Hounds top Panthers in opener

Heber Springs’ Hunter Kent looks upfield for running room against Newport Friday night at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

September 4, 2020

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

First-half turnovers quickly put the Heber Springs Panthers in a bind during Friday’s football season opener against Newport at Panther Stadium.

Newport turned two interceptions and two fumble recoveries into touchdowns, drove for three more scores and defeated the Panthers 45-6, spoiling the coaching debut of new head coach Todd Wood.

The Greyhounds, who held a 321-121 advantage in total offense, built a 19-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Newport increased its advantage to 45-0 by halftime.

“Newport is a very good team with a lot of speed and size,” Wood said. “That is the kind of a team I want o play early in the season because it will help prepare us for conference play.”

Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and lost possession on the game’s second play on an interception, giving Newport a first down at the Panther 20. Tharon Davis scored on a 2-yard carry, putting the Greyhounds ahead 6-0 with 10:04 left in the opening quarter.

Newport didn’t wait long to regain possession and extend the lead. Newport recovered a fumble at the Panther 10 and Chris Reynolds caught a touchdown pass from Dejai Marshall with 9:02 left in the quarter.

The Greyhounds didn’t let up. After a short punt, Newport drove 65 yards on six plays with Davis scoring on a 6-yard run for an 19-0 lead with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter. Mark Chavez kicked the extra point.

“You don’t want to give a lot of gifts to a team like Newport early in the game,” Wood said. “They scored after two turnovers and then scored again before the end of the quarter. We looked at the scoreboard and saw we trailed 19-0.”

Heber Springs senior Matthew Cook looks to avoid the tackle of Newport’s Josh Drennin in action Friday night at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

Newport added four touchdowns during the second quarter with two scores set up by turnovers.

Jamarriel Balentine finished a 5-play, 31-yard drive following a short punt by scoring on a 2-yard run with 11:12 left in the first half. Marshall ran for a 2-point conversion, increasing Newport’s lead to 27-0.

Turnovers set up the Greyhounds’ next two touchdowns. Davis broke free and rushed 41 yards for a touchdown. Marshall connected on a 10-yard scoring pass to Reynold with 9:13 left in the first half.

Marshall threw his third touchdown pass of the opening half, a 39-yard strike to Tristan Griffen, late in the second quarter for the 45-0 halftime lead.

Davis finished the night with 114 yards rushing and three touchdown on nine carries for Newport, all coming in the first half.

“Newport played good defense,” Wood said. “We must recognize what they are doing and find a way to overcome it. The game snowballed on us and it’s hard to dig out of a hole like we had in the first half.”

Heber Springs began the second half by forcing a Newport punt and drove 76 yards on eight plays for its touchdown. Matthew Cook, who moved to quarterback, dashed into the clear and ran 62 yards for a first-and-goal at the Greyhound 1-yard line. Newport pushed the Panthers back to a fourth-and-goal at the 4 when Cook connected with Hunter Kent on a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone.

“We did better in the second half and moved the ball at times, but Newport was playing backups,” Wood said. “We need to fix everything for next week’s game and move forward.”

Wood said the players, especially the underclassmen, learned during the second half and that will benefit the team in the future.

“We have only eight seniors on a 38-player roster and our inexperience shows,” he said. “Some of the young guys learned new things and by the time we get to conference play. Those players will be more seasoned and that will help us out in the long run”

Heber Springs will play Harding Academy at First Security Stadium in Searcy starting at 7 p.m. Friday.

STATS

SCORING
Newport (2-0)       19  26  0  0 - 45
Heber Springs (0-1)  0   0  6  0 -  6

FIRST QUARTER
Newport - Tharon Davis 2-yard run (kick failed), 10:04
Newport - Dejai Marshall to Chris Reynolds 10-yard pass (kick failed), 9:02
Newport - Davis 6-yard run (Mark Chavez kick), 3:26
SECOND QUARTER
Newport - Jamarriel Balentine 2-yard run (Marshall run), 11:12
Newport - Davis 41-yard run (run failed), 10:42
Newport - Marshall to Isiah Kendall 10-yard pass (kick failed), 9:13
Newport - Marshall to Tristan Griffen 39-yard pass (run failed), 1:14
THIRD QUARTER
Heber Springs - Matthew Cook to Hunter Kent 1-yard pass (pass failed), 4:36

TEAM STATS
First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 4, Newport 6 
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 2, Newport 8 
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 0, Newport 0 
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 6, Newport 14 
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 3/11, Newport 3/6 
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/5, Newport 3/6
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/5, Newport 0/0 
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 23:24, Newport 24:36 
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 2/2, Newport 1/1
Turnovers: Heber Springs 4, Shiloh 1    
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Newport 25
Penalties: Heber Springs 2/10, Newport 3/25 
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 48/121/2.5, Newport 41/321/7.8
Rushing: Heber Springs 26/68/2.6, Newport 26/185/7.1
Passing: Heber Springs 10/22-53-1/2, Newport 12/15-136-3/0
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Newport 4/22
Punts: Heber Springs 3/63/21, Newport 3/108/36 
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, Newport 1 
INDIVIDUAL STATS
OFFENSE  
RUSHING: Heber Springs,  Matthew Cook 9/48/5.3, Diego Rubio 10/36/3.6, Gus Hannah 1/8, Nathan McKee 1/2, Hunter Kent 1/(-4), John McBroome 4/(-22)/(-5.5). Newport, Tharon Davis 9/114/12.7, Keyron Childress 2/49, Jamarriel Balentine 9/43/4.8, Devin Braxton 1/6, Team 1/(-3),  Cayden Johnson 3/(-12)/(-4), Dejai Marshall 1/(-12).
RUSHING RUNS OF 50+: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook (1). Newport, Keyron Childress (1). 
RUSHING RUNS OF 40+: Newport, Tharon Davis (1).
RUSHING RUNS OF 20+: Newport, Tharon Davis (2).
RUSHING RUNS OF 10+: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio (1). Newport, Jamarriel Balentine (2), Tharon Davis (1).
PASSING: Heber Springs, John McBroome 7/14-43-0/2, Matthew Cook 3/8-10-1/0. Newport, Dejai Marshall 12/12-136-3/0, Isiah Kendall 0/3-0-0/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 3/6, Austin Winchester 2/10, Diego Rubio 2/5, Nathan McKee 1/17, Gus Hannah 1/8, Kenan Sneed 1/7. Newport, Isiah Kendall 3/41, Tristan Griffen 3/37, Chris Reynolds 3/32, Jadarius Reed 1/11, Tharon Davis 1/10, Cayden Johnson 1/5.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 58, Diego Rubio 36, John McBroome 21, Gus Hannah 8, Nathan McKee 2, Hunter Kent (-4). Newport, Dejai Marshall 124, Tharon Davis 114, Keyron Childress 49, Jamarriel Balentine 43, Devin Braxton 6, Team (-3), Cayden Johnson (-12), 
PUNT RETURNS: None. 
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 3/42, Matthew Cook 3/15. Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/2.  
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/5, Kiland Ellis 1/0.
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 106, Diego Rubio 83, Nathan McKee 19, Gus Hannah 16, Austin Winchester 10, Kenan Sneed 7, Hunter Kent 2, John McBroome (-22). Newport, Tharon Davis 124, Keyron Childress 49, Jamarriel Balentine 43, Chris Reynolds 42, Isiah Kendall 41, Tristan Griffen 37, Jadarius Reed 11, Devin Braxton 6, Team (-3), Cayden Johnson (-7), Dejai Marshall (-12).
SCORING: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 6. Newport, Tharon Davis 18, Jamarriel Balentine 6, Chris Reynolds 6, Isiah Kendall 6, Tristan Griffen 6, Dajai Marshall 2, Mark Chavez 1 (1-4 PAT kicks).
DEFENSE
INTERCEPTIONS: Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/5, Kiland Ellis 1/0.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Kenan Sneed 1. Newport, Tristan Griffen 1, Jaden Godair 1.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Newport, Aabel Robinson 2/11, Jaden Godair 1/6, Tyler Johnson 1/5.
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, John McBroome 2/39/19.5/0, Matthew Cook 1/24/24/0. Newport, Dejai Marshall 3/108/36/1

(Stats compiled by Philip Seaton)

Panthers host Hounds tonight in opener

Heber Springs quarterback John McBroome throws a pass last week against Johnson County Westside in a benefit scrimmage contest. Heber Springs opens its season tonight at 7 p.m. against Newport. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

September 4, 2020

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs received a passing grade for its performance in last week’s benefit game against Johnson County West Side and hope for a higher grade when the Panthers will host the Newport Greyhounds at 7 p.m. tonight in the 2020 football season opener.

Newport opened its season last week by defeating Little Rock Mills, 47-22.

“It was nice to play the benefit game, but there is nothing like Friday night and playing in front of your fans,” first-year head coach Todd Wood said. “It’s a different level of excitement.”

The Panthers scored 29 of its 42 points against Johnson County Westside in the first of two quarters during the benefit game. Wood said the game came at a good time.

“We went into the (benefit) game looking to see what we could do against a different team,” Wood said. “We learned a lot from our mistakes. That is the purpose of a benefit game. Every player got in the game and that gave them an opportunity to gain experience going into the season.”

Nathan McKee, who was sidelined by an ankle injury for most of the preseason, will be available in Friday’s opener. Linemen Jayden Bremmon, who didn’t play in the benefit game, also will be in the starting lineup.

“They will give us a big boost,” Wood said. “I told the team again this week it is not how we start the season, but how we finish the season. We worked on a lot of things in practice and hope to click against Newport. The first three games are to prepare us for the conference games.”

Wood said John McBroome will start at quarterback, but Matthew Cook and Conner Riddle could see action at that position.

“We worked with John this week about making his reads and throwing the ball quicker to the receivers,” Wood said. “Cook will start at one of the receivers, but we have plays that he could be used at quarterback. Matthew will help us at receiver and quarterback. Conner was the junior high starter last season and also will be another option.”

Diego Rubio will get the nod at running back, with Jackson West, Kenan Sneed and Cook possibly playing in the backfield.

“I was impressed by Diego with his hard work and determination from the first day of practice. “Jackson is not only a good runner, but a good receiver. Kenan is not as fast as those two players, but he me makes up with his ability of how the defense is playing. Cook also is an option.”

McKee’s return to the lineup will strengthen the receiving corps. He and Hunter Kent were two of the team’s leading receivers in 2019.

“Nathan was one of our better returning receivers,” Wood said. “Hunter has speed with good hands and can help us stretch the defense. Cook and West also are good receivers.”

The coach said two newcomers have potential to balance the receiving corps.

“Gus Hannah was one of the most impressive receivers during summer camp,” Wood said. “He runs good routes and takes care of the ball. Easton Cusick is a sophomore and proved to be a reliable receiver. We won’t have to depend on one or two receivers to carry the load.”

Heber Springs junior Gus Hannah kicks a PAT in the Panthers scrimmage contest last week against Johnson County Westside. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

Wood said the offensive line quickly learned the new blocking schemes. Zach Thomas anchors the line at center, with tackle Bremmon and guard Preston Roberson on the left side. Thad Bray, Payton Owens and Trevor Weathers will alternate on the right side.

“They played with a lot of confidence in the benefit game,” Wood said. “We have the guys who can do the job. They are improving with their run game blocking. I’m pleased with their work.”

Heber Springs will also play a different defense than previous seasons. The Panthers will line up in a 3-4 alignment, but occasionally play a four-player front.

Bray, Bremmon, Owens and Weathers will be the players to watch on the front line. Roberson, who will start at inside linebacker, will be the fourth lineman.

“The play on the defensive line is very important,” Wood said. “We must control the line of scrimmage and take away the other team’s running game.”

Sneed will start at inside linebacker opposite Roberson, with Rubio and West at the outside linebackers. Dakota Farmer and Cook will provide depth at inside and outside linebacker.

McGee and Cook will start at the safeties. Kent and Farmer will be the cornerbacks. Hannah will provide depth at safety and cornerback, and Riddle will see playing time at safety.

Wood said he is ready to start the season and play one of the top-ranked teams in Class 3A.

“Newport is very quick with a lot of speed,” Wood said. “They have a very good running back and quarterback. The quarterback played well against Mills and makes good decisions. They also like to pass and have two tall (6-foot-5) receivers. Newport will put you in bad situations and take advantage of your mistakes.”

Wood said execution will decide who wins Friday’s game.

“We must stop Newport’s big plays, limit our turnovers and create turnovers on defense,” Wood said. “We must execute on offense and defense, especially doing the little things right. On defense, we need 11 guys going to the ball and make things happen. If we can do all of that, we will have a good night.”

NOTEBOOK

NEWPORT (1-0) AT HEBER SPRINGS (0-0)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Panther Stadium, Heber Springs
RADIO: 101.9 The Lake. Billy Morgan will handle play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color. Panther Pregame begins at 6:45. 
STREAMING: 101.9 The Lake will also be providing live streaming of the game.
LAST WEEK: Newport 47, Little Rock Mills 22; Heber Springs was idle
SERIES: Newport leads 10-4
LAST MEETING: Heber Springs 33, Newport 20, 2015
NOTES: The two teams were scheduled to meet in the first season of football for Heber Springs in 1913, but as was the case in the early decades of high school football, the game was not played. The two teams would finally meet for the first time on November 5, 1937 at Newport (a 45-0 win for the Greyhounds) ... Newport claimed another win in the series in 1945 before the two teams would meet again 57 years later when Newport moved down in classification and was placed in the 2AAA conference with Heber Springs in 2002. The Greyhounds would win the first four games by a combined 169-47 before the Panthers claimed their first win in the series with a 24-14 win at Newport in 2006. After a Newport win in 2007, the two teams were placed in separate conferences but would meet again in the 4A quarterfinals in 2008 where the Greyhounds ended Heber Springs' season with a 46-14 victory. In 2010, Newport was placed in the 2-4A with Heber Springs and the two teams split the six meetings before the Greyhounds dropped down to class 3A starting in the 2016 cycle ... Though the two teams took a 57-year hiatus, after the Panther football program returned from a two-year absence 1949, the Heber Springs varsity team would play Newport's "B" team. The Greyhound second-teamers would win the first contest, 13-6, in Heber Springs, but Heber Springs' would claim victories over Newport's "B" in 1958, 1960 and 1963 -- the 1960 win over Newport "B" was the Panthers lone victory of the season ... Newport running back Tharon Davis has been offered by North Alabama ... Newport sophomore quarterback Dejai Marshall was 22 of 27 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns last week against Little Rock Mills ... Senior Night festivities began at 6:15 p.m.

-- By PHILIP SEATON