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CLASS 7A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP: NORTH LITTLE ROCK VS. BRYANT:
Big stage no problem for Ledbetter
Bryant quarterback Austin Ledbetter throws a pass during a game against Conway on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Conway. Ledbetter, who is committed to play baseball at the University of Arkansas, has Bryant on the verge of winning its second consecutive state championship in football.
Bryant is back in the Class 7A state championship game in part because of its first-year starting quarterback.
Junior Austin Ledbetter, who has orally committed to the University of Arkansas to play baseball, is thriving for the Hornets (12-0), who face North Little Rock (8-4) on Friday night in the Class 7A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Ledbetter, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, has completed 184 of 296 passes for 3,126 yards with 40 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His best game arguably was Bryant's 42-7 7A-Central Conference championship clinching victory at Conway when he went 31-of-40 passing for 396 yards with 6 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The Hornets' offense is averaging 44.9 points per game and has scored at least 35 points in all 12 games in 2019.
However, Ledbetter shifts credit to the rest of his team.
"The big dogs up front are doing really good for us," Ledbetter said. "Guys are getting open and we're able to hit them. Our coaches work hard on Saturdays and Sundays to game plan each team.
"We just need to keep executing."
Bryant Coach Buck James is proud of what Ledbetter has done for the Hornets this season.
"He's been phenomenal," James said. "He's done a great job. He's a great athlete. He understands the game."
Ledbetter has several key weapons at his disposal.
Senior wide receiver Jake Meaders leads the Hornets with 884 yards and 16 touchdowns. Junior Hayden Schrader is second with 837 yards and 9 touchdowns. Joseph Young, also a junior, has caught 6 touchdown passes.
It's Ledbetter's preparation that has impressed James the most.
"He studies the game," James said. "He's in film study at 5:30 in the morning, 3 mornings a week. He watches it at home. He sees the game before the games are played. He sees the routes before they are open."
Friday won't be Ledbetter's first experience with Class 7A's biggest game.
A year ago in the state championship game against North Little Rock, Ledbetter came off the bench for the Hornets to replace Ren Hefley for the team's two-minute drive with 1:29 left in the second quarter.
Ledbetter, who shared snaps with Hefley last season, brought the Hornets a spark, leading them on an 8-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in Latavion Scott's 1-yard touchdown run that gave Bryant a 13-0 lead with seven seconds left before halftime. Bryant went on to win 27-7.
As a sophomore, Ledbetter completed 33 of 68 passes for 549 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Ledbetter's experience as a sophomore, especially in the state title game, should help him Friday, James said.
"He's been here. He's done it," James said. "He's done it on the big stage. He's done it on the big stage in baseball. He started as a freshman as a pitcher against [Springdale] Har-Ber.
"He likes to compete. I don't think any stage is too big for him."
Said Ledbetter: "I was thrown into the fire in last year's state title game. But I feel really confident about this game. Our game plan is really good. I feel strong."
While Ledbetter has orally committed to play baseball for the Razorbacks, he has received interest to play football from Arkansas, Mississippi State and Memphis, among others.
For now, Ledbetter said he isn't sure if he'll play football in college.
James calls Ledbetter a special young man and that he could have decided not to play football after receiving a baseball offer from the Razorbacks. But Ledbetter is playing football, to James' excitement.
"He's got a very high ceiling," James said. "He makes everybody else around him better."
Bryant has an opportunity to be the first team since Fayetteville in 2015 and 2016 to win consecutive Class 7A state championships. Ledbetter hopes the Hornets can achieve the feat.
"It would mean a lot," Ledbetter said. "It would mean a lot for the community, especially since last year was our first one. So, to win two in a row would be pretty big."
Sports on 12/05/2019
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