LITTLE ROCK – It's the nature of a state championship game that one team wins and thus the other team must end its season with a loss.
But there wasn't much of a difference at all between Pulaski Academy and West Helena Central in the Class 5A title game Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Spencer Keith accounted for 331 yards total offense and University of Arkansas commit Neal Barlow caught two touchdown passes and a pair of 2-point conversions as the Bruins downed the Cougars before 7,335 fans.
"I don't think there is any doubt that these were the two best teams in the state this season," Barlow said. "We won the one that counted and it's just the greatest feeling in the world."
That's a reference to how the two teams – which feature 3 Razorback commits in Barlow and West Helena's Turell Williams and Darius Winston - opened the season with West Helena downing visiting Pulaski Academy 46-29.
It looked like it might be that kind of game again when the Bruins jumped out to a 27-6 lead early in the second quarter and led 35-12 at halftime.
"We had too many fumbles in the second half that got us down," Williams said. "We just had to come out and ball harder in the second half."
The Cougars (12-1-1) did just that by not allowing Bruins (13-1) to score in the second half.
Deondre Johnson's 34-yard touchdown pass to Kyrin Burrell cut it to 35-32 with 5:18 left in the game.
The Bruins, however, did not give the ball back and converted two fourth downs to run out the clock.
Williams (8 carries, 62 yards, one 2-point conversion pass, 4 tackles with one sack and a quarterback hurry) felt his team just ran out of time.
"This is the toughest way to lose a ballgame," Williams said. "I would rather to get blown out than to have the feeling that I have now and that's we just ran out of time. But I am pleased with how we kept on fighting and kept playing to the end."
Winston had 4 tackles and an interception that helped key the second-half comeback.
"We thought the only way we had a chance to win was to shut them out in the second half and that's what we went out and did," Winston said. "We were making plays, but just couldn't get them stopped and get the ball one more time. I think we would have won if we had done that."
Keith, who had 70 touchdown passes this season, broke the state's single season yardage mark with 5,308 yards passing, a record that topped Pulaski Academy's 5,272 yards back in 2001.
Barlow, who was running a 102-degree fever, had 6 catches for 63 yards in the win, giving him 96 catches for 1,512 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season.
It was the second state championship for Pulaksi Academy, who won the 4A title back in 2003.
It was certainly quite the turnaround for a losing record two years ago for West Helena to losing only its final game this season.
Williams, who rushed for 1,402 and 21 touchdowns this season, said he takes great pride in what his team did this season.
"I am glad to have been a part of turning our program around from nothing to something special," Williams said. "Now they can go on from here."
Winston agreed with that sentiment.
"It was a great season for us and we took it a lot farther than any other team in the history of the school," Winston said.
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