By MARK BURKE
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
The Conway Wampus Cats will once again get a shot at the second round of the Class 7A playoffs — this time with a conference title to boot.
Well, a share of the 7A-Central crown anyway.
The Cats clawed their way to nearly 500 yards of offense Thursday night and grounded the Little Rock Catholic Rockets for the most part en route to a 37-7 victory at Centennial Bank Fied at John McConnell Stadium. With the win, Conway (9-1, 6-1) earned a share of the league title with Cabot, which defeated Russellville 27-6 Thursday night, and possibly Bryant.
The Hornets, who are 5-1 in the Central, were scheduled to play Little Rock Central on Thursday before electrical problems forced the game to be postponed until tonight. A Bryant win would turn the top of the standings into a three-way tie for the conference championship.
Either way, though, the Cats will be a No. 2 seed — with West Memphis finishing 6A-East play undefeated and moving up to Class 7A in the playoffs and therefore taking the top seed because of its conference record — and will host a second-round game coming off a bye.
“That’s going to be big,” Conway coach Clint Ashcraft said. “There’s just something about keeping your routine at home and feeding off your crowd.”
Thursday night, though, the Cats were fueled by their speed.
“They just have a lot of good players,” Rockets coach David Estes said. “They’re speed advantage was too much for us to really handle.”
Desmond Cox no doubt helped spark the Conway offense, finishing with seven catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Langley, who consistently checked down to receivers running intermediate routes that turned into big gains, was 19-of-30 passing for 351 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
“(Catholic) is a blitz-heavy team,” Ashcraft said. “I thought (Langley) did a good job for the most part in finding the right receiver. He handled the pressure well consistently.”
The Cats will likely face the winner of the Fort Smith Southside-Little Rock Central game when they open postseason play. Conway defeated both teams in the regular season.
This marked the second straight year that a win over Catholic (2-8, 2-5) helped vault the Cats. Last season’s victory gave Conway a No. 5 seed, which led to a trip to Fayetteville and an ensuing win — the first since 2003. However, the Cats eventually fell at Cabot in the second round.
But these Cats are poised for more success this season and had to hold off a solid effort from Rocket quarterback Zach Conque, who is the son of University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque.
The younger Conque was 13-of-24 passing for 116 yards and rushed for 16. Much of the rushing total, though, was affected by four second-half sacks.
However, Conque was able to pick up good yardage in spurts, including a 29-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave Catholic an early 7-3 lead.
“That’s about all he had,” Este said, referring to Conque’s running. “(Conway) had four very fast defenders in the backfield for much of the game.”
Touchdown eceptions of 16 and 74 yards, sandwiched around a 20-yard scoring run by Jemarkus Harmon, though, helped give the Cats a 23-7 halftime lead. Langley also hit Tristan Eddings for a 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and Ivan Pelayo — who booted a 31-yard field goal for the game’s first points — added a 33-yarder and another one from 31 yards out in the second half to put the finishing touches on the scoring.
Now Conway is back where things ended last season. While reaching that level is certainly something Ashcraft is pleased with, the Cats are looking for even more.
“We wanted to go out on a high note,” Ashcraft said. “The big thing now is not being satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. We made it to the second round last year, and now we’ve got to work on making it farther into the playoffs.”