For the second week in a row, the Benton Freshmen Panther football lost a heartbreaker by just one point. Thursday night at John McConnell Stadium, Conway Blue upended the Panthers 14-13.
The loss leaves Benton 6-2 on the season and 5-2 in Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play.
Benton received the game’s opening kickoff and after being held by the Wampus Cat defense, Drew Dyer got off a 37-yard punt to pin Conway back at its own 20-yard line.
Wampus Cat tailback Jeff Thomas broke several tackles on Conway’s first snap of the game and raced 80 yards for a touchdown. The extra point gave Conway an early 7-0 lead with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Panthers responded by driving from their own 13-yard line to the Conway 13-yard line. The promising drive ended, however, when Colton Nix was blindsided after catching a Cason Maertens pass and fumbled. Nix left the game with an injury and didn’t return.
In his absence, Drew Dyer stepped in and had a big night for Benton. Dyer would finish the game with 165 yards on 23 carries.
Dyer scored the first Panther touchdown of the night following a Buddy Riggan recovery of a Conway fumble. Dyer was on the receiving end of a 38-yard touchdown pass from Maertens with 1:57 left in the first half. Roy Blalock’s PAT tied the game at 7.
But just as the week before at North Little Rock, the Panthers were victimized by an opponent’s score just before halftime. Conway took possession following the kickoff at their own 32-yard line and were able to march 68 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with just 15 seconds left in the half. The extra point gave the Wampus Cats a 14-7 halftime lead. Conway outgained the Panthers in total yardage for the first half 220 to 158.
An inspired Panther offense took the field to start the second half and marched 85 yards with Dyer accounting for the entire yardage on 11 carries and one pass reception. Dyer scored on an 8-yard run with 3:04 left in the third quarter. The extra point attempt was bobbled and Conway maintained a one point lead at 14-13.
The teams traded possessions with Benton getting the ball at their own 6-yard line, 94 yards from the end zone with 2:39 left in the game. Maertens engineered what looked to be a game-winning drive, but on the game’s final play, he was stopped short of the end zone when he was forced from the pocket to preserve the Wampus Cat upset win. The win was Conway’s second of the conference season and gave them a 3-5 overall record.
After yielding 220 yards in the first half, the Panther defense stood tall in the second half, surrendering just 51 yards. Bill Williams led the Panther defense with six tackles; two tackles-for-loss. Kyler Nitschke forced the only Conway fumble of the night. Zach Whittamore and John Penn also contributed five tackles.
The Panther offense rolled up 378 yards of total offense with Dyer leading the way. Maertens completed 11 of 21 passes for 155 yards, giving him 991 yards passing for the season. Maertens has now thrown 13 touchdowns with just one interception. His favorite target on Thursday night was Grayson Morrow who had five catches for 47 yards.
Benton looks to get back to their winning ways next Thursday night when they travel to play the Lake Hamilton Wolves. Kickoff next Thursday is at 7p.m.
The Panther eighth graders got back on a winning track with a 14-0 win over Conway Blue’s eighth graders. Ty Callahan and Braylon Alcorn scored touchdowns for the Panthers. Matt Warrick converted both of his PAT attempts. The eighth grade Panthers are now 3-5 on the season and will play at Lake Hamilton next Thursday at 5:30.