The Benton Freshman Panthers ripped off 40 unanswered points, after falling behind 8-0, to knock out the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats 40-8. After a couple of sluggish weeks (an 8-0 win over Cabot North and a 35-28 loss at Lake Hamilton), the Freshman Panthers rebounded in convincing fashion.
The win improves Benton to 3-2 overall, 3-1 in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. The Panthers are currently in third place in the conference, behind Bryant and Cabot South, which are both 4-0.
The Panthers opening possession saw a couple of first downs before Benton turned it over on downs at their own 42-yard line. Ten plays later, which took 5:55 off the clock, North Little Rock quarterback Javonte Harris scored on a 2-yard run and converted the 2-point play for an 8-0 Wildcat lead.
Benton responded immediately. After Hudson Chandler completed an 11-yard pass to Christopher Barnard, Jake Burks threw to a wide-open Colby Howard for a 49-yard touchdown.
After a three-and-out, the Panthers regained possession at their own 36-yard line. It took just one play for Barnard to race 64 yards for the go-ahead score.
The Panthers punched it in again with 29 seconds before halftime on Howard’s second touchdown reception, this time from 19 yards from Chandler and an 18-8 Benton lead.
A scoreless third quarter ended with Barnard and Alvin Allen combining to sack a North Little Rock punt attempt to set the Panthers up at the Wildcat 14-yard line to open the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, Chandler tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Midkiff and a 2-point pass to Burks for a 26-8 lead.
Chase Harding picked off a Wildcat pass on North Little Rock’s next possession, and three plays later, Barnard reached pay dirt on a 3-yard run for a 32-8 Benton lead.
Benton forced another Wildcat turnover on the next possession when Jake Herbner sacked Harris, forcing a fumble that Harding recovered and returned to the North Little Rock 32-yard line.
Barnard put the icing on the cake on the second play of the ensuing drive on a 32-yard jaunt and bulled in for the 2-point conversion.
The Panther defense held a traditionally prolific North Little Rock offense to just 129 total yards (105 rushing, 24 passing) while forcing three turnovers. A relentless Panther pass rush netted sacks by Allen, Barnard, Keandre Boson, Jordan Burr, Herbner and Kaden Long. Joshua Gurrieri also recovered a Wildcat fumble for the Panther defense.
Offensively, Benton racked up 347 total yards (193 rushing, 154 passing). Barnard carried 13 times for 162 yards. Howard led Benton receiving with three catches for 92 yards.
The Freshman Panthers will hit the road next Thursday to play Conway Blue at John McConnell Stadium. The eighth-grade Panthers (4-0) were off this week due to a cancellation by North Little Rock. The undefeated eighth-graders will also play Conway Blue next Thursday with kick off at 5:30.