Holding their destiny firmly in their own hands, the Central Cougars valiantly battled the Little Rock Mills Comets for a No. 2 seed and a home field advantage in the playoffs but their efforts fell short, 20-13 Thursday night.
The Cougars played well on both sides of the line of scrimmage all evening – putting up a pair of touchdowns in the first half and holding a powerful Comet ground game off the scoreboard during a titanic defensive struggle in the third quarter.
Central put together a 68-yard scoring drive on their first possession of the night. That drive consumed 6:04 off the clock. Running back Keith Hayes capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run at the 5:56 mark of the opening quarter.
Little Rock Mills responded immediately with an impressive and lengthy drive of their own. The Comets methodically pounded the football down the field, mixed with an occasional short pass. The Comets' 61-yard drive consumed 4:29 and was capped off with a 15-yard touchdown sprint by Jacob Cranford. The score came with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
Central's second possession was not as successful as it's opening drive and ended with a three and out. However, the Cougar defense rose to the occasion and forced a fumble. Aswad Allen recovered the loose ball and the Cougars' offense was again in business, but deep in their own territory at the 18. Mills had moved the ball to the Cougar 10 before coughing up the pigskin.
The Cougars put together another lengthy drive. After 82 yards and nearly six minutes of ball control, quarterback Curley Brewer pushed the ball across the goal line from a yard out with 1:30 to play in the half.
The blocked extra point would loom as a big play as the game went down the stretch.
Central had a golden opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the Comets when Little Rock Mills fumbled again, this time at the Comet 29. However, Mills picked off the Cougars pass and with just 17 ticks left on the clock before the half, Comet quarterback Omar Avance lofted a 79-yard touchdown strike, a 14-point swing in the score.
With the successful extra point, Mills led 14-13 at the half.
The second half was 24 minutes of frustration for the Cougars. The defense rose to the occasion but the offense struggled failing to capitalize on three opportunities deep in Mills territory, turning the ball over on downs each time.
A punishing Mills running game eventually took its toll on a weary Cougar defense that spent a lot of time on the field late in third quarter and most of the fourth. Down the stretch, the Comets began to eat up huge chunks of real estate while milking the clock.
However, the Cougars got one last opportunity when the Mills drive fizzled at the Central 3. The Cougars had one last shot 97 yards from paydirt with 1:25 to play. However, the Comets drilled the proverbial nail in the Cougars' coffin when Cranford picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for the final score of the evening.