After a sub-par performance led to a 38-14 loss to the Catholic Rockets last week at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for their first 6A East loss, the Benton Panthers have a tough task on hand tonight when they welcome the defending 6A state champion El Dorado Wildcats to Everett Field in Benton.
According to Benton Coach Brad Harris, last week’s loss has been a focus this week for the wrong reasons.
“The first thing we talked to the guys about was just our attitude and effort on how to approach the football game,” Harris said. “That was the main thing lacking last week against Catholic. We matched up well with Catholic, we just didn’t lock in and play like we were capable of playing. Didn’t execute plays. We didn’t play to our abilities.”
The Panthers (1-2, 1-1) did not play well offensively or defensively vs. the Rockets as junior running back Dominic Keeton, running for 114 yards last week, carved Benton up defensively, slipping out of tackles on a regular basis.
“We missed 26 tackles last week,” Harris explained. “That’s terrible. I’ve been coaching 25 years and I can’t ever remember a game when we had that many missed tackles. That was kind of the effort thing. It’s not we’re a bad defense. I think we can be a really good defense. We just didn’t wrap them up. We kept trying to knock him (Keeton) off his feet and he kept his balance and kept his legs churning, did a good job. We’re going to see a running back similar to Catholic last week, but probably more explosive.”
That Wildcat running back is senior Shadarious Plummer, last year named the finals MVP and running for 1,290 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. Last week, Plummer ran for 96 yards and a TD.
“He was their starting running back last year and the MVP of the state championship game last year,” Harris said. “He is a very good running back, very electric with the ball. He doesn’t have just a ton of breakaway speed, but he’s very shifty, very elusive, hard to tackle. He’s by far their best offensive weapon. Offensive line seems to be pretty solid.”
The Wildcats, defeating Greene County Tech 44-6 last week for their first win after falling to Marion (27-23) and Camden Fairview (39-21), also try to get the ball to senior DeAndra Burns, eight catches for 121 yards and two TDs last week.
“He’s not a big kid but he’s committed to go to Arkansas State,” Harris said. “He won the 100 and 200 meters in 6A. He can run, very explosive. They try to get him the ball in different ways.”
El Dorado might have settled in at quarterback after senior Kolin Parker’s performance last week, throwing 12 of 18 for 206 yards and three TDs. He is competing with senior Jon Brooks Elia.
“They’ve rotated some guys in,” Harris said. “With Plummer, they direct snap to him a lot. They’re searching at quarterback, trying to find the right answer. That’s where they’ve struggled offensively, but they have some weapons, though.
The Benton offense, inefficient and held to 14 points on two Braylen Russell TDs, will contend against a solid Wildcats defense.
“Defensively, they’re based out of a 4-front, play man coverage,” Harris said. “They’re going to try to pressure you into doing bad stuff. They’ve got some players over there.”
The Panthers have had trouble getting consistency at quarterback. After senior Jack Woolbright was 11 of 12 for 191 yards and four TDs in a rout over Sylvan Hills two weeks ago, he finished 13 for 30, inaccurate on several of his throws, for 172 yards, with an interception returned for a TD. Russell was held to 78 yards on 22 carries.
“We never got it going offensively at all,” Harris said. “Just a frustrating night with Jack missing some plays and the offensive line missing some blocking schemes up front in the run game. They’re still protecting the quarterback well, I don’t think we’ve given up a sack all season, but we’re missing some run blocks.”
Getting the passing game going and getting the running game kinks out will be key tonight.
“Catholic knew they could pressure us and force us to throw the football,” Harris explained. “They crowded the box all night with seven and made it tough on us. That’s what teams are going to do until we prove we can throw the football week in and week out. We’ve been focusing on it.”
With junior transfer quarterback Gary Rideout still unable to throw it after breaking his hand in the Salt Bowl, though he will play some at cornerback tonight, Harris said Woolbright and junior Cline Hooten, 2 for 5 for 23 yards and a pick in limited action last week, should both see some early action.
Kickoff tonight at Everett Field is 7 p.m. For those who cannot attend, look on YouTube for the Benton Football Network and the call by Jim Gardner, Terry Benham and Dio Vanucci, with former Panther All-State quarterback Cason Maertens on the sidelines. Pregame starts at 6:30.