A Semifinal Story

The Catholic High Rockets (11 – 1) faced off against the Pulaski Academy (PA) Bruins (11 – 1) Friday night in a state semifinal matchup for the ages at War Memorial Stadium. The game was the first-ever meeting between the Rockets and the Bruins, and the Bruins ultimately won in a high-scoring, hard-fought battle.

Many sources hyped the game, including SBLive Arkansas and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Last week’s exciting final-minute victory for the Rockets earned the team the right to play on Friday, while the Bruins dismantled Mountain Home in a nineteen-point victory. The Rockets rolled into the game with an 11-game winning streak, a streak which tied the record for most consecutive wins. The Bruins came into the game with a 10-1 record with their only loss being at Greenwood in late October. Both schools are in their first year in the 6A division, after PA moved up from 5A and Catholic moved down from 7A. This spot in the semifinals is a first for the Rockets since 2005, and the first state championship appearance since 1985 was on the line.

 

Due to students being not on campus for the Thanksgiving Break, the school organized a sendoff event at 4:15 p.m. on Friday. After the school’s heavy promotion on social media, War Memorial Stadium was more crowded than most Rocket football games. Alumni including Mr. Keith Calderara, one of the announcers for the game, were happy to attend. Both sides of the stadium were opened, with the Rocket fans taking their customary east-side seats and the Pulaski Academy fans in the west stand.

The Rockets kicked off the first half, and PA capitalized quickly, scoring on a pass. The Bruins planned to go for the two-point conversion, as is normal for that school, but two penalties caused the team to quickly transition to the extra point kick, which ultimately fell short and wide. PA used their customary on-site kickoff technique, and the ensuing drive resulted in a Rocket touchdown on a pass from Sam Sanders to Thomas Duch. The extra point was good, and the Rockets took the lead with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter. PA kept the ball moving and scored another touchdown, but the extra point failed again, putting the score at 12-7. The next onside kick was scooped up by Brooks Ward and brought in for a touchdown, making the score 13-12. An untraditional-for-the-Bruins normal drive led to a touchdown later in the quarter, and a successful two-point conversion set the score at 20-14. A Sam Sanders to Brooks Ward pass on the next Rocket possession, as well as a successful kick, made the score 21-20. However, the Bruins scored another touchdown to make the score 21-26 as the quarter ended.

The high-octane offense on both ends slowly tamped down as the quarters went on. PA scored first to make the game 33-21. Following a pair of turnovers, the Rockets responded to make it 27-33. The Bruins scored again, however, to take a twelve-point, 40-28 lead into halftime.

The second half was much slower than the first. The Rockets opened the scoring with a pass from Sanders to Duch to pull the Rockets within a score. However, the Bruins responded, making the score 47-35. A pass to Dominic Keeton in the fourth quarter caused hope for the Rockets to return, and the score to become close again, at 42-47. However, the Bruins scored on a pass in the final minutes, which ultimately led to the final score of 54-42.

 

Although the Rocket football season ended Friday night, the team left a record on the school and on Arkansas sports that many will remember. The Rockets held the Bruins closer than all but two of their opponents this season, with only the aforementioned Greenwood loss and a squeaker two-point victory over Lake Hamilton losing by smaller margins.

The Rockets also tore through the 6A-East conference, and the team was consistently ranked in the top teams in the state. The closest team in the 6A-East was the Benton Panthers, a team that ultimately finished 9-3, two whole games behind the Rockets.

Additionally, with the conference championship and last week’s playoff win over the Little Rock Christian Warriors, the Rockets football team earned three Competitive Equity Points, ensuring that the Rockets will continue in the 6A state classification next season.

 

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