Prep Football: Rector rallies past Spring Hill in OT to win 8-man state championship

Rector wide running back Kaden Avery, right, stiff arms Spring Hill defensive back Levin McGuire during the 8-man state football championship game on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Justin Cunningham)
Rector wide running back Kaden Avery, right, stiff arms Spring Hill defensive back Levin McGuire during the 8-man state football championship game on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Justin Cunningham)

LITTLE ROCK -- Rector completed a comeback a decade in the making Thursday night.

The Cougars won their first state championship with a 22-16 win in overtime against Spring Hill in the third sanctioned 8-man football championship game at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium before a rain-soaked crowd of 643.

Rector (10-0) shut down its football program for a four-year span due to low numbers before reviving it in 2014, and won just two games over the next four seasons. It then moved to 8-man football in 2020, a year before it was sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association.

Thursday, Rector had to make a stirring comeback to win its first state championship.

After a 65-minute lightning delay and with persistent rain throughout, Spring Hill (10-3) scored two touchdowns in the first three minutes, reeling off a 47-yard touchdown run by T.J. Tipton on the second play of the game and picking up a fumble punt attempt for a 24-yard return for a score by Tipton with 9:33 left in the first quarter.

Zane Minton ran in the 2-point conversion following Tipton's run, and Tipton added the 2-point run after his fumble return for a quick 16-0 lead.

Rector, which was a high-scoring machine all season, lost the fumble on the first series, turned the ball over on downs on the next possession and punted on its third series before scoring right before the half.

Ashton Scott's 44-yard pass to Chance Lopez set up Drew Henderson's 1-yard scoring run with nine seconds left in the half. Henderson also converted the two-point run to draw Rector within 16-8.

Rector tied the game on Henderson's 2-point run following Kaden Avery's 44-yard touchdown run with 5:38 left in the third quarter.

In overtime, Henderson scored on a 4-yard run through the left side on third down for a 22-16 lead. His pass on the 2-point attempt was no good.

Rector's defense prevailed during Spring Hill's overtime series, stopping the Bears for no gain on two runs and then forcing two incomplete passes to complete the win.

Henderson won the Most Valuable Player after finishing with 32 carries for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. Avery added 11 carries for 85 yards.

Rector overcame eight fumbles, losing three.

Dalton Lamar had 16 tackles with a sack and a tackle for loss to lead Rector's defense, which held Spring Hill scoreless on its final eight possessions and to 113 yards after halftime.

Tipton finished with 94 yards for Spring Hill.

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