Panthers fall to Comets, head to playoffs

Heber Springs’ Jackson West, Preston Roberson and Nathan McKee celebrate after teammate Chris Edwards recovers an onside kick to start the second half. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO


The Entrance of a new quarterback helped Little Rock Mills University Studies to turn the tide during the third  quarter against the Heber Springs Panthers at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Freshman Achilles Ringo completed 8-of-10 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown and led the Comets to a 34-24 win against the Panthers in a 2-4A Conference game. Mills earned a No. 5 seed for the Class 4A football playoffs.

Ringo replaced sophomore starter Q.J. King, who completed 4-of-5 passes for 84 yards and rushed for 44 yards on eight attempts during the first half. King moved to receiver during the second half and caught four passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.

“He (Ringo) is Mills’ all-everything quarterback,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “He has a better arm than the other quarterback (King) and was more accurate. We knew when he came into the game, Mills was going to throw the ball more, take advantage of its speed and try and spread the field. That was the difference in the game.”

Wood said Ringo forced the Heber Springs defense to alter its game plan during the second half.

“Mills put us in a situation of defending the entire field and tackling in open spaces,” Wood said. “That made it difficult on us.”

The running game also was another difference in the game. Heber Springs had 25 yards to 185 yards for Mills. The Panthers reached the red zone six times, scoring a touchdown and kicking a field goal.

Keilon Dais rushed for 94 of his 117 yards during the second half for the Comets. Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook was held to 13 yards rushing, including three quarterback sacks. Mills converted 6-of-11 third-down plays, 5-of-7 in the first half. The Panthers were 2-of-10 on third down. Mills held a 374-309 advantage in total offense.

The loss ended Heber Springs’ bid to qualify for the playoffs.  However, the Panthers will participate because of the Arkansas Activities Association allowing all teams into the playoffs because of COVID-19.

Heber Springs (1-6 conference, 2-8 overall) will play a play-in game at Trumann (3-4 3-4A Conference, 5-5 overall) starting at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to play Malvern in the first round.

Heber Springs controlled the first half thanks to quarterback Matthew Cook’s pin-point passing. Cook completed 15-of-21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns during the first half and 23-of-37 for 211 yards with one interception. Nathan McKee completed 2-of-2 passes for 71 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Gus Hannah in the first half.

McKee was the leading receiver with nine catches for 69 yards, followed by Easton Cusick, who caught five passes for 49 yards. Hannah had four receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson West caught four passes for 28 yards and one touchdown.

Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and drove 62 yards on seven plays to take the initial lead. On the second play of the game, Hannah caught a pass from Cook and ran for a 26-yard gain and a first down at the Mills 20-yard line. Cook rushed for 16 yards for a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.

The Panthers netted a minus four yards on the next three plays, but they decided to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line.

Cook passed to West for the touchdown with 9:51 left in the first quarter. Heber Springs failed on a 2-point conversion and led, 6-0.

Heber Springs scored again before the end of the quarter. After holding on downs at the Mills 29-yard line, the Panthers increased their lead when McKee passed to Hannah with 1:17 remaining. Diego Rubio ran for a 2-point conversion and the 14-0 lead.

Mills reduced the Heber Springs lead in half on a five-play,  52-yard drive. King connected with freshman Kylon Deadman on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 9:48 left in the first half. The Comets’ 2-point conversion attempt failed.

Heber Springs responded with a four-play, 40-yard drive. Cook passed 37 yards to Hannah for the score with 8:12 left in the first half. Hannah kicked the extra point for the 21-6 lead.

Mills scored before halftime on Keilon Davis’ 2-yard run with 4:12 remaining. The 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful as the Panthers led 21-12 at halftime.

“It felt good going into halftime leading by nine points,” Wood said. “We were scoreboard watching because we needed Clinton to lose and win by eight points against Mills. We led by 12 points later and felt good about everything. Unfortunately, we stalled on a couple of drives and then came the turnovers.”

Heber Springs increased its lead to 24-12 on Hannah’s 22-yard field goal with 7:26 left in the third quarter.

A shift of momentum began on the next series when Mills needed eight plays during a 60-yard drive. Ringo finished by scoring on a 3-yard run with 4:27 left in the third quarter. The Comets’ 2-point conversion failed as the Panthers’ lead was reduced to 24-18.

Mills took the lead with 1:14 to go in the third quarter. Davis broke free at the line of scrimmage and scored on a 64-yard run. He also ran for the 2-point conversion, giving Mills a 26-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Comets scored an insurance touchdown with 11:26 left in the game when Ringo passed 33 yards to King. Davis ran for a 2-point conversion.

“The players showed a lot of fight, like that they did in previous games,” Wood said. “Since Aug. 3, I watched the players improve every day in practice and in games. That is a tribute to the players. I could not ask any more from them.”


Little Rock Mills (3-4, 4-6)   0 12 14  8 - 34
Heber Springs (1-6, 2-8)      14  7  3  0 - 24 
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Jackson West 8-yard pass (run failed), 9:51
Heber Springs, Nathan McKee to Gus Hannah 29-yard pass (Diego Rubio run), 1:17
Mills, Q.J. King to Kylan Deadmon 49-yard pass (run failed), 9:47
Heber Springs, Cook to Hannah 37-yard pass (Hannah kick), 8:12
Mills, Keilon Davis 2-yard (run failed), 4:12
Heber Springs, Hannah 22-yard kick, 7:26
Mills, Achilles Ringo 3-yard pass (pass failed), 4:27
Mills, Davis 64-yard run (Davis run), 1:14
Mills, Ringo to King 33-yard pass (Davis run), 11:36

First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 3, Mills 5
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 7, Mills 8
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 3, Mills 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Mills 13
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/10, Mills 6/11
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/6, Mills 2/4
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 7/3, Mills 3/2
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 23:26, Mills 24:34
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Mills 5/3
Turnovers: Heber Springs 3, Mills 3     
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Mills 8
Penalties: Heber Springs 8/59, Mills 14/119
Rushing: Heber Springs 15/25/1.7, Mills 37/185/5
Passing: Heber Springs 25/39-283-3/1, Mills 12/16-189-2/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 54/308/5.7, Mills 53/374/7.1
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Mills 3/24
Punts: Heber Springs 1/36, Mills 0
Inside 20: Heber Springs 1

RUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 10/18, Diego Rubio 4/11, Nathan McKee 1/(-4). Mills, Keilon Davis 18/117/2, Q.J. King 9/62, Achilles Ringo 3/(-2), Nikolas Watson 2/12, Team 2/(-4), Carlos Deadmon 1/(-2).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 23/37-211-2/1, Nathan McKee 2/2-71-1/0. Mills, Achilles Ringo 8/10-105-1/0, Q.J. King 4/6-84-1/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 9/69, Easton Cusick 5/49, Gus Hannah 4/120/2, Jackson West 4/28/1, Diego Rubio 2/9, Austin Winchester 1/7. Mills, Keilon Davis 6/66, Q.J. King 4/58/1, Kylan Deadmon 1/49/1, Jalon Davis 1/16.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 229, Nathan McKee 77, Diego Rubio 11. Mills, Q.J. King 142, Keilon Davis 117, Achilles Ringo 103, Nikolas Watson 12.
PUNT RETURNS: Clinton, none
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Jackson West 2/3, Nathan McKee 1/23, Diego Rubio 1/6. Mills, none.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Mills, Wesley Guy 1/8
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Mills, Dylan Parks 1/15
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Gus Hannah 120, Nathan McKee 88, Easton Cusick 49, Jackson West 31, Diego Rubio 26, Matthew Cook 18, Austin Winchester 7. Mills, Keilon Davis 183, Q.J. King 120, Kylan Deadmon 49, Jalon Davis 16, Dylan Parks 15, Nikolas Watson 12, Wesley Guy 8, Achilles Ringo (-2), 
SCORING: Heber Springs, Gus Hannah 16 (1/1 XP/XPA, 1/1 FGA. Made: 22-yards), Jackson West 6, Diego Rubio 2. Mills, Keilon Davis 16, Kylan Deadmon 6, Achilles Ringo 6, Q.J. King 6.
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook  1/36/36/1/0.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Mills, Wesley Guy 1/11, Hunter Lowery 1/8, Nikolas Watson 1/4.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Kenan Sneed, Diego Rubio (onside kick), Chris Edwards (onside kick). Mills, Wesley Guy.
INTERCEPTIONS: Mills, Carlos Deadmon

Panther GameDay: Comets soar into Heber Springs


Heber Springs, like other Arkansas high schools, didn’t know in August if Friday night football would happen in 2020.

COVID-19 changed the game, but teams received the go–ahead in early September to start the season.

The Panthers accomplished a goal of completing the regular season by hosting Little Rock Mills in a 2-4A Conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Heber Springs (1-5 conference, 2-7 overall) will seek to rebound from last week’s 32-26 loss at Clinton. Mills (2-4 conference, 3-6 overall) is coming off a 14-6 win against Southside Batesville at home.

“We were looking in the beginning to get three nonconference games in,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “After that, we wanted to make it through the conference season. We are ready to finish the conference season.”

Under normal circumstances, Heber Springs would be fighting for a playoff berth. The Arkansas Activities Association is allowing all teams an option of playing in the postseason because of games statewide being canceled during the season because of COVID-19.

Wood said the plan is to participate in the new postseason format with a win against the Comets. He said if the Panthers lose, the decision to continue playing would be re-evaluated

Schools will have until 8 a.m. Saturday to notify the AAA if they want to opt out of the playoffs. The AAA is expected to announce the complete postseason field by late Saturday.

“It was a tough situation this week for the players, but they understand they need to come back and play well,” Wood said.  “Our focus has been to fix our mistakes from the Clinton game and prepare for Mills. It’s probably the final home game for the seniors. They want to leave something good for their teammates and can do that by playing well against Mills.”

The Panthers can earn a No. 5 seed with a win and if Clinton loses at Lonoke and Southside defeats Bald Knob. If that occurs, it would come down to the point system.

Wood explained to his players not to worry about any playoff game, just focus on defeating Mills.

“Mills will be big and physical with a fast quarterback and speedy running backs,” he said. “We need to get every guy to the ball and make tackles. Mills wants to run the ball first, but they will pass. We are preparing to stop the running game.”
Heber Springs and the Comets have wins against a common opponent — Southside. Mills’ other conference win was against Clinton.

Wood said consistency on offense will be one of the keys for a victory. Nathan McKee, the Panthers’ leading receiver on the season, left with an ankle injury during the third quarter of the Clinton game. Wood said McKee returned to practice Wednesday and expected to play on Friday. McKee has caught 42 catches for 546 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Matthew Cook will be one of the players to watch. Cook has completed 107-of-194 passes for 1,265 yards and nine touchdowns. He also is a threat in the running game with 415 yards on 105 carries and scored four touchdowns.

Senior Diego Rubio has rushed for 383 yards on 81 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.

“We hope Nathan will be ready to go on Friday,” Wood said. “It is important that we execute well in all areas on offense. We need to get into a good rhythm and do a good job of holding onto the ball.”

Wood said it’s important for the running game to become more productive against Mills, which plays a four-man front.

“Our running game will be important,” Wood said. “Mills will play a four-man front and the players are strong. We need to execute the little things better and put them in bad situations. We plan to spread out Mills’ defense and take advantage of its weaknesses.

“We want to end the regular season with a win.”


                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   6 0 78  8 0 323  47 
Central Arkansas Christian  5 1 51  8 1 266 194
Lonoke                      4 2 44  6 3 310 252
Bald Knob                   3 3 32  5 4 226 186  
Little Rock Mills           2 4 19  3 6 178 237  
Clinton                     2 4 12  2 7 197 356 
Heber Springs               1 5  5  2 7 176 304
Southside Batesville        1 5 13  2 7 157 255   
Friday, October 30
Clinton 32, Heber Springs 26
Bald Knob 35, Central Arkansas Christian 14
Little Rock Mills 14, Southside Batesville 6
Stuttgart 53, Lonoke 14

Friday, November 6
Little Rock Mills at Heber Springs
Clinton at Lonoke
Stuttgart at Central Arkansas Christian
Bald Knob at Southside Batesville
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium
  • Admission: $5
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan will handle the play-by-play while Lance Hamilton with handle the color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:45 p.m. followed by the game.  Listen Live Link


THE SERIES: Heber Springs leads the series 2-0.

SERIES HISTORY: Though this is the third time the Panthers have faced Little Rock Mills, Heber Springs did play the two of the schools that consolidated to form Mills University Studies. The Panthers went 0-4 from 1955 through 1959 against Little Rock Fuller, and 0-3-1 against Mabelvale from 1955 through 1958. Heber Springs won last season, 28-14 at Mills, and 47-6 in 2018 at Panther Stadium.

CONFERENCE SEEDING: Stuttgart has clinched at least the No. 2 seed, a win gives the Ricebirds the No. 2 seed. CAC gets the No. 1 seed with a win and the No. 2 seed with a loss. Lonoke and Bald Knob have clinched the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds regardless of tonight’s outcomes. The No. 5 seed goes to Mills with a win tonight in Panther Stadium otherwise the No. 5 seed will go to conference points with either Clinton, Mills or Heber Springs getting the fifth seed. Heber Springs would get the No. 5 seed with a win by at least 8 points and a Clinton loss. Clinton would get the No. 5 seed with a win and a Mills loss. Mills could still get the No. 5 seed with a loss if Clinton losses to Lonoke and the Panthers win by 7 or less. The sixth- through eighth-seeded teams can opt-in into the playoffs (because of Covid) this season, but have to declare their intentions tomorrow to the Arkansas Activities Association.