There’s no revenge factor for Pulaski Academy and its coach, Kevin Kelley, in today’s Class 5A state championship game.
It doesn’t matter that the Bruins were defeated in last year’s state title game by their archrival Little Rock Christian.
“You need to be motivated because you want to be great at something,” Kelley said. “You want to be your best. Not because somebody made you mad or whatever. I don’t use [revenge] as motivation.
“I’m anxious to see how they play. I’m looking real forward to seeing these guys play for a state championship again.”
Pulaski Academy (11-2) is playing in its sixth consecutive state championship game, but it is Little Rock Christian (13-0) that enters today’s noon game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock as the defending state champion with a two-game winning streak over the Bruins.
Little Rock Christian Coach Eric Cohu credits his senior class — led by wide receiver Chris Hightower, running back Kendel Givens, quarterback Akeem Gilmore and linebacker Jackson Woodard — for keeping the Warriors on course this season.
“Our seniors have done an outstanding job in this situation,” Cohu said. “They’ve not only handled the pressure, but they’ve handled the temptation to become complacent as well.”
The Warriors are averaging 48 points per game this season. With Givens’ 1,262 yards and 19 touchdowns along with Gilmore’s 2,235 yards and 22 scores, Little Rock Christian has shown it can be balanced.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do week in and week out is to play consistent football,” Cohu said. “Our guys have been consistent. Inconsistency can get you beat. I’m trying to have a program that can be consistent.”
The Bruins won four consecutive Class 5A state championships from 2014-17. Kelley believes there’s been pressure on Little Rock Christian as a defending championship, as there was when Pulaski Academy was defending their titles. But he also credits the Warriors for their season so far.
“When you’re the champ and you’ve got the target on your back, you can feel it. You definitely do,” Kelley said. “They’ve done a good job all year. They withstood that and gone undefeated.”
Little Rock Christian defeated Pulaski Academy 63-61 on Oct. 4 on junior Isaiah Hankins’ 38-yard field goal. The Warriors trailed 61-54 with 2:43 remaining, but got a 15-yard touchdown pass from Gilmore to Givens, an onside kick recovery and the field goal to defeat the Bruins.
Kelley hopes the Bruins can avoid a third loss to the Warriors and win their eighth state championship.
“We’ve got to play better,” Kelley said. “I’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to call plays better, and we’ve got to execute better.”
Pulaski Academy is led by senior quarterback Braden Bratcher, who has passed for a state-high 4,760 yards with 46 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Senior wide receiver Mason Kolb has caught 64 passes for 1,119 yards and 9 touchdowns, while sophomore running back Joe Himon is at 1,227 rushing yards and 14 scores.
The state’s top offense (55.9 points per game) definitely has Cohu and the Warriors’ attention.
“They understand that they’re playing a team that’s as good as Pulaski Academy, the execution has to be really good,” Cohu said. “We’ve really tried to focus on execution this week.”
With a victory today, Little Rock Christian can win its second state title in program history. Playing deep into November and December is a big part of Cohu’s plan with the Warriors.
“We don’t want to be a program that wins every few years or has a spurt or has a run,” Cohu said. “We want to be consistently competing for championships and consistently playing at the highest level year in and year out.”
Sports on 12/07/2019