Football: 'Cats scratch out dramatic win, head to semifinals for sixth consecutive year

In a battle to the very end, North Little Rock rallied on the road to beat Bentonville, 24-21, in the final seconds of Class 7A playoffs second round.

The victory puts North Little Rock into the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year and the ‘Cats ninth trip to the third round in the last 10 years.

The semifinal opponent will be a familiar one — conference foe Bryant. This will be the eighth game the two schools have played the last four years. What’s different about this game, is the previous three seasons, the two teams met up in the state championship game and they were all wins for the Hornets as North Little Rock is 1-6 in the previous seven games.

If North Little Rock was to win, it would be the ‘Cats sixth consecutive trip to the state championship game and the first for Randy Sandefur as the school’s head coach, who is in his first season running the program that he is both a graduate of and a career assistant.

In the other semifinals, Fayetteville outlasted Cabot to host a rematch against Conway. The Purple ‘Dogs beat the Wampus Cats during the regular season. To view the bracket, click here.

For North Little Rock, it was Malachi Gober again and again and again as the junior quarterback threw for three touchdowns but the biggest was the last.

With just 11 seconds remaining in the game and down 21-17, Gober found Larry Willbourn for a 12-yard touchdown that, followed by a Devin Jackson extra point, gave the ‘Cats the 24-21 win.

It was Willbourn’s only reception in the game.

Gober passed for 153 yards with touchdowns to Willbourn, Johnny Lewis and Felix Wade.

Lewis was North Little Rock’s leading receiver with nine catches for 68 yards, while Wade and Corey Henderson both had six catches each with 41 and 32 yards respectively.

Torrance Moore was North Little Rock’s leading rushed with 152 yards on 25 carries.

North Little Rock almost led from start to finish after a 36-yard field goal from Jackson in the first quarter. Bentonville only took the lead with 3:16 remaining in the game after a 90-yard punt return by Bentonville gave the Tigers its first lead of the game.

Gober’s game-winning drive followed to end the game.

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North Little Rock 51, Fort Smith Southside 7 | Game Sketch

  • Play of the game: North Little Rock’s Malachi Gober’s touchdown to Larry Willbourn won the game for the ‘Cats.

  • Player of the game: Quarterback Malachi Gober passed for 153 yards and has now passed for exactly 1,953 yards this season.

  • Kicker shoutout: Kicker Devin Jackson was a perfect 3-of-3 on extra point attempts and also made a 36 yard field goal.

  • What’s next: North Little Rock (10-2) travels to Bryant (11-0) this Friday in the semifinals of the Class 7A playoffs.


  • Aug. 27: North Little Rock 38, El Dorado 28 (Scrimmage)

  • Sept. 3: North Little Rock 58, Springdale Har-Ber 28

  • Sept. 10: North Little Rock 14, Fayetteville 7

  • Sept. 17: North Little Rock 41, West Memphis 0

  • Sept. 24: North Little Rock 35, Little Rock Central 6

  • Oct. 1: Conway 38, North Little Rock 10

  • Oct. 8: North Little Rock 62, Little Rock Southwest 14

  • Friday, Oct. 15: North Little Rock 42, Little Rock Catholic 7

  • Friday, Oct. 22: North Little Rock 28, Fort Smith Northside 21

  • Oct. 29: Bryant 24, North Little Rock 12

  • Nov. 5: North Little Rock 41, Cabot 26

  • Friday, Nov. 12: North Little Rock 51, Fort Smith Southside 7 | First round of Class 7A playoffs

  • Friday, Nov. 19 North Little Rock 24, Bentonville 21 | Second round of Class 7A playoffs

  • Friday, Nov. 26: North Little Rock at Bryant | Semifinals of the Class 7A playoffs

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