A golden opportunity for the Benton Panthers to begin the 2012 season with a win was literally given away Tuesday evening at War Memorial Stadium. The Panthers fell 42-28 to Class 4A member Arkadelphia in the First Security Kickoff Classic.
Five turnovers and an unusual two-play drive in the fourth quarter doomed the Panthers. Arkadelphia scored the game’s final 22 points to seal the win.
“Turnovers and critical situations killed us,” a disappointed Scott Neathery, Benton's head coach, said following the game. “On offense, we stopped ourselves and put the defense in bad situations all night long.”
Arkadelphia scored the game’s first touchdown when Rashad Young picked up a Terek Beaugard fumble on the game’s second play and returned it 30 yards for the score.
Benton answered immediately with a 68-yard drive culminated with Wallace Foote’s 38-yard touchdown. Tanner Westpheling drilled the extra point, giving the Panthers a 7-7 tie.
On the first play of Arkadelphia’s next possession, center Jake Knight’s shotgun snap sailed over the quarterback’s head and out of the end zone for a safety.
Benton took the free kick at the 50. On their second play, Beaugard hit Foote on a screen pass for 49 yards. On the next play, Foote found paydirt from 4 yards, giving the Panthers 16 points in less than 2 minutes.
The teams traded turnovers, with each committing two on their next possessions before Arkadelphia cashed in. Following a Foote fumble at the 18-yard line, Badger quarterback Jakhari Howell scored from 5 yards out. Howell ran for the two-point conversion, leaving the Panthers ahead 16-14.
Arkadelphia’s first drive of the second quarter covered 53 yards and culminated with quarterback Jakhari Howell racing 19 yards for a touchdown. The PAT failed giving the Badgers a 20-16 lead.
Late in the second quarter, Carson Holloway intercepted a Howell pass and returned it to the Badger 12-yard line. Three plays later, Foote scored from 2 yards. Westpheling’s PAT attempt sailed wide leaving the Panthers with a 22-20 lead at halftime.
Benton stretched the lead to eight when Beaugard passed to Shaun Carey for a 41-yard touchdown. Westpheling’s PAT was blocked.
From that point on, Arkadelphia took charge of the game with a 22-point scoring spree to end the game. With 5:30 left in the third quarter, Howell raced 81 yards for a touchdown. The two-point try tied the game at 28-28.
A Beaugard interception by Badger defensive lineman Emmanuel Cooper was returned to the 1-yard line with 8:35 left in the game. Kris Oliver scored on the ensuing play and the two-point conversion was successful, giving the Badgers a 36-28 lead.
Arkadelphia’s kickoff following the score was a high, sky kick which the Badgers recovered at the Panther 35. Six plays later, Howell found Jahlon Mitchell in the back of the end zone for the game’s final touchdown. The PAT try failed.
“We played hard in the first half,” Neathery said. “But our intensity failed us at the end.”
The Panther defense was led by Carson Holloway with 12 tackles, Collin Simmons and Samonte Wallace contributed 10 tackles. Simmons and Holloway both had interceptions for the Panthers.
The Panthers get some extra time to evaluate and prepare for the second game of the season. The Panthers will play the Jacksonville Red Devils (who lost to Cabot on Tuesday night 28-0) at C.W. Lewis Stadium on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.