It has not been an easy season for the Benton Panthers. With each new week, a new injury seems to appear, making it difficult for the Panthers to find their rhythm. The biggest loss so far — senior quarter back Dylan Harris. Add to the fact that they play in the 6A South, one of the toughest conferences in the state, and you end up with one forgettable and miserable season.
To start the year, the Benton Panthers showed huge promise as being a contender in the 6A South with a 21-14 loss to now conference-leading Bryant and followed with a huge win over Jacksonville.
But it was the 42-35 loss to Greenbrier where things took a turn for the worse. Harris left in the second quarter with an injury and was forced to sit out the rest of the year after it was determined to be an ACL tear.
The injuries began to rack up week after week as now nine starters have been bitten by the bug including: senior defensive end Darren Wharford, senior offensive lineman Zach Johnson, junior linebacker Carson Holloway, senior defensive lineman Connor Tate, junior defensive lineman Connor Henningson and senior wide receiver Greg Pryor.
Senior fullback Trevor Nix has been dealing with a hamstring injury as well but has fought through the pain and played in almost every game. Coach Scott Neathery said he is only “running about half speed all the time.”
“It has been tough,” Neathery said. “Losing not just players, but starters is tough. It is what it is though. We have to fight through adversity and the next man up is expected to execute and get after it and play hard.”
Tonight, the Benton Panthers will face Little Rock Fair for the final regular season game beginning at 7 p.m.
“Here is the deal, they have one or two guys that are going to be fast and athletic,” Neathery said. “We need to make sure we bottle that speed in.”
Last week, the Panthers lost to El Dorado 48-7 after the Wildcats (8-1, 5-1 6A South) had 473 yards of total offense while holding Benton (2-7, 1-5) to 185, including 25 yards rushing on 30 attempts.
Lucas Reed completed 13 of 16 passes for 224 yards. Wendell Thompson caught seven passes for 152 yards and Marque Burris rushed for 124 yards and four touchdowns for El Dorado.
“El Dorado is one of the best teams in the state,” Neathery said. “They are very good. I still can’t see how Lake Hamilton beat them. I believe El Dorado is head and shoulders above Lake Hamilton.
“We ran into a buzz saw.”
Benton sophomore QB Tarek Beaugard threw a 16-yard TD pass to senior receiver Desmond Mauldin on fourth-and-4 with 5:40 left in the second quarter for the Panthers’ only points. Fair has lost all nine games this season, including five league games by an average of 36 points.
“I really thought we have played hard all year long with the exception of the Sheridan game,” Neathery said. “That was probably the only game that we didn’t compete.”
Neathery added that against Texarkana there were times where Benton was a little flat, but he felt like that those two games were winnable if the Panthers had just executed a little better.
No matter what happens tonight, the Panthers will play in the playoffs next week. More than likely, Benton will face Marion in the first round.
However, if Searcy loses to Mountain Home and Marion beats Jacksonville, then the Panthers will face Searcy. But if Searcy wins, then the Panthers will play at Marion.