Entering Pulaski Academy’s game with Malvern, Bruins coach Kevin Kelley praised the Leopard’s defense. Following a 47-16 PA win, Kelley credited his defensive unit Friday night. And for good reason. The Bruins shut out Malvern in the first half, gave up just one first down and allowed a long play of just 9 yards at Rector Field.
“Our defense played outstanding,” Kelley said. “We know they are good and are underrated. We talk about are offense all of the time, but we know our defense is good. They stepped up and made a statement tonight. They shutout (in the first half) a very good Malvern offense. We did so many good things — in the running game, rushing the passer, and we had good coverage. We played a complete game on defense.”
The Bruins, who held a commanding 47-0 halftime lead, yielded 51 yards in the first half, and hammered Malvern junior quarterback Austin Warford with four sacks.
“I don’t think you can be on the same emotional high for every game because every game is different,” Kelley said. “We built this game up. We told our kids we wanted to do some things differently, and they showed they can do that. I saw big hits all around the football — inside, outside, safeties, corners and linebackers. I was very proud of them.”
Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten was almost as dominant as his defensive mates. Knighten passed for 355 yards and five touchdowns in the fist half and added scoring runs of 6 and 49 yards. PA scored on all seven of its first-half possessions.
“We’ve put together some obvious good halves of football,” Kelley said. “But it seems like we would have some mishaps on early drives or some mental mistakes defensively. We came out every possession of the first half offensively in a good fashion, and defensively we only gave up one first down. If you go out and score on every possession, and give up one first down on defense, I would say that is pretty complete. We want to make a statement. (Malvern) is a good football team. If we played them 10 times, it might be a little closer than that, but we played as well as we can play.”
LJ Wallace caught two touchdown passes (7 and 18 yards) to end the first-half scoring onslaught. Tight end Hunter Henry also had two touchdown catches (17 and 20 yards) and Kendall Bruce caught a 49-yard bomb.
The Bruins sit atop the 7-4A with a 5-0 record. Malvern looked to be PA’s toughest game, as the Leopards had won five straight and were ranked No. 4 in the 3A VYPE/AFCA Coaches’ Poll. PA travels to city rival Pulaski Robinson next week and plays host to Ashdown in the regular-season finale. With a league title comes a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Heber Springs, No. 2 in the VYPE/AFCA Poll is the only other undefeated 4A team, but most think PA, who is ranked No. 2 in the Overall Poll, won’t be seriously challenged the rest of the season.
“We are just trying to take it one game at a time,” said Henry, who had 51 yards receiving and a sack. “If we don’t come out and play our best game we can be beat. We are just trying to take it one play and one game at a time.”