MOUNTAINBURG -- The message was simple for Mountainburg coach Zach Dean after a heart-breaking loss Friday against a bigger school in Yellville-Summit. Dean wanted to make sure his players knew he was proud of their effort in a wild, wacky football game.
Mountainburg held a 16-point halftime lead but gave it up after the break during a narrow 36-35 loss at Dragon Stadium. Mountainburg was ahead the entire way until the final 8 minutes, 49 seconds of the game.
"It was a tough loss for sure," Dean said. "We led most of the game all the way until the end. I'm going to take that loss. I really don't have the words right now."
The Dragons marched down the field to the opposing 5-yard line with a 35-28 advantage and could've put the game away with a score late in the final quarter. But that's when disaster happened for Mountainburg. A busted play in which the receiver wasn't facing the quarterback led to a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown. A two-point conversion after that gave Yellville-Summit its first lead, and the Panthers never gave it back, getting a defensive stop then running out the final seven minutes with its strong rushing attack.
"The boys played so well," Dean said. "That's the first thing I said was they played a heck of a ballgame. The boys were feeling it after this one. They felt it was on them. But in reality, I made a bad play call in that part of the field. I just wanted them to know they fought hard and it wasn't on them. Yellville in the second half ran it down the field on us. I felt we needed to score. It just didn't work out for us."
Mountainburg's offense fired on all cylinders in the first half scoring 28 points but found the end zone just once in the second half.
The Dragons were able to find success with underclassmen making play after play. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Allen had back-to-back rushing touchdowns before the break to provide a 28-12 lead. Sophomore running back Levi Pense scored in the first half on the ground and from the air.
Allen connected with Pense again in the second half for a touchdown pass, but that was all the points scored for Mountainburg after the break. That score answered a 10-play drive for a touchdown from Yellville-Summit right out of halftime.
"This is a game we can absolutely learn from," Dean said. "We play a lot of sophomores. It's tough to lose a game like that. But it also can be good for us down the road for future stuff. We know we can gut it out. We'll be in this situation again at some point. We'll hopefully get the win next time."
Play of the game: There was plenty of wildness in Friday's game. Pense's second-half touchdown was a good example of it. Allen dropped back to pass and tossed the ball, but it hit a Mountainburg player not looking to catch it. The football then bounced in the air right to Pense, who hauled it in for a 36-yard touchdown. It gave Mountainburg a 35-20 lead in the third quarter. Pense in the game finished with six catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 23 yards and another score.
Player of the game: If Mountainburg was going to be able to hold onto the lead late, it was going to be through the talents of Allen and senior wide receiver Shay Pixley. Allen completed 14 of 20 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 22 times for 140 yards and two additional scores. With his large frame, Allen was a tough assignment to tackle but displayed his arm strength and passing ability as well. He had eight passes go for more than 10 yards and had four go for more than 20 yards.
Allen is taking over the quarterback duties this year after starting the final game of the season last year as a freshman. He flashed his potential in the win by throwing for more than 200 yards.
A key part of Allen's success has been Pixley. He moved from quarterback to wide receiver when Allen took over, and Pixley has thrived. Pixley hauled in six catches for 137 yards in Friday's game. He also makes a big impact on defense. Pixley had a fumble recovery and an interception.
Injury report: Both teams were able to avoid any serious injuries.
Notables: If Mountainburg was able to hold on late, it would've been the school's first 3-0 start since 2015. ... Allen does it all for Mountainburg with his passing and rushing abilities, but he has a strong leg as well. He had the game's lone punt go for 41 yards. ... Allen also had a tackle for a loss making an impact on defense ... Pixley has a knack for creating big plays, and that was the case Friday night. He had two gains go for 44 and 56 yards with catches using his speed. ... Allen rolled up 282 of his 357 total yards in the game during an explosive initial two quarters. ... During the first half, Allen showed his versatility as a runner. He scored on a big play with his evasiveness from 34 yards out and then again from 1 yards away as a bruiser.
Up next: Mountainburg remains at home to open 2A-1 league play this week. They'll face Bigelow, which is off to a 4-0 start with wins against Atkins, England, Perryville and Centerpoint.
24: number of points scored in the second half by Yellville-Summit
87: number of yards gained in the second half by Mountainburg