Purple reign: Special teams make difference for Bobcats

Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Berryville defenders swarm to the ball to stop a Green Forest runner on a key fourth-down play in the second half.
Robert Cox / Carroll County News

In an old-fashioned defensive battle, special teams made the difference for the Berryville Bobcats.

Freddy Roque’s 23-yard field goal with 3:48 remaining in the first quarter put Berryville ahead and the Bobcats’ defense took it from there as Berryville beat Green Forest 3-0 in the annual Carroll County Super Bowl at Tiger Stadium.

“It was an old-school defensive struggle,” Berryville coach Bryan Hutson said. “It was all about field position. Whoever had the best field position kind of had the advantage. But both defenses played really well. I was really, really glad to see that out of our defense.”

Roque’s field goal was set up by another big special teams play. With Green Forest facing fourth-and-11 from its own 19, the Tigers lined up to punt the ball away. But after a high snap, Berryville’s Damian Helmlinger tackled the Green Forest punter and the Bobcats took over at the 10-yard line.

“Helmlinger made a good shoestring tackle to stop him from getting any more yards,” Hutson said.

Green Forest coach Greg Tibbitt said the Tigers were playing without two key seniors in Barrett Phillips and Trevor Stark, who both had to sit out after suffering concussions a week earlier against Huntsville. Stark is the Tigers’ regular long snapper. His absence might have been a factor in the botched punt attempt, and Tibbitt said it was definitely a factor in Green Forest’s decision not to attempt a game-tying field goal later in the game. Instead, the Tigers turned the ball over on downs inside Berryville territory three times and had a fourth-down pass intercepted on another drive.

Green Forest’s best scoring chance came late in the game when senior Jazmany Lopez scooped up a Berryville fumble after a quarterback sack to give the Tigers the ball at the Bobcats’ 11-yard line. But after senior Navor Perez ran for eight yards on third-and-11 from the 12, the Tigers opted to try converting a fourth-and-3 and Berryville tackled the runner for a loss and got the ball back at its own 5-yard line.

“We talked about (attempting a field goal),” Tibbitt said. “The scary part was, Berryville’s only score came on a bad snap. Trevor Stark is our deep snapper. So without Trevor, you’re just kind of second-guessing everything. If Trevor’s there, I think we kick it twice down there, honestly. The kicking wasn’t the issue. It was the operation of getting everything together.”

Besides the special-teams concerns, Green Forest also struggled for consistency on offense as Berryville’s defense kept the Tigers’ running game contained and also intercepted five passes.

“That’s kind of been our M.O.,” Tibbitt said. “Our defense played exceptional, but as well as our defense played, our offense played that bad. We just couldn’t get anything going. We might have a seven-yard gain on first down and then couldn’t get three more yards in three plays. It was just that kind of night.”

Hutson, on the other hand, was thrilled with his team’s defensive performance. The Bobcats had given up an average of more than 40 points a game in their first six conference games.

“I was really, really glad to see that out of our defense,” Hutson said.

Sophomore Zane Gentry had two of the Bobcats’ five interceptions, while Roque, Brayden Hill and Klae Smith each added one.

Hutson, in his first year at Berryville, said he gained a new perspective on the rivalry between Carroll County’s two high school football programs.

“The kids were pumped,” he said. “The kids, the parents, the fans. Being relatively new to the area, people don’t realize the community support that both the programs have. This Carroll County Super Bowl is a really big deal. That’s what’s really neat about small-town football. It’s a community thing.”

Hutson said the victory sends the Bobcats into the offseason on a positive note after Berryville lost its first six conference games. The Bobcats finished 2-8 overall and 1-6 in conference play.

“I wish we’d have made the playoffs,” he said. “We were shooting ourselves in the foot for a couple of missed opportunities in games where we could have made the playoffs, but anytime you can win your last game, it gives you a good taste going into the offseason.”

Tibbitt, meanwhile, said Green Forest will be focused on improving offensively before next season kicks off. The Tigers were 2-7 overall and 1-6 in the conference.

“I think there’s some things that we have to kind of re-evaluate going into the offseason,” he said. “We talked about it every week. I really feel like coach (Tyler) Harness and our defense played exceptional. Even games we lost, they kept us in and gave us chances to win. We’ve just got to really focus offensively. We’ve got to get some consistency. I didn’t feel like we had an identity offensively. I didn’t feel like we had something we could hang our hat on, whether it be a specific play or a specific person. I think we’ve got to get to that.”

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