BENTON – The Benton Freshman Panthers had lost it’s three previous games before undefeated Conway Blue came to Panther Stadium on Thursday night. Benton responded to the 5-0 Blue team in a big way, not allowing Conway a first down all game in a 24-7 victory to improve the Fr. Panthers to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference.
“They came in 5-0 and I felt like we had a really good game plan to go against them,” Benton Coach Randy Shaw said. “The defense didn’t give up a first down the whole game. We had one miscue on special teams and they returned the kickoff [for a touchdown]. The defense played lights out.”
Not only did the Panthers hold Conway to just 3 total yards, Benton gained 315 on the offensive side and place kicker Matt Warrick hit his first field goal of the season, along with three PATs and kicked an onside kick which was recovered by Benton.
“It was a total team effort,” Shaw said. “Offense and defense really bought in. The last three weeks we’ve been playing really, really hard. We had some really tough losses and they did a good job of coming back and responding and executing our game plan. Offense, defense, special teams, scout team did a great job this week. They gave us a really good look [mimicking Conway], which is really important to get that look in practice.”
The Panthers started the scoring when Braylon Alcorn scored from a yard out to cap a 10-play, 64-yard drive to make it 7-0 after Warrick’s PAT, while the defense set the theme early holding Conway to a three-and-out.
Benton had the ball with fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line on its next possession when Brandon Hunter was stopped at the 1-foot line.
“I thought we had a chance to get in, but I guess his knee was down,” Shaw said. “He tried everything he could to get in the end zone. We even had linemen pushing him.”
But, it wouldn’t be long before the Panthers would score again. Benton would recover a Conway fumble shortly after at the 1, where Alcorn scored his second TD of the game to make it 14-0 a minute into the second quarter.
It was Conway’s next possession when the Cats scored on a 74-yard kickoff return to make it 14-7.
Chandler Clift would just miss an interception on a bubble screen, but Conway would go three-and-out anyway as Benton took over at their own 41. Hunter would end the drive with an off-tackle 29-yard TD to make it 21-7 just before halftime.
The Panthers would recover an onside kick to open the second half, and on Conway’s first offensive possession of the half, Ty Callahan, who had 155 yards rushing, picked off a pass and returned it 45 yards to Blue’s 25-yard line. Benton would settle for Warrick’s 24-yard field goal to make it 24-7, which would be the final.
“We had our best week of practice,” Shaw said. “Best week all year. That makes a big difference. For them to come out and dominate an undefeated team like this, it showed a lot about our kids.
“The defensive line played a great game. Chandler Clift had a really good game. We challenged him and he’s responded great these past few weeks. Mel Hegwood is flying to the ball. Jacob Cooper, Alec Crowder played really well. Matt Warrick did a great job kicking.”
Hunter had 88 yards on the ground and Alcorn had 38 yards rushing with the two TDs.
“Braylon Alcorn ran the ball tough for us all night,” Shaw said. “He blocked well out of the backfield.”
Shaw reiterated how well his defense played.
“They knew this team was 5-0 and they stepped up to the challenge. They were looking forward to playing a 5-0 team. We dominated. The defense dominated the game.”
Up next for the Fr. Panthers will be Catholic in Little Rock.
“From what I’ve seen on film, so far, they’ve got a pretty good running back, moves well, pretty shifty,” Shaw said. “We’re going to have to play well and we need another week like this week.”
The eighth grade suffered its first loss of the season, falling to Blue 22-12. The loss dropped the Benton eighth grade to 4-1-1.
After Conway opened the scoring at 6-0, Benton responded when quarterback Drew Chilton ran 70 yards to tie it up at 6-6. Beau Brewer would score from 2 yards out to make it 12-6 before Conway would take control. The eighth grade Cats would score from 12 yards out to make it 14-12 Conway after a successful 2-point conversion, and with about two minutes remaining in the game, Benton threw a tipped interception which was returned 53 yards for a TD.