Quitman scored first but the Class 5A Junior Devil Pups scored the rest in a battle of 2-0 teams on a soggy, foggy Thursday evening at Bulldog Stadium.
Both programs have outstanding depth for their classification but Morrilton, boasting a 70-player roster compared to 35 for 2A Quitman, pulled away with two scores late in the first half en route to a 26-6 victory.
The game carried a strange feeling for Quitman Coach Fritz Heidenreich, who watched from the opposite sideline as his son, Grahm Heidenreich, burned the Jr. Bulldogs with two touchdown receptions while also recording an interception, a fumble recovery and returning a kick 50 yards.
“It's kinda bittersweet because you want to win the game but as a father I am proud of him. He did a great job but as a coach on the other team I was wanting to stop him,” said Heidenreich. “He did pretty good so he will have bragging rights for a year anyway.”
Heidenreich, playing receiver, carried a reverse around left end for 39 yards on Morrilton's first snap then running back Oshae Erby took over, running three times for 25 yards, setting up first and goal.
Quitman's defense bowed up and stopped Morrilton, which moved backward due to a penalty until fourth down, when quarterback Marqueese Mitchell scrambled around left end and nearly scored before he was tripped up at the 1-yard line.
The Jr. Bulldogs then mounted an impressive 13-play, 99-yard scoring drive sparked by quarterback Trey McGhee, who was nearly dropped for a safety but managed to break through the grasp of two defenders and speed up the sideline, gaining 14 yards.
On third and 9, McGhee scrambled for 10 yards to move the chains again. Following two penalties, which pushed Quitman back to the 18-yard line, McGhee came up big again, this time dashing around left tackle and down the sideline for 42 yards plus a horse collar penalty that set up the Jr. Bulldogs with a first down at the Morrilton 25.
Facing fourth and 5, McGhee faked a handoff and kept around left end for 18 yards and running back Eli Peck scored two plays later from 1-yard out on a dive play over left tackle. Morrilton stopped McGhee inches short on the two-point conversion, leaving Quitman with a 6-0 lead with 6:16 left in the second quarter.
The Jr. Devil Pups answered, covering 55 yards in six plays. On second and 5, Mitchell hit Heidenreich, who raced from the 25 into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown with 4:37 left in the second quarter. Edgar Sesma added the extra-point, giving the Jr. Devil Pups a 7-6 lead.
Morrilton forced a three and out and Dakota Meiur blocked a punt, which Demonte Black returned 20 yards to the Quitman 5, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Mitchell. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Morrilton's lead at 13-6 with 1:23 left until halftime.
Page 2 of 2 - On the ensuing kickoff, Morrilton popped a kick high into the air and Heidenreich pounced on it at the Jr. Bulldog 37.
“We work on that. We work on fair-catching kickoffs and I don't think the kid thought he could get it. It was a big, big play,” added Coach Heidenreich.
Morrilton quickly flipped the turnover into more points as Mitchell hooked up with Heidenreich streaking behind the secondary for a 37-yard touchdown with 1:05 remaining in the second quarter. Quitman foiled the conversion attempt as Mitchell slipped in the backfield, leaving the Jr. Devil Pups with a 19-6 at halftime.
After Heidenreich returned the opening kickoff of the second half 50 yards into Quitman territory, Morrilton drove inside the 5-yard line before the Jr. Bulldogs' defense tightened. On third and goal from the 1, defensive end Logan Lowe recovered a fumbled exchange to keep Quitman within striking distance.
McGhee ripped off a 57-yard run on Quitman's first offensive snap of the second half but the Jr. Bulldogs began to sputter following a false start penalty and the drive ended with an interception by Heidenreich, who scampered 15 yards down field to the Morrilton 40.
As the fog began to set in, Morrilton drove inside the Quitman 20 before linebacker Nathan Henderson sacked Mitchell, causing a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Hunter Mooreland at the 26-yard line.
After forcing a three and out aided by a penalty, Morrilton once again came close to pay dirt but the Jr. Devil Pups were denied again, this time when cornerback Braxton Varvill recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
Morrilton (3-0) forced another three and out and finally made it pay off when Lane Granberry pulled down a 15-yard touchdown pass, which was set up by running back Oshae Erby, who finished the game with 13 carries for 91 yards.
With time winding down, Quitman came inches away from scoring when McGhee hit receiver Dyllan Locke, who raced down the sideline for 76 yards before he was tripped up near the pylon and ruled short.
Morrilton sacked McGhee on the final two snaps to leave the final margin at 26-6.
McGhee ran 15 times for 137 yards, while completing 6 of 17 passes for 98 yards. Locke had four receptions for 97 yards and Peck added 20 yards and one touchdown on 10 attempts.
Mooreland led the Jr. Bulldogs with nine tackles, while Peck and Henderson each collected six stops.
Quitman (2-1, 1-0) resumes 5-2A Conference play at Bigelow today at 7 p.m.
(Editor's note: Stats courtesy of Quitman Football Foundation's Dan Lichoff)