Panthers fall in South title game

Benton senior back Drew Dyer runs in the Panthers' 41-28 loss to the Pine Bluff Zebras Thursday in the 6A South title game. Dyer finished with 6 carries for 65 yards and caught a receiving touchdown. BLAKE FOGLEMAN/Special to The Saline Courier
Tony Lenahan
Staff Writer

On an eight-game winning streak coming into Senior Night, the Benton Panthers ran into a Zebra kick on a rainy Thursday night at Panthers Stadium. The Pine Bluff Zebras defeated the Panthers 41-28 to win the 6A South Conference championship and earn the South’s No. 1 seed and a bye going into the 6A State Tournament. Benton, which beat the Zebras for the conference title last season, will also get a bye as the South’s No. 2 seed.
The 13-point margin of victory seemed like it was going to be a 50-point margin when the Zebras (10-0, 7-0 South) jumped on the Panthers (8-2, 6-1) in the first quarter, rushing out to a 21-0 lead after senior Ladarius Skelton’s 80-yard bomb to a wide-open Casey Higgins with 3:53 left in the first quarter.
“It was the first quarter,” Benton Coach Scott Neathery said. “Why do we come out here and not play the first quarter? We made way too many mistakes in the first half, just things we haven’t done all year long. We have to get to where we can play in a big game. Apparently we can’t play in a big game. We have to get to that point and make something happen.”
But the Panthers wouldn’t go away. Two series after the TD bomb, the Panthers manufactured an 8-play, 82-yard drive which junior Brandon Hunter capped with a 15-yard TD run and 21-7 Panther deficit with 10:14 left in the half. Junior receiver Trey Pepper had two receptions for 36 yards and senior Colten Nix had a 16-yard catch during the drive.