Panthers pound Comets

BENTON – After a bit of shellshock to start the game, the Benton Panthers, after giving up a game-opening kickoff return by the Mills Comets, responded with 49 straight points to take down the Comets 49-14 in a benefit at Panthers Stadium in Benton.

“We were dead starting the game,” Benton Coach Scott Neathery said. “We started out slow and they ran the kickoff back. I felt we weren’t ready to play the game. I don’t know if it was shock or what it was, but we got back in the ballgame and I feel like we played well.”

Junior quarterback Cason Maertens would lead the Panthers back right away. Maertens hooked up with four receivers during a 63-yard drive which ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Sam Baker which tied it up 7-7 with 10:11 left in the first quarter.

The Comets fumbled the ball on the kickoff in which junior defensive lineman Dylan Murphy recovered at the Mills’ 27 yard line. The Panthers needed just two plays, an 11-yard pass to Baker and a 16-yard TD pass to senior Casey Green to take the lead for good, 14-7, after senior Grant Hinze’s extra point.

“He had a good game,” Benton Coach Scott Neathery said of his quarterback. “I thought Cason was pretty sharp with all of his passes. He had two incomplete passes, but the receivers just missed them. They were on target. Cason had a couple mistakes, but was very pleased with what he did.”

Junior defensive back Simeon Watson recovered another Mills’ fumble and Benton went seven plays for 58 yards, capped by another Maertens to Baker TD, this one from 21 yards out for a 21-7 lead with 8:02 left in the first.

Again Benton would get the ball back. After junior linebacker Ben Brasuell sacked the Mills quarterback at the Comets’ 3-yard line, senior defensive back Brandon Black blocked the punt for a safety. Black was also responsible for another safety when he sacked Race Rodgers late in the first quarter.

“Defense played well,” Neathery said. “We were aggressive defensively. We’re proud of our defense. They attacked and did a good job. Mills didn’t get many running yards with our first crew in the game.”

Benton senior athlete Drew Harris would return the free kick after the safety 24 yards to the Mills 38-yard line before Maertens found Harris open for about 5 yards, in which Harris ran in the rest of the way for a TD and 30-7 lead. After Benton cornerback Dontae Winston caused and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Maertens threw his fifth TD of the game, again to Harris from 33 yards out, and a 37-7 Panthers’ lead. Maertens finished 11 of 13 for 180 yards and five TDs.

“He’s a good football player,” Neathery said of Harris. “He’s very shifty in the open field. I’ve said from the get-go we’re going to get him the ball. We have to find a way to get him the ball in space.
Offensively, everybody got touches. I thought Cason distributed the ball well.”

After Black’s second safety, sophomore Brandon Hunter returned the free kick 63 yards for a TD with 4:15 left in the first. Hinze would hit a 45-yard field goal to finish the Panthers’ scoring early in the second quarter.

Up next for the Panthers will be the Bryant Hornets, which defeated Pulaski Academy 49-35 in a benefit Tuesday, on Friday, Sept. 5, in the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium.

“We’ll watch our game today, go out and work on fundamentals, and tomorrow we’ll start game-planning for Bryant,” Neathery said. “When it comes to us and Bryant, there really are no secrets. The thing I worry about is guarding against starting slow.

“Last year we spotted them 21 points from fumbles and dumb stuff. We clawed back and got within 14, but we start bad against Bryant, it won’t be pretty.

“I’ve heard Bryant has the best team they’ve had in a few years and I feel like we have the best team we’ve had in a few years, so hopefully it’ll be a competitive ballgame.”