A Benton Panther tournament team made up of all sixth graders had an impressive run in a tournament at Lake Hamilton High school on Saturday, Nov. 10. From the Future Panthers program, the team of 20 total kids ran through the tournament, playing three games in one day, without surrendering a point.
The Benton sixth graders took down Hot Springs in the morning game 52-0, blew out Sheridan 40-0 in the afternoon game, and shut out Star City in the championship game 20-0 to take the first-place trophy.
"We allowed zero points in three ballgames," Benton Coach John Shelnutt said. "That’s very impressive.This is a very special group. They have raised the bar of football to a whole new level. When they get to high school, they’re going to be a forced to be reckoned with."
Like with any successful team, Shelnutt got his team ready for the tournament by playing better competition.
"We’ve played older kids as well," he said. "We went to Little Rock and played 13-year-old teams and got beat in two of them by one point. I wanted to put them against some older, bigger boys and when we played against our age group, we just killed them."
The Panther tournament team played in the state championship this past weekend, but had some key players miss the tournament due to illness and injury. The loss of the "heart" of the team led to a 22-14 loss to Cabot and a 16-14 loss to Landmark.
"Two of my starters, the heart of the team, were gone," Shelnutt said. "You could tell a big difference. Hunter Hogue leads my defense and he was out with bronchitis. He was calling me and texting me between every game wanting to know what's going on. You miss somebody like that."
The team the Panthers defeated the previous week, Star City, defeated Landmark in the state championship game. Benton was supposed to play a familiar team in Sheridan, which the Panthers defeated 40-0 earlier, but Sheridan didn't show without explanation.
"Sheridan was a no-show on a scheduled game in a tournament," Shelnutt said. "We sat out there for an hour in case they were late or something."
The sixth grade Panthers will end their season beginning on Dec. 1 in the Diamond State Classic in Bentonville.
The names of the Benton players are Jayce Ryan Shelnutt, Logan Easterling, Caleb Easterling, Robert Langford, Blake Hodges, Hunter Hogue, Micheal Allison, Josh Doyle, Ty Nethery, Bradley Smoke, Leo Herzfield, Josh George, Zac Wallace, Cameron Ross, Kelby Caffery, Devin Griffin, Matthew Brazloski, Dylan Ferguson, Critter Hill, and John David Plumley. Coaches are John Shelnutt, Chad Easterling and Matt Brazloski, and "a great group of helpers" according to Shelnutt.