Kasey Ford and Tyrone Mahone’s final regular-season chapter in the Bentonville-Fayetteville rivalry ended the same as the first two.
The senior pair led Tigers to a 37-26 win over the Bulldogs Friday night at Harmon Field in Fayetteville.
Mahone – a cornerback – led a defense that held Fayetteville to less than half of its average point total (57.2 ppg entering Friday), while Ford – Bentonville’s quarterback – completed 72 percent of his passes for 152 yards.
“Honestly, this was probably one of the biggest games of my career, just because we knew how explosive Fayetteville’s offense was,” Mahone said. “Battling on defense, that was a test, but we overcame and knew what had to do.”
The game has annually produced Division I talent, with 13 former players – nine from Fayetteville and four from Bentonville – currently playing at Arkansas (including Cody Scroggins on the baseball team).
That hasn’t always meant the games have been close, as Bentonville won last year’s Week 10 matchup 45-2, but Friday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair.
The teams exchanged a pair of touchdowns, with Fayetteville failing on both of its two-point attempts and Bentonville making its PATs, before the Bulldogs kicked a 36-yard field goal just before halftime.
There was enough time on the clock for a final Hail Mary attempt, though, and it almost proved costly for the Tigers. Ford was sacked as time expired and had to be helped off the field.
“I was trying to roll out and get a ball up for a Hail Mary,” Ford said. “I broke a tackle and tried to make a cut on a guy. I missed the cut and the guy tackled me and landed on my ankle.”
Ford – a Kansas State baseball commit – said the trainers worked on his ankle during the entire 20-minute halftime to get him ready for the second half.
The preparation worked. After Bentonville swat down a would-be touchdown pass on fourth down, Ford led the Tigers on a 63-yard drive that ended in a go-ahead field goal.
Despite Bentonville using new defensive looks and mixing up its coverages throughout the game, Fayetteville star Class of 2017 quarterback Taylor Powell threw an 18-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers responded, scoring a touchdown to tie the game 23-23, and then forced a punt thanks to a would-be first down pass broken up by Mahone.
It appeared to be a catch for a first down, but Mahone’s hit jarred the ball loose. It was initially ruled a fumble by the side judge, but the back judge reversed the call.
“I saw him do the whip flat (route),” Mahone said. “I came up and was just going to whack him as hard as I could and then I look up and the ball was out. Everybody’s screaming, ‘Fumble.’ I believe it was a fumble.”
Bentonville blew its chance to take the lead, though, fumbling on its first play after the punt. Fayetteville took over at the 29-yard line.
The Tigers’ defense stiffened inside the 10 and limited the Bulldogs to a 22-yard field goal with 4:19 left.
“It was like, ‘We have to get a stop. We have to get the ball back to our offense because they’re going to score,’” Mahone said.
Not only did Bentonville score a touchdown – capped by a 5-yard run by David Nichols – it did so with a 8-play, 3-minute drive, invoking memories of last year’s Class 7A state title game that the Tigers won 24-21 with a similar drive against Fayetteville.
“It kind of reminded me of the state championship game 2014, just trying to execute plays and do what we do to win a ballgame,” Ford said.
Still, Fayetteville had 71 seconds to answer. Powell’s screen pass was intercepted, however, and returned for a touchdown, sealing the victory. Bentonville also picked off his next pass, a desperate Hail Mary.
The interceptions tripled Powell’s total in conference play, as he had only one in the Bulldogs’ first six 7A-West games.
“I didn’t think he played bad, but I don’t think he played his best game,” Fayetteville head coach Daryl Patton said about his star quarterback. “A couple of times I thought he could have just gotten rid of the ball, but (Bentonville) did a good job on him.”
Powell finished the game 25 of 38 (65.8 percent) passing for 293 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 37 yards, including a four-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
With the win, Bentonville clinched the No. 2 seed in the 7A-West and earned a first-round bye, while Fayetteville gets the No. 3 seed and will host West Memphis next week.