Panthers face Blue Devils in 6A semis

Benton senior defensive lineman Ty Neathery, 91, brings down Jonesboro quarterback Cross Jumper, 9, for a sack in last week’s 38-37 Panthers quarterfinals victory at the Benton Athletic Complex. The Panthers travel to West Memphis to take on the Blue Devils in the 6A semifinals. BLAKE FOGLEMAN/Special to The Saline Courier
Staff Writer

After an epic finish in which the Benton Panthers survived a 38-37 quarterfinals win over the Jonesboro Hurricane last Friday, the Panthers look to avenge a quarterfinals loss from last year. The Panthers did an 11 a.m. walk-through and leave at noon to West Memphis today to take on an undefeated Blue Devils team in the 6A state semifinals at Hamilton-Shultz Field at 7 p.m. with rain in the forecast. The Blue Devils upended the Panthers 39-21, scoring the final 18 points, in last year’s state quarterfinals.
The East No. 1 seed Blue Devils (11-0) handled the Pine Bluff Zebras 34-6 last week and have depended on their defense, which gives up just 10.5 points per game. That West Memphis defense will have to step up against the West No. 2 seed Panthers (9-2), which are averaging 42.5 points per game and return to the semis for the first time since 2016 when they lost to eventual champion Russellville.
“That’s where they’re really good - on defense,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “Those guys have given up 116 points on the year, 10.5 per game, that’s impressive. They’re 11-0. I think the most somebody has scored on them was 23. They’re really impressive on defense.
“They’re big up front, their linebackers are athletic kids that run to the ball really well and they make plays in the secondary. They’re one of the more talented defenses we’ve seen all year. When you see them in person, they remind you of Bryant’s defensive front, physical guys. And their linebackers are big like that, too. They do a great job.”
Benton got a big boost boost last week when senior running back Zak Wallace returned after a two-game hiatus due to an ankle injury. Wallace gained 119 total yards, 66 rushing and a touchdown, in the one-point win over the Hurricane. For the season, Wallace has run for 1,250 yards and 18 TDs behind a big offensive line.
“They are big and physical,” West Memphis Coach Billy Elmore said of the Panthers in an article by Blue Devil Sports. “They won the 6A weightlifting (championship) last year. That just shows they do have some really strong kids. They have a good running back back from last year. You don’t want him running downhill because he can explode through a hole.”
The Panthers and Blue Devils kick off at 7 p.m. at Hamilton-Schultz Field in West Memphis. The victor will take on the winner of Greenwood and Sylvan Hills in the 6A state championship game at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 1, at noon. Listen to tonight’s game on The Ride 106.7 FM. Fidelity Local 6 customers can watch on channel 406 and information for live stream can be found on bentonpantherfootball.com.
Read the rest in Friday's The Saline Courier.

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