Unlike last year, Taylor Powell will be heading home from Little Rock with some hardware this weekend.
The Class of 2017 quarterback led Fayetteville to a 28-7 win over Springdale Har-Ber in the Arkansas Class 7A state championship game Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
“I’m proud of our guys,” an emotional Powell said after the game. “I’m speechless right now. We worked so hard for this and to see it all come together is truly remarkable.”
Powell completed 15 of 25 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown.
It was his second appearance in a title game: he and the Bulldogs lost to Bentonville in last year’s game.
Of course, Powell was far from perfect. He also threw a pair of interceptions, both of which were caught inside the 10-yard line.
“My team just rallied around me,” Powell said. “I have a great supporting cast. I knew everybody had my back and we were going to go out there and make plays.”
Fayetteville’s defense did just that, putting pressure on Har-Ber quarterback Fuller Chandler and intercepting him five times.
Another Class of 2017 star for Fayetteville – defensive lineman Akial Byers – was constantly in the Wildcats’ backfield, harassing Chandler and stopping Luke Hannon, the 7A-West’s leading rusher.
He spearheaded a defense that limited Har-Ber to 278 yards and a season-low seven points.
“That meant a lot to us,” Byers said. “We’ve been having bad games lately, but we finally figured it out this game.”
Byers finished with six tackles, including three tackles for loss.
Both players have already started getting noticed by top colleges across the country and will likely start receiving offers soon.
Powell actually received an offer from Wake Forest earlier in the week.
“It was nice to get my first power-five school to offer me,” Powell said. “I’m just happy I finally got one, but overall I was focused on this game. Now that it’s the offseason, I’ll start focusing on recruiting.”
While Byers doesn’t have anything set in stone, he does plan on putting himself in a position to get exposure this offseason.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to a lot of college camps,” Byers said. “I’m staying in the weight room and working on my skills.”
Being juniors, though, they hope they can end their careers with back-to-back titles by winning again next season.
“Right now I’m going to soak it up,” Powell said, “and tomorrow I’m back to work.”