23 Sep Johnson’s 6 touchdowns propel Cats
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by Levi Gilbert
Senior quarterback JoVoni Johnson scored six rushing touchdowns, and the Wampus Cats’ special teams and defense recovered five fumbles to beat Ft. Smith Southside, 45-19, in heavy rain on the road to open 7A Central play.
The Wampus Cats (4-0, 1-0) jumped on the board in the first 19 seconds of action on a 28-yard scamper from Johnson after the Cats had been set up with good field position from a big kickoff return from sophomore Bryce Bohannon. The Conway defense then forced Southside to three-and-out on three-straight passing plays. Conway scored on the next possession — this time off a 45-yard touchdown run from Johnson.
Southside senior Taye Gatewood got the Mavericks on the board late in the first quarter on a 13-yard touchdown run. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, Southside trailed Conway 14-6 heading into the second quarter. Gatewood pulled the Mavericks to within one point later in the second quarter on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyrese Solomon.
The Conway offense stalled out until late in the second quarter where the Cats put together a key drive. Johnson got Conway on the board again under the final minute of the first half with a 5-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff, the Cats recovered a mishandled return and made the Mavericks pay with a 36-yard field goal to put Conway up 24-13 heading into halftime.
Southside’s fumbling woes continued to start the second half as they muffed the opening kickoff return to open the third quarter. The Mavericks’ next possession also ended in a fumble. Conway made the Mavericks pay both times with a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs from Johnson. The Cats never looked back, exchanging scoring drives with the Mavericks in the fourth quarter, which included Johnson’s sixth touchdown run of the night.
“JoVoni just keeps showing what kind of leader he is,” said Jeff Matthews, play-by-play announcer for Conway Corp 5 Sports. “He’ll get it done with his arm or his legs, and tonight with all the rain, it was his legs. Every time he kept the ball on a designed run, which were most of his 20 carries, it just eliminated the possibility of a muffed handoff. Give credit to offensive coordinator Brian Raney for finding ways to move the ball on a night where the Wampus Cats were forced to be a little one dimensional because of the weather.”
While Johnson put up all the touchdowns for the Cats, it wasn’t just the JoVoni Johnson show on offense. The Conway offense produced 412 rushing yards behind a monster performance from the offensive line. Senior Cary McClain led the Cats with 153 yards on 18 carries. Johnson finished with 130 yards, Bohannon added 65 yards and Luke Bailey rushed for 55 yards.
“It’s pretty impressive to run for 400 yards any time, but especially on a night where the opposing defense knows you’re going to be running it more because of the weather,” Matthews said. “They knew we were going to run, and our offensive line still got the job done.”
The Cats were plus-three on the night in the turnover margin. Conway fumbled twice, but the Mavericks fumbled five times and gave up value field position on two mishandled punts.
Conway returns home to face the defending 7A state champion North Little Rock Charging Wildcats Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.