BENTON — As if protecting an unblemished district record on a trip up here wasn’t enough pressure for the up-and-coming Woodlawn Knights, the team was saddled with the distraction of Thursday’s arrest of star defensive back/wide receiver Richard Bell.
Undeterred, the Knights traveled to Tiger Stadium and fought off a rally from Benton with big fourth-quarter plays from running back Christian Walker. In the end, Woodlawn head coach Robert Arvie received a celebratory Gatorade bath to cap a 30-26 victory.
“We’re just putting it together now,” Arvie said. “It’s the right time to peak.”
The victory kept Woodlawn (3-5, 3-0 District 1-4A) atop the standings in league play.
Although the Knights scored the first two touchdowns of the game, things got hairy in the fourth quarter.
In the final period, the Tigers scored 19 points, tied the game once, missed a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game again with 3:21 left and used a 90-yard kickoff return by Keith English to pull within four points with 1:05 left.
However, an onside kick was unsuccessful with a minute left.
“We have grit,” Benton head coach Caleb Guidry said. “Sometimes we’re outmatched and we fall a little short, but we have grit.”
Woodlawn held a 14-7 lead at the break, but the Knights offense was stagnant for much of the second half. That is, until Walker found what he believed to be Benton’s “weakness:” the right side of the line.
“Coach said, ‘Keep on pounding and it will bust open,'” Walker said. “We saw weakness and you have to attack it.”
One play after Benton (3-5, 1-2) tied the game at 14, Walker ripped off a 64-yard run. The Knights regained the lead on the next play when Jeremy Williams rumbled in from 16 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
“Walker made the difference,” Arvie said. “We wanted to run the ball with power. He ran the ball between the tackles and made some amazing moves.”
Donovan Wilson hauled in a 2-point pass from James Anderson to give Woodlawn a 22-14 lead.
Jordan Shaffer’s quarterback sneak with 3:21 left helped Benton close the gap to 22-20, but his 2-point run failed.
Walker ran for another 62 yards on the Knights’ next play to set up his 5-yard score with 1:18 remaining.
“We talk about limiting big plays to explosive teams like that — they have some fantastic athletes and it showed,” Guidry said.
The Knights didn’t seem to miss a beat without Bell, who was arrested for illegal use of a weapon.
“We’re missing one of our star players, but we had to come in as a team and pick up for his slack,” said Walker, who collected 179 rushing yards on 17 carries. “We all did tonight.”
Woodlawn jumped to a 14-0 lead with touchdowns on its first two possessions Friday.
On the Knights’ second offensive play of the game, Williams busted through the right side of the line and went 74 run yards for a score. Anderson added a 2-point conversion with a run around the left side.
Following a failed fake punt by the Tigers, Woodlawn drove 51 yards in nine plays. The Knights took a 14-0 lead with a 22-yard pass from Anderson to Wilson with 22 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Benton took advantage of terrific field position and finally got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter. A four-play, 43-yard drive ended with a 30-yard touchdown run from Alex Martin.
Connect with Roy Lang III on Twitter at @RoyLangIII.