By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
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.”
SCORING Little Rock Mills (3-4, 4-6) 0 12 14 8 - 34 Heber Springs (1-6, 2-8) 14 7 3 0 - 24 FIRST QUARTER 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 SECOND QUARTER 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 THIRD QUARTER 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 FOURTH QUARTER Mills, Ringo to King 33-yard pass (Davis run), 11:36 TEAM STATS 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 INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSE 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. DEFENSE 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