Fayetteville put the finishing touches on an undefeated championship season Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs pulled ahead of Bentonville midway through the fourth quarter and and Fayetteville's defense held on for two defensive stops to take a 22-16 victory over the Tigers in front of an announced crowd of 11,710 in the Class 7A state title game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
It's the sixth state championship for Fayetteville, which finished 13-0.
"A lot of emotions," Fayetteville Coach Casey Dick said. "The kids did an unbelievable job of buying in [back] in December [of last year] and really just coming together and realizing that you can't really put a price tag on what it takes to succeed. There's no formula or definition. It's a lot of hard work."
Fayetteville trailed on three separate occasions Saturday and answered each time.
Bentonville [9-4] scored the game's opening touchdown when Carter Nye found a wide-open J.J. Spafford for a 39-yard touchdown on the game's first possession.
The Bulldogs were forced to punt on their first offensive possession, but the defense got its first stop and the offense came alive.
Class 7A Football State Championship
Fayetteville beats Bentonville 22-16 in the Class 7A state championship game on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Fayetteville quarterback Drake Lindsey, who earned MVP honors, hit Lach McKinney for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7 with 5 minutes left in the first quarter.
The two teams traded multiple possessions in the second quarter, but Bentonville took a 10-7 lead at halftime when Niko Martinovic kicked a 29-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the half.
Fayetteville got the ball to start the second half, and Lindsey and the offense engineered a 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive that took the first 5:08 off the clock.
Lindsey hit Landon Lucke for a 24-yard gain on third and 24 from the Fayetteville 10. He then found Jaison DeLamar for 35 yards to the Bentonville 31 and hit DeLamar again for 18 yards to the 2. Two plays later, Christian Setzer ran in for a 1-yard touchdown to put Fayetteville in front 14-10.
Bentonville answered with a 15-play scoring drive that ended in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Nye to University Arkansas commitment C.J. Brown as the Tigers took a 16-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Fayetteville lost a fumble on the opening play of the fourth quarter that Jonah Knapp recovered for Bentonville, but Tigers turned it right back over with a recovery going to Eli Rose.
Bentonville forced a turnover on downs and moved into Fayetteville territory again, but the Tigers lost another fumble with Rhett Tidwell on the recovery at the Tigers' 46.
This time, Fayetteville took advantage of its opportunity.
Lindsey hit DeLamar for 13 yards and found Mason Spencer for 6 yards. Lindsey then passed to Catavion Taylor for 29 yards to the Bentonville 6. Setzer rushed in on the next play, and Lindsey threw a 2-point conversion pass to McKinney for a 22-16 lead with 7:35 remaining.
Fayetteville forced a quick stop and got the ball back with a chance to run out the clock, but Christian Farrow intercepted a Lindsey pass to set up another opportunity for Bentonville.
The Tigers drove to the Fayetteville 20-yard line with 1:09 left and completed a 7-yard pass to Karsten Pate on first down. But Bentonville was called for holding on the next play, and Fayetteville's Jadon Holte sacked Nye for a loss of 8 yards to set up third and 21.
Nye threw two straight incompletions to turn the ball over downs and Lindsey took three knees to run out the rest of the clock.
Bentonville outgained Fayetteville 397-360, but the Tigers hurt themselves with 10 penalties for 75 yards. The worst example for Bentonville was when it had the ball at the Fayetteville 20 before two negative plays and an intentional grounding penalty moved the ball back to the Tigers' 43 and they had to punt.
"Our kids, I asked them to play their guts out for 48 minutes, and I think they did that, and so I'm proud of them for that," Bentonville Coach Jody Grant said. "So yeah, I mean, this is tough. This a game that we felt like if we played good, we'd be able to get. I think we kind of got in the way of ourselves a few times today and it hurt us."
Nye completed 21 of 35 passes for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brown had six catches for 116 yards and a score, while Pate had five catches for 94 yards.
Lindsey completed 27 of 38 passes for 355 yards with Spencer leading the receivers with six catches for 101 yards. DeLamar had eight catches for 94 yards.
"I'm kind of just trying to soak it in to be honest," said Lindsey, who is committed to play at Minnesota. "It's kind of hard to process right now. You're just trying to soak in the moment and enjoy with your teammates and family and coaches. I'm just blessed to be here."