The Arkadelphia Badgers have come a long way since getting demolished 56-17 by the Benton Panthers in the second game of the season for both squads last year. The Badgers’ 0-2 start turned into an 0-5 start, including starting the 7-4A with losses at Nashville and vs. Robinson, in which they were outscored by an average of 35.4 – 19.2.
Since that 0-5 start, Arkadelphia won 10 straight, outscoring its opponents 37.0 – 6.1, becoming a juggernaut and shutting out Robinson 21-0 in the 4A state title game.
“We knew they were a good team early when we played them,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said of last year’s Badgers. “Sylvan Hills slipped on them and we got them pretty good. We were really the only team that beat them handily last year, but they’ve got some talent on that team and they’ve got most of those guys back. They’ve got a lot of experience back and they’re going to be a team to contend with in 4A and also going to be a very tough opponent for us. We have to get ourselves right and get ready for a really good team coming in here.”
The Badgers (1-0) pushed that win streak to 11 with a 57-22 trouncing of Sylvan Hills last week. outgaining the Bears 435 to 240 in total offense and netting three takeaways vs. one turnover.
Two Badgers went over 100 yards on the ground, with senior mainstay quarterback Cannon Turner rushing 15 for 154 and senior running back Kyren Harrison going 13 for 130 and six touchdowns. Turner also passed 5 for 12 for 72 yards and a TD vs. one interception. Junior running back Braeden Thomas caught three passes for 45 yards and the TD.
“He’s a very veteran kid,” Harris said of Turner. “He’s the kind of kid you want at quarterback. He’s a leader. The kids respect him, you can tell that. He wants it on his shoulders. He’s a real tough running the football, but he throws it well enough where you have to respect him for that. He’s a competitor and that’s what you want at that position. Cannon does a tremendous job.”
Harris expanded on Harrison.
“Last year he played linebacker for them,” he said. “He runs the ball well, has a little speed where he can get outside, he’s tough between the tackles. We know we have our hands full because they’ve got two good guys in the backfield. You can’t just lock in on one guy.”
The Panthers, too, made last season’s 6A state title game, falling to Greenwood. In fact, all three of Benton’s losses came against state championship teams, losing to Greenwood twice and to the Bryant Hornets in last year’s Salt Bowl.
Again, the Panthers (0-1) opened this season with a 42-14 loss to the Hornets in last week’s Salt Bowl, getting outgained 491–239 in total yardage, allowing over 300 through the air. Though Benton won the takeaway battle 2-0 over the Hornets, the Panthers weren’t efficient on the offensive side of the ball, including dropped passes, and the defense gave up way too many big plays, a few times with a receiver wide open for TDs, or at least huge gains.
“We got to take care of ourself,” Harris said. “We dropped three balls behind the defense and then a fourth ball we missed. We had a wide open receiver and we throw it out of bounds. If you get behind the defense, you got to make them pay and we didn’t do that. Bryant’s a really good team, but we had some chances at times, even as bad as we played. They had a lot to do with that. We’ve just got to take care of ourself and execute better. Bring more energy to the field every snap and don’t get our head down whenever we do have something negative. When adversity hits, how do we respond? Our guys didn’t handle adversity well last week. We’re going to have to play well in order to win.”
A bright spot for the Panthers was senior running back D’Anthony Harper, leading Saline County in rushing after the first week of play, who went for 89 yards and a TD on the ground.
For the Panther defense, sophomore Cain Simmons led the way with nine tackles against Bryant, while senior cornerback Austin Drewry picked off two passes late in the loss.
And the news doesn’t get better for senior quarterback/receiver Peyton Hudgins. Out before the season with a broken collarbone the previous two years, Hudgins made it to the Salt Bowl this year, but he, along with junior cornerback Trevor Standridge, won’t play tonight.
“Hudgins will be out and Trevor Standridge will be out,” Harris said. “Both had concussions. Trevor is doing real well. Peyton has not been doing as well with his concussion. He also took a shot to the chest. It’s a good thing we have an off week next week, hopefully get him healthy.
“Trae Maxwell (linebacker) took a shot to the quad in the second half and it’s still bothering him this week. We may end up keeping him out for precautionary, getting him ready for later in the year because we’ve got to have him.”
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