501 Football Team players in championship games

by Levi Gilbert

Two 501 Football Team honorees will play in their final high school football game this weekend in state championship matchups.

Reese Heidenreich and the Morrilton Devil Dogs will take on Batesville in the 5A final, and Jake Vaughan and the Cabot Panthers will face Bentonville.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be in the state championship game,” Vaughan said. “It means everything to me to be able to end on this. All the long workouts, the awful two-a-days and the freezing cold winter practices — it makes it worth it all.”

Heidenreich, like Vaughan, is a senior and will be closing out his high school career in the championship game.

“I have always dreamed of playing for a state title,” Heidenreich said. “And it being my senior year makes it that much more special.”

Vaughan and Cabot (12-0) are riding a perfect season into the final matchup with Bentonville (10-2), who is returning to the championship game for the fourth consecutive year.

“Well this year has been a dream season,” Vaughan said. “Ever since I’ve been a kid I’ve dreamed of being in the state championship game. Our team has put more hard work, time and dedication into this game than any other team in the state. If our team can win this it’ll be something I’ll be able to talk about the rest of my life. We’ll be the ones they talk about instead of the 2000 state team. I’ll be able to cherish this memory forever.”

Heidenreich, a wide receiver, has been an integral part of Morrilton’s explosive offense, which has taken the Devil Dogs (11-2) all the way to the finals where they will face a tough test against Batesville (11-2).

“Batesville is a very strong team offensively and defensively,” Heidenreich said. “I believe our team will have to be strong reading our keys on defense and will have to execute our offensive game plan. Our special teams will play a major role in the game as well.

“They are very strong up front and cover very well. Our offensive line will have to play a great game for us to establish a run game and protect for our passing game.”

Vaughan is particularly excited for this championship game because it will be the first time he’s played since Week 8 due to being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Although he felt well enough to play during the playoffs, he could not be cleared because of an enlarged spleen, which is common with the illness. The fierce linebacker may be the only person in the state who is thankful for the winter weather we endured this past week.

“I wasn’t set to play in the state championship game because of my spleen, but the week delay gave me hope,” Vaughan said. “I just got the word. I am playing. Bentonville is a great team. To beat them, we are just going to have to be more physical. They have a great offensive line. They have speed on the outside, and the quarterback has a laser for an arm. Needless to say, it’s going to be our toughest game. If we shut down the run, we beat them. We have to fly to ball and take on blocks on the defense side of the ball. With few mistakes we can no doubt win this game.

“We’ve lived up to our expectations and have been a part of some unforgettable games. It’s by far been the most fun season of my long football career. It’s great to end on a note like this. We have left our mark in Cabot history and hopefully state history.”

Heidenreich will have plenty of opportunities to make a mark on the championship game. In addition to playing receiver, he’s also a defensive back and a key member on special teams for the Devil Dogs.

“I could not be more proud of our team this year,” Heidenreich said. “Nobody pictured us playing in the state championship game, but our hard work each day has earned us a spot in the big game.”

Cabot takes on Bentonville at 7 p.m. Friday in the 7A final, and Morrilton faces Batesville at noon Saturday in the 5A final.