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Shiloh Christian erupts again in second half to clinch first 5A-West title

After trailing by a point at halftime, the Saints outscore Prairie Grove 34-0 after the break

By Steve Andrews 

PRAIRIE GROVE – For the first time in a conference game this season, Shiloh Christian found itself trailing at halftime, 22-21. But the Saints didn’t flinch.

Shiloh flipped the script on the opening kickoff in second half with an 82-yard return for a touchdown by sophomore Zeke Strong. The Saints then proceeded to outscore Prairie Grove 34-0 after the break to claim a 55-22 victory. The win also secured the 5A-West conference title for the Saints, who are in their first season in Class 5A, after being elevated from 4A a season ago.

“When we went in at half, I really didn’t have to say anything to them, because so many of our players said what needed to be said,” Saints head coach Jeff Conway said. “They were smiling. They were energetic, and they were having fun. Nobody had their head down and they just wanted to get back out there and play the second half. That’s leadership, and that’s powerful.”

It looked like the game may get out of hand early as Shiloh’s Dax Widger picked off a Prairie Grove pass in the end zone on the game’s opening drive. The Saints then marched 80 yards in seven plays, getting a 5-yard run by junior Bo Williams to go up 7-0. Williams finished with 101 yards on 14 carries.

But the Tigers bounced right back with a methodical 13-play drive – all runs –and scored on a 2-yard blast from junior Coner Whetsell. The 2-point pass attempt failed, leaving Prairie Grove down 7-6.

Shiloh came right back with another scoring drive as senior quarterback Eli Wisdom ran it in from the 6-yard line.

Wisdom rushed 13 times for 79 yards and 2 TDs, while completing 13 of 17 passes for 215 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The Saints then caught the Tigers off-guard with an onside kick that they pounced on at the Prairie Grove 39. Wisdom needed just one play to hit Bodie Neal for the score to make it 21-6 with 6:68 to play in the half.

“They were holding the ball, and we weren’t getting stops early, so we were just trying to break the momentum,” Conaway said of the trickery. “We were just trying to steal a possession, and we got one.”

They then came back with another onside attempt, but Prairie Grove secured the ball.

After punting the ball away, Ethan Miller picked off a Wisdom pass at the Shiloh 19. Four plays later, Tiger quarterback Camden Patterson scored on a 3-yard run. Miller ran the successful 2-point conversion around the left end to make it 21-14.

After holding the Saints on downs late in the first half, Patterson hit senior Matthew Velasco on consecutive deep throws over the middle. With 11 seconds left, Velasco hauled in a 44-yard reception over a pair of Saint defenders, then with just four seconds remaining, he grabbed a 26-yard touchdown to send the Tiger faithful into a frenzy. Miller again added the 2-point conversion with a run around left end to put the Tigers up a point.

“The way they fought back there in the second half was impressive,” Conaway said. “Danny’s (Abshier) strategy of holding the ball was exactly what they wanted. And I really felt like they outexecuted us in the first half. We just didn’t play well with our eyes the first half and didn’t play real physically. In the second half we were much more physical, and when you’re physical good things happen.”

Shiloh seemed to refocus after the break and wasted little time taking control in the second half.

“In the locker room at halftime, nobody batted an eye,” said senior Thomas Reece. “We knew the game plan and we knew we were close in the first half. We just knew we had to come out in the second half and keep being us.

“In the second half, we just started doing the little things a little bit better. In practice during the week you don’t get to play at game speed against a good team like Prairie Grove, so sometimes it just takes a little bit to get going. But we got it figured out and that’s all that matters.”

After Strong’s kickoff return gave the lead back to the Saints, the Tigers failed to grab the ensuing kickoff, thus allowing Shiloh to gain possession again. Wisdom finished the drive with a 1-yard run, making it 34-22.

Wisdom then connected with Carter Holman on a pair of touchdown passes later in the third quarter to bump the lead to 48-22 heading into the fourth.

“We just made more mistakes than we could afford,” Tiger head coach Danny Abshier said. “We were able to overcome them in the first half, but not the second half.”

Wisdom hit Neal for one more scoring pass from 10 yards out in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.

“I think we proved tonight how powerful and how strong the leadership is on this team,” Conway said. “We came out and put up 27 in just a matter of minutes in the third quarter. Sparked by that kickoff return. That was huge. I’m proud of Zeke, because he is bringing value to our team by way of special teams. So, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The Saints do host Alma next Friday in the final regular-season game, but already securing the conference championship is just another milestone for Shiloh’s tradition-rich program.

“It’s just s tribute to our players, our staff, our parents and everyone involved,” Conway said. “We’re striving for excellence. Put us in any conference you want to put us in and we’re going to find a way.”

Prairie Grove will end the regular season with a trip down Highway 62 to face long-time rival Farmington.