By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HARRISON, Ark. — When a team gets eliminated from the postseason — particularly after getting so close to a state title — there’s no set amount of time for players to get past the initial heartbreak and begin to focus on the positives.
It might take days, months or even years for a football player to stop questioning what might have been and instead begin to celebrate what was. At some point, the last tear falls and it becomes easier to smile about a great year.
For Cole Keylon, it happened almost immediately.
The Harrison quarterback threw four touchdown passes — two to junior receiver Dylan Block — but was sacked four times as Little Rock Christian overpowered the Goblins and dealt them a season-ending 52-28 defeat in the Class 5A semifinals on Friday at F.S. Garrison Stadium.
If Keylon had any disappointment that the Goblins wouldn’t be playing for the school’s first state championship since 1999, the senior didn’t let it show after the loss. Instead, he offered a relatively candid assessment and was quick to celebrate all of the successes of an 11-2 season.
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“Talent-wise, we have no business being in theFinal Four of the 5A,” he said. “Talent-wise, we’re not near as good as any of the teams we’ve beaten. We’re smaller, we’re slower. … We just play tougher and play harder than everybody. It’s a miracle that we made it here. It’s awesome.”
What the group did have — perhaps more than any other team to come through Harrison — was toughness and a refusal to quit. They rallied to pull off back-to-back, last-minute playoff victories over Camden-Fairview and White Hall to reach the semifinals, where they needed an all-but-perfect effort to upset Little Rock Christian.
Things went south almost immediately, as Tulane commit Corey Platt broke loose on a fourth-and-1 for a 59-yard rushing touchdown on Little Rock Christian’s opening possession. He finished with six total touchdowns — five on the ground, and a 34-yard reception from Colin Cooper that gave the Warriors a 14-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Harrison answered back when Keylon found top receiver Noah Moix for a 28-yard touchdown in the final minute of the opening quarter, and forced the Warriors to punt on their next possession.
But the Goblins fumbled on their first play, giving Little Rock Christian a first-and-goal from the 8. Platt scored on the next play to give the Warriors a 21-7 lead 10 minutes before halftime.
Harrison answered with 4:35 to go, as Tyler Hutcheson hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Keylon on a drive that started when Block made an interception at the 37-yard line, but the Warriors added a 22-yard field goal to go up 24-14 at the break.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, with Platt scoring on a 4-yard run and Black catching a 13-yard pass in the corner of the end zone. But Little Rock Christian scored three times in less than six minutes to open the fourth quarter to take a 52-21 lead. Platt, who wears No. 4, scored on runs of 44 and 4 yards and Jayvean Dyer-Jones added a 3-yard run.
Harrison’s already undersized offensive line took a big hit when Steven Chrisman, who had played every snap this year, suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter and did not return. That hampered the Goblins’ run game, as Keylon netted just a single rushing yard in the second half — and finished with 26 rushing yards after entering with more than 1,000.
Jordin Welsh led Harrison with 35 rushing yards as the team netted just 90 on the ground.
“They were big, strong and fast,” Harrison coach Joel Wells said. “We didn’t have to play perfect, but we were going to have to play near perfect to win. We just didn’t play well enough.”
Keylon threw for 316 yards, giving him more than 2,700 on the season, and his 43-yard bomb to Black late in the fourth quarter was his 31st passing and 46th overall touchdown in 13 games. Keylon and the graduating senior class have led the Goblins to a 34-4 record since 2018.
“I’m emotional for these seniors,” Wells said. “Like I just told them, this doesn’t happen very often. You know, this is my 34th year (of coaching, at various schools in Arkansas and Missouri) and this is only the fourth time I’ve had the opportunity to coach in a semifinal. So you know, it hurts. It hurts all of us, and especially these seniors.”
Wells and Keylon also found a victory in that the Goblins were able to play 13 games this year despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which seemed far-fetched at the start of the season.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get to play,” Keylon said. “We just wanted to be able to strap it up a few more times with all the guys we grew up with that we played with for six years on this same field. It’s just good to get one more game tonight.”
This year’s graduating class was the first that Wells saw from seventh grade all the way up through their final varsity game, and paused for a moment to celebrate their contributions.
“This doesn’t take away from what these guys have accomplished,” Wells said. “Undefeated conference champions, state semifinalists, everything that they’ve overcome adversity-wise. I’m extremely proud of this group. They accomplished a tremendous amount and set the bar higher for the next group.”