma’s Reagan Birchfield came off the turf with the ball on the play, which was near Pea Ridge’s sideline.
After the officials huddled to discuss the call and Alma’s defense almost to the sideline celebrating the recovery, the runner was ruled down and no fumble.
"I saw the ball come out, and they called it down," Bush said. "That’s all you can do."
Three plays later, Pea Ridge tied the game.
The third was a fake punt that Pea Ridge snuffed out on fourth and eight with 4:48 left. Pea Ridge took over and went 56 yards to take its only lead of the game.
Last, before Alma threw the interception on fourth and 13 with 1:10 left was a third-down sack. Alma quarterback Conner Stacy broke out of the pocket and had plenty of daylight ahead of him when he was tripped up by Selleck Smith for a 5-yard loss that forced the fourth-down throw. Without that, Alma gains a first down in Pea Ridge territory with over a minute to go and one timeout left.
"They made a play or two when they had to," Bush said. "We’re still improving. We just haven’t put it all together."
Chronister set an Alma single-game rushing record with 281 yards, eclipsing Noah Dotson’s 255-yard performance against Greenbrier in 2016.
"Logan is a workhorse," Bush said. "He wants that ball every time. We’re going to feed him as much as we can."
Chronister had 33 rushes and scored four touchdowns on runs of 20, 25, 1 and 6 yards.
"We didn’t have an answer," Williams said.
The game also marked the third straight 100-yard rushing game for the 150-pound senior, marking the first time for an Airedale running back to reach that plateau since Isaac McCoy in 2010.
In addition to Chronister’s offensive performance, Stacy ran for 76 yards. Alma ran for 361 yards in all on 45 carries with Stacy completing 5-of-12 passes for 74 yards for 435 yards of offense for the Airedales.
Pea Ridge had 377 yards on 62 offensive plays. Both teams had 21 first downs.
PEA RIDGE 35, ALMA 28
Pea Ridge 14 7 0 14 - 35
Alma 14 7 7 0 - 28
Alm – Chronister 20 run (Martin kick), 7:59
Pea – Blair 13 pass from Withrow (Stewart kick), 3:47
Alm – Chronister 25 run (Martin kick), 3:15
Pea – Adams 1 run (Stewart kick), :03
Alm – Chronister 1 run (Martin kick), 7:19
Pea – Adams 3 run (Stewart kick), 4:01
Alm – Chronister 6 run (Martin kick), 7:20
Pea – Adams 4 run (Stewart kick), 7:05
Pea – Adams 20 run (Stewart kick), 2:00
First downs 21 21
Total yards 377 435
Rushes-yards 39-199 45-361
Passing yards 178 74
Comp-Att-Int 13-23-0 5-12-2
Punts-avg. 3-43.3 1-25.0
Penalties-yards 5-35 13-116
RUSHING – Pea Ridge, Adams 15-78, Withrow 9-51, Martinez 11-44, Blair 2-28, Withrow 1-(minus 1), team 1-(minus 1). Alma, Chronister 33-281, Stacy 11-76, Coursey 1-4.
PASSING – Pea Ridge, Withrow 13-23-0 178. Alma, Stacy 5-12-2 74.
RECEIVING – Pea Ridge, Blair 5-80, Nobles 4-30, Anderson 2-26, Raines 1-35, Martinez 1-7. Alma, Allen 3-57, Coursey 2-17.
MISSED FIELD GOALS – Pea Ridge, Stewart 37.