The Heber Springs Panthers welcome another opportunity to play football in one of the most unique seasons in history.
Heber Springs (2-8) will meet Trumann (5-5) in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs at Roach Manufacturing Corporation (RMC) Stadium in Trumann Friday. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams in school history.
The Panthers finished the regular season with a 34-24 loss to Little Rock Mills University Studies, while Trumann defeated Cave City, 34-21.
The Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs as one of the conference’s top five teams, but opted to compete under the Arkansas Activities Association’s rule that all teams may compete this season because of COVID-19.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback from players and parents,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood when asked about participating in the playoffs. “They were happy that we are continuing our season. Our season is not over, and we hope to go out there and move forward in the playoffs. The game will be a good experience.”
The two teams played one common opponent during the regular season — Southside. Trumann shut out the Southerners 27-0 on Sept. 11, while the Panthers defeated Southside 22-17 on Oct. 23.
Quarterback Connor McClain and running back Milton Lewis are two of the players to watch when Trumann is on offense. The Wildcats operate from a form of the Single-Wing.
“Trumann prefers the run, but will pass,” Wood said. “The running attack is similar to what Clinton did. No. 2 (Lewis) is one of Trumann’s best athletes, and it likes to get the ball to him. We need to keep a close eye on him at all times. We must tackle well and have been stressing that during practice.”
Heber Springs’ preparation on offense will not change much from the last four opponents as Trumann plays a 3-4, defense.
Wood said the offense has shown improvement from game-to-game and he is looking for the team’s best performance against Trumann.
Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook is a running and passing threat, with Nathan McKee his primary target in the passing game. Cook has completed 130-of-231 passes for 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has rushed for 433 yards on 115 carries and scored four touchdowns. McKee is the team’s leading receiver with 51 catches for 615 yards and three touchdowns.
Wood also said he hopes for increased production from the running game. Diego Rubio has rushed for 394 yards on 85 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.
“If we can get into a good rhythm on offense, we will be OK,” Wood said. “It’s important to hold onto the ball and have no turnovers. The receivers also must make catches, and we need to protect the quarterback better. If we do that, it will open up our running game.”
Linebackers Preston Roberson and Kenan Sneed lead the defense. Wood expects the team will put lessons learned in recent games to good use against Trumann.
“We need to be in the right places and tackle well,” Wood said. “We must take it to Trumann and not let Trumann take it to us. We must win the battle at the line of scrimmage.”
Friday’s winner will play at Malvern (5-5) in the second round next week.
Heber Springs and Clinton will play for more than the Battle of the Little Red trophy at Jim Tumlison Field in Clinton on Friday night.
The winner will move up one notch on the Class 4A playoff seeding ladder and remain alive for the No. 4 seed and a bye from the first weekend of postseason play. Remaining teams will start the playoffs in play-in games on either Nov. 12 or Nov. 13.
Heber Springs seeks its first win in the fifth annual Battle of the Little Red. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m.
The Panthers (1-4 2-4A Conference, 2-6 overall) are coming off a 22-17 win at Southside Batesville. Clinton (1-4 conference, 1-7 overall) defeated Bald Knob, also on the road, 21-15.
“The players are aware of the atmosphere surrounding the game,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “They know what must be done and returned to practice this week with more energy after playing a complete game for the first time this season.”
Wood said the Panthers learned from their second-half performance against Bald Knob two weeks ago and took a step forward.
“We realized what was not done in the past and played four good quarters against Southside,” he said. “We pulled close during the second half of previous games, but we never could get over the hump. We put ourselves in position to win the game against Southside during the fourth quarter.”
Clinton head coach Chris Dufrene said preparation is no different than previous games with the Panthers, except the game is now a conference game.
“We would want to win whether it was the first game of the season or the ninth week,” Dufrene said. “It means more this year because it is a conference game and will affect playoff seeding.”
But Dufrene said winning the trophy again is important.
“The trophy adds more pressure,” he said. “The game has been a good thing with all of the community involvement. It helps a lot of families in need who live in both communities.”
Clinton continues with its Wing-T offense, led by sophomore quarterback Harley Tobin. Junior Nick Epley, senior Brody Emberton, and juniors Jacob Hutto and Cody Davis are the primary threats in the running game.
The Yellowjackets have put the ball in the air more this season. Seniors Blaine Emberton and Jasper Burgess have been his primary targets.
“We like to spread the ball around more with the passing game,” Dufrene said. “Harley has played great at times and other times like a sophomore. He had a good game against Bald Knob with three touchdown passes.”
Clinton’s defense played well against Bald Knob and had three interceptions. Epley’s interception with two minutes left stopped a potential scoring drive by the Bulldogs.
Wood said Clinton will carry momentum from its win at Bald Knob into Friday’s game.
“The win gave them a big boost,” he said. “Clinton did what it needed to do and won. They ran the ball well and then spread the field with the passing game. The quarterback is versatile, makes good decisions and can run and pass. They also have two good running backs with breakaway speed.”
Heber Springs’ offense went through growing pains earlier this season, but it picked up the pace against Southside.
Senior Matthew Cook, who made the transition from receiver to quarterback, has completed 92-of-162 passes for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Nathan McKee leads the Panthers in receiving with 34 catches for 455 yards and three touchdowns. Two sophomores have emerged as targets in the passing game. Isaac King has caught 17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Easton Cusick has 16 receptions for 210 yards.
Senior Diego Rubio is the leading rusher with 355 yards on 72 attempts and scored six touchdowns.
Wood said play improved drastically on the offensive and defensive lines and one of the determining factors in last week’s win
“We have to take care of the line of scrimmage again and win that battle,” Wood said. “Jayden Bremmon, Thad Bray, Lucas Langster, Trevor Weathers and Chris Smith played well. It helped by moving Preston Roberson back to linebacker, where he is better suited to play. I was pleased with the play of our (offensive and defensive) linemen.”
W L CP W L PS PA
Stuttgart 5 0 65 7 0 270 33
Central Arkansas Christian 5 0 51 8 0 272 159
Lonoke 4 1 44 6 2 296 199
Bald Knob 2 3 19 4 4 194 172
Southside Batesville 1 4 13 2 6 151 241
Little Rock Mills 1 4 11 2 6 164 231
Clinton 1 4 6 1 7 165 330
Heber Springs 1 4 5 2 6 150 272
Friday, October 23
Heber Springs 22, Southside Batesville 17
Central Arkansas Christian 49, Lonoke 34
Clinton 21, Bald Knob 15
Stuttgart 28, Little Rock Mills 0
Friday, October 30
Heber Springs at Clinton
Central Arkansas Christian at Bald Knob
Southside Batesville at Little Rock Mills
Lonoke at Stuttgart
Kickoff: 7 p.m. in Clinton
Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. Listen live link here.
Honorary Captains: For Heber Springs, long-time journalist and Heber Springs graduate Larry “Scoop” McCarty. For Clinton, former player James Washington.
HEBER SPRINGS VS. CLINTON “Battle of the Little Red” Clinton leads the series 40-38-5. Games played in Heber Springs: Clinton leads, 20-19-1 Games played in Clinton: Clinton leads 20-18-4 Games played on a Neutral Field: Heber Springs leads, 1-0.
FIRST MEETING: Heber Springs’ first season of football was 1913 and it would be 26 years before Clinton fielded its first team. It didn’t take long for the two teams to meet after that with Heber Springs winning the first game played between the two schools on October 13, 1939, in Heber Springs. The Panthers won by a score of 31-0 on that day. The two teams met again less than a month later on Veteran’s Day (November 11) 1939 in Clinton where the Panthers and Yellowjackets played to a 6-6 tie. The teams would go on to play continuously after that with a couple of exceptions. During World War II, neither school fielded a team during the 1943 season while Clinton did not field one during the 1944 season. After the war, Clinton and Heber Springs would meet twice per season in 1945 and 1946 with the Yellowjackets winning all four meetings. Financial constraints in the Heber Springs School District forced the school to not field a football team for the 1947 and 1948 seasons. The two teams meet again during the 1949 season with Clinton winning both games of the home-and-home series. The teams would go on continuously playing until 2007 when the opener scheduled with Clinton — which was played during the 2006 season at the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic at Estes Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway — was changed to allow the Panthers to play Mayflower instead of Clinton in the same Kickoff Classic in 2007. The series resumed in 2008 and continues today. LONGEST WINNING STREAKS: Clinton has won six straight in the series twice. Once from 1945-1949 and the second time from 2000-2005. Heber Springs won seven straight in the series from 1978-1984. CONFERENCE FOES: Heber Springs and Clinton were first paired in the same conference in 1974. They would be paired in the same conference from 1974-1990. They would again be paired in the same conference from 1993-2001 and from 2008-2013. The two teams are back in the same conference after Clinton moved up from 3A and replaced Riverview in the conference. OVERTIME GAMES: There have only been three overtime games in the series and those all occurred during a four-year span from 1986-1989. Clinton won a double overtime home contest in 1986 (20-14) while the Panthers won in overtime the following season in 1987, 19-12, in Heber Springs. In 1989, Clinton defeated Heber Springs, 13-12, at Panther Stadium. CLOSE GAMES: Twenty-four of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less during the series, not including the five ties. COACH’S WIFE: Clinton head coach Chris Dufrene’s wife Heather (Bivins) is a 1987 graduate of Heber Springs High School. TROPHY GAMES: Heber Springs won the trophy for the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic between the two schools in 2006, but since the inception of the “Battle of the Little Red” trophy, Clinton has won all four meetings, 28-20 in 2016 in Clinton, 28-17 in 2017 in Heber Springs, 36-34 in 2018 in Clinton, and 28-27 last season in Heber Springs . Heber Springs will be looking to break a four-game losing streak to Clinton.
Heber Springs’ approach against 2-4A Conference foe Southside Batesville will not change from the previous its two games.
The Panthers (0-4 conference, 1-6 overall) will focus on winning the battle at the line of scrimmage against Southside (1-3 conference, 2-5 overall).
Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday at Stewart Field in Southside.
Heber Springs is coming off a 35-15 loss to Bald Knob, while the Southerners lost 21-14 at Central Arkansas Christian.
“We must win the battle up front,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “That will be the biggest key. We need to play well, particularly on the defensive line. The team who can maintain control of the line of scrimmage will win.”
The Panthers hope for a quick start against Southside.
Heber Springs had its best drive following the opening kickoff last week against Bald Knob. The Panthers drove 52 yards on 10 plays and took a 7-0 lead. Turnovers and field position shifted the momentum in the second half. Heber Springs has 24 turnovers in seven games.
Bald Knob had scoring drives of 39 and 20 yards following Panther turnovers and returned an onside kickoff for three of its five touchdowns. Southside features a one-two running punch in quarterback Duncan Pierce and Brycen Sutton.
Sutton rushed for 121 yards on 23 attempts and scored one touchdown against CAC. Pierce ran for 84 yards on six carries and had one touchdown. Wood said his team could benefit from playing the third consecutive team with a similar offensive philosophy — running the ball.
“We knew what areas that we needed work,” he said. “Southside will take advantages of your mistakes. It’s a tough offense to prepare for.”
Heber Springs’ offense gained new life when Wood inserted senior Matthew Cook, a starting wide receiver for most of his career, at quarterback in the third game of the season.
Cook has completed 83-of-150 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Nathan McKee leads the Panthers in receiving with 31 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Two sophomores have emerged as targets in the passing game. Isaac King has caught 17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Easton Cusick has 14 receptions for 160 yards.
Senior Diego Rubio is the leading rusher with 329 yards on 59 attempts and scored four touchdowns.
Wood expects the offense to perform at a higher level against the Southerners.
“Matthew (13-of-27 passing for 91 yards with four interceptions) had a tough game against Bald Knob,” he said. “We tried to take the pressure off during practice in preparing for this game. Matthew tried too hard to make things happen. (Junior) Jackson West and (senior) Gus Hannah keep improving at receiver. All we need to do is do what we have been doing, but do it better.”
Southside plays a 3-4 defense with linebacking the strength of the unit. Wood said it’s a scheme that the team has faced in most of its games this season.
“Southside has two good linebackers,” Wood said. “They can stop the run and also cover the pass. All we need to do is improve from what we did last week.”
The defense continues to improve, even though statistics may not reveal that. Heber Springs is allowing 301 yards of offense per game — 146 rushing and 155 passing.
“Preston Roberson became a force after switching from linebacker to the defensive line,” Wood said. “He does a good job of containing runners, has good instincts and makes plays. Jayden Bremmon has been playing well at nose guard and Diego Rubio at linebacker. Kenan Sneed has played steady at linebacker. Gus Hannah moved to cornerback and made several plays against Bald Knob.”
Wood expects continued improvement from the defense.
“We were a little tired in the second half against Bald Knob,” he said. “The defense continues to improve every game. We need to do a better job in sudden-change situations when momentum shifts. We got to make more defensive stops.”
Heber Springs will be without the services of senior center Zach Thomas, who was injured last week against Bald Knob.
2-4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS
W L CP W L PS PA
Stuttgart 4 0 52 6 0 242 33
Lonoke 4 0 44 6 1 262 150
Central Arkansas Christian 4 0 38 7 0 223 125
Bald Knob 2 2 19 4 3 179 151
Southside Batesville 1 3 13 2 5 134 219
Little Rock Mills 1 3 11 2 5 164 203
Heber Springs 0 4 0 1 6 128 255
Clinton 0 4 0 0 7 144 315
Friday, October 16
Bald Knob 35, Heber Springs 15
Central Arkansas Christian 21, Southside Batesville 14
Lonoke 29, Little Rock Mills 18
Stuttgart 35, Clinton 7
Friday, October 23
Heber Springs at Southside Batesville
Lonoke at Central Arkansas Christian
Clinton at Bald Knob
Little Rock Mills at Stuttgart
Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Southside Batesville
Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game.
THE SERIES: Heber Springs lead 12-2
SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 15th time these two teams have meet on the football field since Southside Batesville started its football program in 2006. Heber Springs won the first 10 meetings in the series before the Southerners claimed a 24-20 victory at home in 2016 before the Panthers would win the next two. Southside Batesville won last season, 48-20, for the its only victory at Panther Stadium in the series.
A tale of two halves best described Friday’s 2-4A Conference football game between Bald Knob and Heber Springs at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers (0-4 conference, 1-6 overall) led 7-0 at halftime, but the Bulldogs (2-2 conference, 5-3 overall) dominated the second half for a 35-15 win and spoiled Heber Springs’ homecoming.
Bald Knob scored touchdowns after four Heber Springs turnovers and outgained the Panthers, 238-92 in the second half. The Panthers compiled 61 of their 92 yards during the second half on the final possession, which ended with a touchdown.
Heber Springs had six turnovers for the game — four interceptions and two fumbles, including an onside kickoff. The Bulldogs finished with a 341-203 advantage in total offense.
“Bald Knob beat us on the line of scrimmage,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “They knew that they could run the ball against us, which opened up their passing game. We couldn’t move the ball in the second half.”
Bald Knob quarterback Leason Pierce completed 13-of-23 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Pierce was only 2-of-6 passing for 24 yards in the first half.
“The defense played well in the first half,” Wood said. “Bald Knob’s size on the line wore us down in the second half.”
Heber Springs held Bald Knob to 1-of-6 third-down conversions in the first half. The Bulldogs turned the tables in the final two quarters by converting 5-of-7 third-down plays.
The Panthers had 3-of-6 third down conversions in the first half and 3-of-5 in the second half. Heber Springs was 2-of-2 during its final scoring drive. Bald Knob was successful on 2-of-8 fourth down plays, while the Panthers were 0-of-4.
“Our guys were still trying to keep battling,” Wood said. “The big issue were the turnovers and not adjusting to quick changes. We must learn how to fight through that. You can’t win games with that many turnovers.”
Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook completed 13-of-27 passes for 91 yards with four interceptions. Nathan McKee caught seven passes for 38 yards. Diego Rubio had 35 yards rushing on eight carries and scored one touchdown.
“We had a good drive on our first possession of the game,” Wood said. “Cook was playing with a lot of confident, but all of the sudden, he gets pressured by Bald Knob’s defense. Matthew looked at things he didn’t need to be looking at. We got to help him correct that. I need to figure out what we need to do to help him do his job better. The first drive was nice, but we didn’t have much success for the rest of the game.”
Heber Springs drove 51 yards on nine plays following the opening kickoff. Cook connected on a 16-yard pass to Easton Cusick, Rubio ran for 10 yards and McKee caught a 13-yard pass for a first-and-goal at the Bald Knob 8-yard line.
Two plays later, Cook scored on a 2-yard carry with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Gus Hannah kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Bald Knob’s only first-half scoring threat came on its final possession. The Bulldogs drove from their 31 to the Panther 20-yard line. Bald Knob’s Marcus McGahee missed a 37-yard field goal on the final play as Heber Springs led 7-0 at halftime.
Michael Wingo intercepted a Cook pass and set up Bald Knob’s first touchdown during the third quarter. The Bulldogs needed six plays to go 39 yards with Wingo scoring on a 24-yard run. McGahee kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:23 left.
Bald Knob regained possession on a sack of Cook, who fumbled, and the Bulldogs recovered at the Heber Springs 20-yard line. Pierce completed the short drive by passing 13 yards to Wingo for the touchdown. McGahee added the conversion for the 14-7 lead.
The Bulldogs recovered an onside kickoff and later scored their third touchdown of the third quarter. Dane Lindsey caught a 19-yard pass from Pierce, increasing the lead to 20-7 going into the fourth quarter.
“We knew the onside kick was coming and practiced on it during the week,” Wood said. “You have to be aware where you are on the field and what you need to do in that situation. Bald Knob executed, and we didn’t.”
Bald Knob scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Pierce passed 38 yards to Josh Clark for a score with 10:46 to go. Clark had a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left.
McGahee ran for a 2-point conversion and then kicked an extra point, increasing Bald Knob’s lead to 35-7.
Jackson West capped a 10-play, 59-yard drive for the Panthers scoring on a 3-yard carry with 24 seconds to play. Hannah ran for the 2-point conversion.
Heber Springs will seek to rebound at Southside Batesville on Friday.
“Southside is another good team that has a big line and likes to runs the ball,” Wood said. “We must find a way to keep our defense from playing most of the time on the field and get the offense going. We took a step backwards against Bald Knob. We need to find out what we did wrong and fix it by Friday.”
Bald Knob (4-3, 2-2) 0 0 20 15 - 35
Heber Springs (1-6, 0-4) 7 0 0 8 - 15
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2-yard run (Gus Hannah kick), 8:57
Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 3-yard (Marcus McGahee kick), 5:22
Bald Knob, Leason Pierce to Wingo 13-yard pass (McGahee kick), 3:20
Bald Knob, Pierce to Dane Lindsey 19-yard pass (kick failed), 1:06
Bald Knob, Pierce to Josh Clark 38-yard pass (McGahee run), 10:46
Bald Knob, Clark 6-yard run (McGahee kick), 4:27
Heber Springs, Jackson West 3-yard run (Hannah run), 28.4
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 5, Bald Knob 11
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 8, Bald Knob 5
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 0, Bald Knob 1
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Bald Knob 17
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 6/11, Bald Knob 6/13
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 0/4, Bald Knob 1/6
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/2, Bald Knob 4/5
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 18:21, Bald Knob 29:39
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Bald Knob 0/0
Turnovers: Heber Springs 6, Bald Knob 0
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Bald Knob 27
Penalties: Heber Springs 4/53, Bald Knob 5/34
Rushing: Heber Springs 24/67/2.8, Bald Knob 43/185/4.3
Passing: Heber Springs 17/31-136-0/4, Bald Knob 13/23-156-3/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 41/203/5.0, Bald Knob 66/341/5.2
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 1/8, Bald Knob 2/7
Punts: Heber Springs 2/43/21.5, Bald Knob 0/0
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, CAC 0
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 8/35, Jackson West 6/16/1, Matthew Cook 8/11/1, Easton Cusick 2/5. Bald Knob, Bradyn Cline 14/90, Josh Clark 10/62/1, Leason Pierce 8/25, Michael Wingo 6/14/1, Marcus McGahee 4/14, Team 1/(-6).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 13/27-91-0/4, John McBroome 4/4-45-0/0. Bald Knob, Leason Pierce 13/23-156-3/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 7/42, Easton Cusick 2/32, Austin Winchester 2/26, Dakota Farmer 2/19, Diego Rubio 2/5, Gus Hannah 1/11, Jackson West 1/1. Bald Knob, Dane Lindsey 5/36/1, Michael Wingo 3/17/1, Matthew Smith 2/32/1, Josh Clark 1/38/1, Gage Dismuke 1/24, Elijah Bradley 1/9.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 102, John McBroome 45, Diego Rubio 35, Jackson West 16, Easton Cusick 5. Bald Knob, Leason Pierce 181, Bradyn Cline 90, Josh Clark 62, Michael Wingo 14, Marcus McGahee 14, Team (-6).
PUNT RETURNS: None
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 2/45, Diego Rubio 1/17. Bald Knob, Dane Lindsey 1/7, Hayden McAnelly 1/0.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Bald Knob, Travis Kersey 1/15
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 2/24, Matthew Smith 1/21
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 87, Diego Rubio 57, Easton Cusick 37, Austin Winchester 26, Dakota Farmer 19, Jackson West 17, Matthew Cook 11, Gus Hannah 11. Bald Knob, Josh Clarke 100, Bradyn Cline 90, Michael Wingo 55, Matthew Smith 53, Dane Lindsey 43, Leason Pierce 25, Gage Dismuke 24, Marcus McGahee 14, Elijah Bradley 9.
SCORING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 6, Jackson West 6, Gus Hannah 3 (1/1 XPA). Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 12, Josh Clark 12, Dane Lindsey 6, Marcus McGahee 5 (4/5 XPA, 0/1 FGA. Missed 37).
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2/43/21.5
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Heber Springs, Preston Roberson/Matthew Cook 1/8. Bald Knob, Travis Kersey 2/7
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Bald Knob, Travis Kersey, Marcus McGahee
INTERCEPTIONS: Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 2, Matthew Smith 1, Josh Clark 1
Heber Springs will look to put all of the pieces together for an entire game as the Panthers will host Bald Knob for homecoming in a 2-4A Conference football game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Homecoming festivities are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., with the crowning of queen Hope Evans.
After losses to the three teams tied for the conference lead, Heber Springs (0-3 conference, 1-5 overall) will meet Bald Knob (1-2 conference, 4-3 overall), which will try and bounce back from last week’s 45-8 loss at Stuttgart.
The Panthers trailed fourth place Southside Batesville, Little Rock Mills and the Bulldogs by one game in the conference standings.
“The players were disappointed with the loss to Central Arkansas Christian (35-14),” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We trailed by seven points with eight minutes left in the game. After the game, I challenged the players to play at a higher level against Bald Knob.”
Wood said the players had three of their best practices all season during the week and believes it will carry over to Friday’s game.
“We had a better attitude and showed more spirit during practices,” he said. “I was pleased with the effort. I hope that effort will continue.”
Bald Knob features a run-oriented attack. Wood said one of the keys to success for the Heber Springs defense is to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
“Bald Knob is a spread team that likes to run the ball,” Wood said. “We must make sure we have enough guys in the area to contain the run and force them to pass. The quarterback makes good decisions, and the running back is talented. The offensive line is big and strong.”
The Bulldogs play a 3-4 scheme on defense with the team’s strength at linebacker.
“Bald Knob’s defense is versatile,” Wood said. “The two outside linebackers will put pressure on the quarterback. They also react well in stopping the run. The defensive line is big and plays physical.”
Diego Rubio became the first Panther to rush for 100 yards in a game this season against CAC. Rubio had 143 yards on 10 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The passing game was effective as quarterback Matthew Cook completed 19-of-29 passes for 149 yards. Nathan McKee led the receivers with eight catches for 65 yards.
“We keep building every week,” Wood said. “We are adding new plays and building on having more success. Cook stepped in and played well at quarterback and took charge of the offense. Diego is a hard runner and was able to get loose a few times last week.”
Wood said the defense also keeps improving, and he expects a good performance against Bald Knob.
“We know our roles better,” he said when asked about the defense’s improvement. “The key against Bald Knob, like last week, is winning the line of scrimmage.”
Wood said Preston Roberson and Thad Bray have played well on the defensive line, and a new player emerged against CAC.
“Roberson has played steady at end,” Wood said. “Bray plays aggressive and gets into the backfield. Jayden Bremmon had one of his best game against CAC. Bremmon showed the ability to move well and uses his hands to gain leverage.”
Wood also likes the play of the linebackers.
“(Kenan) Sneed has the ability to get to the ball. Jackson West has played well, along with Diego at the inside linebackers. Our secondary is improving.”
Wood hopes homecoming will give the team an emotional boost.
“Homecoming always is a double-edge,” Wood said. “I expect them to come out and play with a full effort.”
2-4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS
W L CP W L PS PA
Stuttgart 3 0 39 5 0 207 26
Lonoke 3 0 33 5 1 233 132
Central Arkansas Christian 3 0 31 6 0 202 111
Southside Batesville 1 2 13 2 4 120 198
Bald Knob 1 2 6 3 3 144 136
Little Rock Mills 1 2 11 2 4 146 174
Heber Springs 0 3 0 1 5 113 220
Clinton 0 3 0 0 6 137 285
Friday, October 9
Central Arkansas Christian 35, Heber Springs 14
Little Rock Mills 46, Clinton 35
Lonoke 52, Southside Batesville 21
Stuttgart 45, Bald Knob 8
Friday, October 16
Bald Knob at Heber Springs
Central Arkansas Christian at Southside Batesville
Little Rock Mills at Lonoke
Stuttgart at Clinton
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Panther Stadium
Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game.
THE SERIES: Bald Knob leads 37-23-2
SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 63rd time these two schools have meet on the football field. Heber Springs and Bald Knob first played during the 1929 season, a 26-2, Panther victory. It would be 11 more seasons before the two teams played again, a 1940 12-0 victory by Heber Springs. Heber Springs would win the first three games in the series before Bald Knob would win 18 out of 20 games played (a 1950 34-13 win by the Panthers broke a five-game losing streak in the series while a 1964 12-7 win broke a 10-game losing streak). The series would be fairly even before Heber Springs won eight straight from 1976 through 1983 before the Bulldogs closed out the 1980s winning six-in-a-row. In the 1990s, the teams would meet seven times with the Panthers getting wins during the 1990 and 1999 seasons. Since the 2005 season, Heber Springs and Bald Knob have played nine times with the Panthers winning seven of those contests, including 34-7 last season.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK – Sometimes statistics don’t tell the entire story of a football game.
It happened when the Heber Springs Panthers lost to 2-4A Conference co-leader Central Arkansas Christian 35-14 at Mustang Mountain Friday.
CAC (3-0 conference, 6-0 overall) held a 13-yard advantage in total offense, but the Panthers (0-3 conference, 1-5 overall) averaged more per play, 5.7 to 5.6 yards. The Mustangs ran 60 plays from scrimmage to 57 for Heber Springs.
Diego Rubio became the first Panther to rush for 100 yards in a single game this season with 10 carries for 143 yards and scored one touchdown.
The passing game was effective as Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook completed 19-of-29 passes for 149 yards. Nathan McKee caught eight passes for 65 yards, while Jackson West had 46 yards on four receptions. CAC sacked Cook five times for a minus 24 yards.
“We had some success on offense, and the guys. executed well, but the problem was we didn’t do it for the entire game,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We have to count on everyone to execute every play. Sometimes we were not focused on what to do mentally. That is a failure on the coaches’ part, and we need to do a better job of getting the players prepared for games.”
CAC running back Tyler Williams was a one-player show, rushing for 148 yards and scoring three touchdowns, and catching five passes for 63 yards. Mustang quarterback Palmer Gilbrech completed 15-of-22 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. Jackson Richmond caught four passes for 61 yards.
Wood said momentum shifted to the Mustangs late in the first half. The game was tied 7-7 before CAC scored two touchdowns for the 21-7 halftime lead.
“They were rolling down the field with No. 5 (Williams) running,” Wood said. “We had a chance to make tackles and hit him high. When you try and tackle him high, you are not going to come out well. If we could have kept it at 14-7 going into halftime, it might have been different in the second half.”
CAC took the lead after recovering a McKee fumble, who caught an 8-yard pass from Cook, fumble at the Mustang 35-yard line after it appeared the ball went out of bounds. Williams rushed on 8-of-9 plays during the drive, scoring on a 2-yard carry with 31 seconds left in the first quarter. Isaac Rine kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Heber Springs answered with a 10-play, 50-yard drive following the kickoff. McKee’s 17-yard reception and Rubio rushed for 11 yards to start the drive. Cook finished the series by scoring on a 10-yard run on fourth-and-goal. Chandler Webber kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:23 left in the first half.
CAC regained the lead by driving 53 yards after the ensuing kickoff. Williams scored on a 2-yard carry and capped the 10-play drive with 5:10 remaining in the first half. Rine kicked the extra point for the 14-7 lead.
Heber Springs threatened to tie the score when it had a first down at the CAC 30-yard line. Four plays later, the Mustangs held on downs at the 22-yard line.
CAC needed eight plays on the 78-yard drive, with Williams scoring on a 25-yard run with 23 seconds left. Rine kicked the extra point for the 21-7 halftime lead.
“If we had been down 14-7 going into the half, it might have been different in the second half,” Wood said. “We had the ball at the beginning of the third quarter, but we didn’t execute well.”
Heber Springs drove to the CAC 17 in the third quarter. A holding penalty moved the Panthers back as the Mustangs held on downs at the 10-yard line.
After two defensive stops, Heber Springs pulled to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Cook connected on a 17-yard pass to McKee before Rubio broke into the clear, ran around a defender and scored on a 58-yard run. Webber kicked the extra point, reducing CAC’s lead to 21-14 with 8:14 left in the game.
“Diego is a warrior for the team,” Wood said. “He keeps going and going and makes things happen. Diego is only 5-feet-4, but he plays with a big heart.”
CAC regained a two-touchdown lead on an 8-play, 57-yard drive, all runs by Williams. The Mustangs had a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line, but the Heber Springs defense stiffened on the next three plays and forced fourth-and-goal at the 1.
Williams plunged into the end zone with 4:38 remaining in the game. Rine kicked the extra point, increasing CAC’s lead to 28-14.
“We needed a stop on defense,” Wood said. “We knew No. 5 would get the ball. I told the guys on fourth-and-goal they needed to get into the backfield and tackle him. He just wanted it more than we did.”
CAC’s Jake Sheehy’s 82-yard interception return wrapped up the scoring.
Heber Springs will host Bald Knob for homecoming on Friday.
Heber Springs (1-5, 0-3) 0 7 0 7 - 14
Central Arkansas Christian (6-0, 3-0) 7 14 0 14 - 35
CAC, Tyler Williams 2-yard run (Isaac Rine kick), :31
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 10-yard run (Chandler Webber kick), 9:28
CAC, Williams 1-yard run (Rine Kick), 5:18
CAC, Palmer Gilbrech to Williams 25-yard pass (Rine kick), :23
Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 58-yard run (Webber kick), 8:14
CAC, Williams 1-yard run (Rine kick), 4:38
CAC, Payton Talbert 82-yard interception return (Rine kick), 1:41
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 11, CAC 8
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 4, CAC 8
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 2, CAC 2
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 17, CAC 18
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 4/10, CAC 2/11
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/5, CAC 4/5
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 1/2, CAC 3/4
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 23:32, CAC 24:28
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/1, CAC 1/0
Turnovers: Heber Springs 3, CAC 0
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, CAC 14
Penalties: Heber Springs 10/87, CAC 9/73
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 57/325/5.7, CAC 60/338/5.6
Rushing: Heber Springs 28/176/6.3, CAC 38/144/3.8
Passing: Heber Springs 19/29-149-0/2, CAC 15/22-194-1/0
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 1/4, CAC 5/24
Punts: Heber Springs 1/36/36, CAC 3/117/39
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, CAC 0
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 10/143/1, Matthew Cook 16/25/1, Nathan McKee 2/8. CAC, Tyler Williams 27/148/3, Ethan Demarco 1/4, Palmer Gilbrech 7/4, Team 3/(-12).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 19/29-149-0/2. CAC, Palmer Gilbrech 15/22-194-1/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 8/65, Jackson West 4/46, Easton Cusick 3/7, Isaac King 2/5, Austin Winchester 1/13, Diego Rubio 1/3. CAC, Tyler Williams 5/63/1, Jackson Richmond 4/61, Jackson Morse 2/42, Carlito London 2/8, Cauy Blevins 1/12, Jake Sheehy 1/8.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 174, Diego Rubio 143, Nathan McKee 8. CAC, Palmer Gilbrech 198, Tyler Williams 148, Ethan Demarco 4, Team (-12).
PUNT RETURNS: None
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Jackson West 3/41, Isaac King 1/0. CAC, Carlito London 1/31, Tyler Williams 1/26.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Heber Springs, Thad Bray 1/5. CAC, Carlito London 1/(-3).
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: CAC, Jake Sheehy 1/81/1, Palmer Gilbrech 1/38
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 146, Jackson West 87, Nathan McKee 73, Matthew Cook 25, Austin Winchester 13, Easton Cusick 7, Isaac King 5, Thad Bray 5. CAC, Tyler Williams 237, Jake Sheehy 89, Jackson Richmond 61, Jackson Morse 42, Palmer Gilbrech 42, Carlito London 36, Cauy Blevins 12, Ethan Demarco 4,
SCORING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 6, Diego Rubio 6, Chandler Webber (2/2 XPA). Lonoke, Tyler Williams 24, Jake Sheehy 6, Isaac Rine 5 (5/5 XPA).
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 1/36/36/0. CAC, Palmer Gilbrech 3/117/39/0.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Heber Springs, Preston Roberson/Thad Bray 1/4. CAC, Jake Sheehy 2/8, Cole Shoemaker 1/6, Henry Handley 1/5, Jeremiah Wingfield 1/5
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: CAC, Ty Bahnks
INTERCEPTIONS: CAC, Jake Sheehy, Palmer Gilbrech
LONOKE — Heber Springs lost to Lonoke in the 2-4A Conference football opener 47-31 Friday, but the Panthers earned the respect of head coach Todd Wood for their reaction to adversity in the second half.
Heber Springs (0-1 conference, 1-3 overall) led 6-0, 12-7 and 19-14 before the Lonoke (1-0 conference, 3-1 overall) finished the second quarter by scoring three consecutive touchdowns for a 35-19 halftime lead. The Jackrabbits maintained a two-score advantage throughout the second half.
“We are never going to give up,” Wood said. “I told the players after the game they made me proud of how they played late in the game. We had a few letdowns, but we picked it up at times and played aggressively. We played with a lot of fire in the fourth quarter. We need to play that way for the entire game.”
Heber Springs reached the 300-yard passing mark for the second straight game. Matthew Cook completed 23-of-42 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. Hunter Kent connected on 2-of-3 passes for 66 yards and one touchdown.
Nathan McKee led the receivers with eight receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“We have been working on the new plays for three weeks,” Wood said. “We got an opportunity to show what we could do with the new plays. But the fun part is we didn’t show everything.”
Lonoke freshman Bradon Allen started at quarterback in place of Spence Pepper. Allen rushed 23 times for 74 yards and scored three touchdowns. He completed 6-of-19 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown.
Ja’coree Womack led the Jackrabbits’ running game with 20 carries for 115 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Wood said the defense had some good moments.
“We received a boost with the return of Preston Roberson at defensive end,” he said. “(Kenan) Sneed made good plays. Jackson West did a fantastic job of getting into Lonoke’s backfield and made things happen.”
Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and scored on the game’s second play from scrimmage. Cook lateraled to Kent, who suddenly stopped and connected on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Isaac King for a 6-0 lead with 11:17 left in the first quarter.
Lonoke earned its first lead after Deon Campbell’s interception set up a first down at the Heber Springs 43. The Panthers forced the Jackrabbits later into a fourth-and-one at the 18. Womack broke free and scored with 6:31 left in the first quarter. Tom Boatright kicked the extra point, giving a 7-6 lead to Lonoke.
Heber Springs regained the advantage on Kent’s 2-yard touchdown carry, which capped an 8-play, 60-yard drive, for the 12-7 with 3:27 to go in the quarter.
Lonoke converted a fumble recovery at the Panther 38 yard-line into its next score, Allen’s 22-yard run. Boatright’s successful kick returned the lead to Lonoke, 14-12, with 11:44 left in the first half.
Heber Springs struck back quickly, taking the lead three plays later. McKee caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Cook. Gus Hannah kicked the extra point for a 19-14 lead with 10:02 remaining in the first half.
“The game went back and forth early,” Wood said. “We got the lead, then lost the lead, and we got the lead back.”
Lonoke seized momentum by scoring three touchdowns before halftime, two after fourth-down stops and a pick six before halftime.
Womack scored on a 22-yard run with 7:21 left, and Anthony Parks ran for the 2-point conversion. Parks returned an interception 100 yards for a score, and Boatwright kicked the extra point. Allen’s 5-yard run finished the scoring flurry as Lonoke held a 35-19 halftime lead.
“Two of the touchdowns was because of our tackling,” Wood said. “We had a letdown during the final three minutes because of frustration and fatigue. I challenged them at halftime that we would come back and overcome those things.”
Lonoke took a 41-19 lead midway through the third quarter on Allen’s 35-yard pass to Chaston Dockery. The Panthers scored before the end of the quarter on Cook’s 32-yard pass to Diego Rubio.
Heber Springs trailed 41-25 going into the fourth quarter.
Each team scored a touchdown during the final quarter. Allen had a 2-yard scoring carry with 11:51 left for Lonoke. McKee caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Cook for the Panthers.
HIGH SCORING GAMES
Friday night's game between Lonoke and Heber Springs produced the third most combined points in the series between the two schools.
2011 - 109 (Heber Springs 63, Lonoke 46)
2013 - 97 (Lonoke 63, Heber Springs 34)
2020 - 78 (Lonoke 47, Heber Springs 31)
1992 - 77 (Lonoke 49, Heber Springs 28)
2016 - 69 (Heber Springs 48, Lonoke 21)
2008 - 68 (Lonoke 47, Heber Springs 21)
2014 - 64 (Heber Springs 40, Lonoke 24)
2017 - 63 (Heber Springs 41, Lonoke 22)
1942 - 56 (Lonoke 53, Heber Springs 3)
2007 - 53 (Lonoke 35, Heber Springs 18)
Heber Springs (1-3, 0-1) 12 7 6 6 - 31
Lonoke (3-1, 1-0) 7 28 6 6 - 47
Heber Springs, Hunter Kent to Isaac King 56-yard pass (run failed), 11:17
Lonoke, Ja'coree Womack 18-yard run (Tom Boatright kick), 6:31
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Kent 1-yard pass (run failed), 3:27
Lonoke, Bradon Allen 22-yard run (Boatright kick), 11:44
Heber Springs, Cook to Nathan McKee 44-yard pass (Gus Hannah kick), 10:02
Lonoke, Womack 23-yard run (Anthony Parks run), 7:21
Lonoke, Parks 100-yard interception return (Boatright kick), 4:33
Lonoke, Allen 3-yard run (run failed), :32
Lonoke, Allen to Chaston Dockery 35-yard pass (run failed), 7:58
Heber Springs, Cook to Diego Rubio 32-yard pass (pass failed), 1:58
Lonoke, Allen 2-yard run (kick failed), 11:51
Heber Springs, Cook to McKee 52-yard pass (pass failed), 6:07
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 5, Lonoke 9
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 10, Lonoke 5
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 0, Lonoke 2
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 15, Lonoke 16
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/12, Lonoke 3/13
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 3/6, Lonoke 3/7
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 1/2, Lonoke 3/3
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 22:06, Lonoke 25:54
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 4/3, Lonoke 4/2
Turnovers: Heber Springs 6, Lonoke 2
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 6, Lonoke 21
Penalties: Heber Springs 5/42, Lonoke 6/42
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 66/377/5.7, Lonoke 69/340/4.9
Rushing: Heber Springs 24/18/.8, Lonoke 50/211/4.2
Passing: Heber Springs 23/42-359-5/3, Lonoke 6/19-129-1/0
Sacked/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 3/24, Lonoke 1/11
Punts: Heber Springs 2/63/31.5, Lonoke 3/82/27.3
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, Lonoke 0
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 3/27, Nathan McKee 1/23, Diego Rubio 3/10, Isaac King 1/8, Matthew Cook 15/(-14), Team 1/(-36). Lonoke, Ja'coree Womack 20/115, Bradon Allen 23/74, Anthony Parks 3/27, Latrell Burnett 1/2, Landon Jones 3/(-2), Team 1/(-5).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 21/39-293-4/3, Hunter Kent 2/3-66-1/0. Lonoke, Bradon Allen 6/19-129-1/0
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 8/162, Hunter Kent 5/67, Isaac King 4/73, Diego Rubio 3/39, Matthew Cook 1/10, Gus Hannah 1/8, Kenan Sneed 1/(-1). Lonoke, Landon Jones 3/63, Chaston Dockery 1/35, Anthony Parks 1/23, Ja'coree Womack 1/8.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 279, Hunter Kent 93, Nathan McKee 23, Diego Rubio 10, Isaac King 8. Lonoke, Bradon Allen 203, Ja'coree Womack 115, Anthony Parks 27, Latrell Burnett 2, Landon Jones (-2).
PUNT RETURNS: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 1/17
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 3/30, Nathan McKee 2/22, Hunter Kent 1/34, Kenan Sneed 1/9. Lonoke, Romel Rankin 2/22, Latrell Burnett 1/7, Deon Campbell 1/0, Cody Amato 1/0.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Lonoke, Anthony Parks 1/100, Deon Campbell 1/34
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 207, Hunter Kent 145, Isaac King 81, Diego Rubio 79, Gus Hannah 8, Kenan Sneed 8, Matthew Cook (-4). Lonoke, Anthony Parks 150, Ja'coree Womack 123, Bradon Allen 74, Landon Jones 61, Chaston Dockery 35, Deon Campbell 34, Romel Rankin 22, Latrell Burnett 9
SCORING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 12, Diego Rubio 6, Isaac King 6, Hunter Kent 6, Gus Hannah 1 (1/1 XPA). Lonoke, Bradon Allen 18, Ja'coree Womack 12, Anthony Parks 8, Chaston Dockery 6, Tom Boatright 3 (3/4 XPA)
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2/63/31.5. Lonoke, Ayden Rowton 3/82/27.3
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook .5/11, Hunter Kent .5/11. Lonoke, Latrell Burnett 1/9, Dalynn Waits 1/8, Seth Sherman 1/7.
Fumble Recoveries: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook, Chris Smith. Lonoke, Tayler Coffey, team 2.
Interceptions: Lonoke, Anthony Parks, Deon Campbell, Chaston Dockery.
It’s not a one-game football season, but Friday’s nonconference finale may set the tone going into conference play.
Heber Springs hopes to take a step forward and build momentum for the 2-4A Conference opener with a win against Dover at Panther Field. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m.
The Panthers (0-2) played two of the top ranked Class 3A teams in the first two games — No. 1 Harding Academy and No. 4 Newport.
Dover (0-3) lost its first three games by a combined score of 126-22 to Hector, Atkins and Salem.
“We will be looking for growth against Dover,” Heber Springs head coach Todd Wood said. “We want to settle into the way we want to play on offense and defense during the conference games. We want a win and also show improvement in all areas.”
Dover head coach Will Cox said it was mixed emotions coming back to Panther Stadium. Cox coached the last two years at Heber Springs and was the interim head coach last season.
“Three coaches I worked with closely are still on staff,” Cox said. “I was very close to coach (Drew) Lawrence, (E.G.) Dew and (Hunter) Davis. It will be different being on the other side of the field. But it’s going to be exciting to be back in Heber.”
Cox said emphasis is on the game against the Panthers.
“Our focus will be on ourselves and building the Dover program in the right way,” he said. “It probably helped with preparation because I coached some of Heber’s players in the past. Those guys can make plays. I’ve got a lot of respect for all of those guys and know what they are capable of doing.”
Heber Springs is averaging 150 yards of offense and four turnovers through two games. Wood plans more personnel changes for Friday’s game, in an attempt fore more production.
“We must have better execution,” Wood said. “We have not had it for an entire game yet. You can’t give up the ball as many times we did in the last two games (eight turnovers) and win.”
Wood noticed more positives in practice and hope it carries over to the game.
“We had good practices,” he said. “We are continuing to learn and trying to figure everything out. It was a positive week.”
Wood said Matthew Cook, who was the backup for the first two games, will start at quarterback. Sophomore Conner Riddle, who completed 6-of-7 passes for 47 yards against Harding Academy in the second half, also is expected to play.
“Conner played well, but he still has a long way to go,” Wood said. “He is still learning the offense.”
Sophomore Isaac King, who started at safety, played receiver in the second half and may play a bigger role against Dover.
“Isaac stepped in for Nathan McKee at safety and also caught passes (6-47),” Wood said. “He will probably start again at safety and at receiver.”
Wood said changes are planned for the offensive and defensive line.
“We don’t have much depth and the injuries are affecting us,” he said. “(Preston) Roberson will probably not play because of a bad back for the second straight week.”
The injury list increased with the loss of Gus Hannah, and Wood said Chris Smith is questionable on the line. Payton Owens is expected to play against Dover, along with the return of McKee.
Dover will depend on Dawson Branch and Brantley Craig from its version of a winged offense. Craig is expected to start at quarterback. The Pirates also will utilize the talents of Jon Greathouse.
“It has been a juggling act,” Cox said when asked about Dover’s offense. “Dawson and Branley have played quarterback. Branley is a dynamic player with speed and settling into the offense.”
Cox said one of the keys to the game will be the play of Dover’s defense.
“We need to tackle well and create turnovers,” he said. “We need to do what is necessary to pick up a win.”
Wood said the Panthers played balanced offenses in the first two games, but Dover will be a different challenge with emphasis on the running game.
“Dover established its running game,” Wood said. “We must do a better job of going to the ball and play more aggressive on defense.”
RADIO/VIDEO STREAMING: 101.9 The Lake. Billy Morgan will handle play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing the color commentary. Pregame begins at 6:45 with kickoff at 7 p.m.
Heber Springs vs. Dover The Series
Dover leads 6-3
LAST MEETING: 1997 in Heber Springs, Heber Springs 32, Dover 7
LAST WEEK: Heber Springs lost to Harding Academy, 45-6; Dover lost to Salem, 46-0
TONIGHT: This will be the 10th time these two teams have played each other. The first meeting was in 1987, a 20-14 nonconference victory for Heber Springs. The teams would split four nonconference games from 1987-90, with Dover winning in 1988 (13-7) and 1989 (14-6) and the Panthers winning in 1990, 40-0.
OLD CONFERENCE FOES: The next time Dover and Heber Springs would meet on the gridiron would come in the 1993 season when the Panthers and Pirates meet as members of the 4AA-East conference for three seasons, with Dover winning all three. The two teams would remained paired in the new 5AA-North conference for two seasons (1996-1997) with the teams splitting those two games.
HIATUS: Tonight's game is the final nonconference contest for the Panthers and Pirates. Newport and Dover replaced Greenbrier and Clinton (now in the same conference). Heber Springs has lost to Newport (45-6) and Harding Academy (45-6) while Dover has lost to Hector, 30-8 in week 0; Atkins, 48-14, in week 1; and Salem, 46-0 in week 2. Dover is idle next week after conference-foe Subiaco Academy opted to play 8-man football this season giving the Pirates the opportunity to play four nonconference games.
NONCONFERENCE WOES: Heber Springs has lost eight consecutive regular-season nonconference games. The Panthers last regular season nonconference win came on Sept. 15, 2017, at Panther Stadium against Harding Academy, 35-14.
LOSING STREAK: Dover has lost 13 consecutive games. The Pirates last win came on Nov. 1, 2018 with a 46-42 victory over Waldron.
-- Notes by Philip Seaton
Fans may need a game program to keep up with the Heber Springs Panthers against Class 3A defending champion Harding Academy at First Security Stadium in Searcy at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Panthers (0-1) will look to rebound from last week’s 45-6 loss to Newport. Harding Academy (1-0) began the season with a 44-20 win at Mena.
“We have a lot of things to correct,” Heber Springs head coach Todd Wood said. “We will make changes, so we can become a better team. Most of our mistakes can be corrected. We worked on doing that in practice.”
The Panthers were held to 121 yards and look for more production. Wood said personnel changes on offense and defense may occur, but the final decision on starting lineups may not be decided until Friday.
Wood didn’t talk about specific changes, but he said junior John McBroome and senior Matthew Cook worked at quarterback, along with sophomore Conner Riddle.
Cook started at receiver against Newport and switched to quarterback. He led the Panthers’ running game with 48 yards. McBroome and Cook combined to complete 10-of-22 passes for 53 yards.
Wood didn’t talk about specific players and accepted the blame. He vowed to do a better job of calling plays against Harding Academy.
“I was not pleased with my play calling against Newport,” Wood said. “On offense, the play of the line is important. We had too many missed assignments. The receivers sometimes didn’t run the right routes. We need to change a lot of the things we do and worked on correcting mistakes in practice.”
Wood said players spent more time this week working on tackling and he expects a better performance against the Wildcats.
“Our tackling must improve,” he said. “We need better leverage in coverage of the receivers and stopping the running game.”
Wood said the goal is to make the right changes and put the players in position to have success.
“We will put the players in the right positions to help us win the game,” Wood said.
Harding Academy will put a 16-game win streak on the line.
Senior quarterback Caden Sipe, who passesd for 364 yards and six touchdowns last season against the Panthers, returns to lead the offense. Sipe completed 27-of-38 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns against Mena. He also is a run threat and rushed for 104 yards in the Wildcats’ opener.
Ty Dugger, considered one of the state’s top receivers, caught 10 passes for 148 yards and two scores in the opener. Dugger caught 11 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s game at Panther Stadium.
“It will be a similar challenge as against Newport, playing a team that has been executing the same offense for a period of years,” Wood said. “Harding Academy is a very disciplined team on offense and defense. Harding will be very physical like Newport, but it will not have the speed of Newport.”
Sipe caught the attention of Wood quickly.
“The quarterback is very impressive as a passer and runner,” Wood said. “He makes good decisions.”
Wood said Harding Academy’s defense will be a different challenge for the Panthers.
“Harding will play more zone, but it will play man-to-man,” he said. “They will show us a variety of coverages.”
Heber Springs will play the underdog role for the second straight week, but Wood said improvement in one area can help the Panthers to succeed.
“We need better execution,” he said. “If we can do that, we will have a chance to do well.”
ADMISSION: For those wanting to attend the game in Searcy, they must pick up a voucher at the Heber Springs school district. Those without vouchers will not be admitted.
RADIO/VIDEO STREAMING: 101.9 The Lake. Billy Morgan will handle play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing the color commentary. Pregame begins at 6:45 with kickoff at 7 p.m.
Heber Springs vs. Harding Academy
Harding Academy leads 32-14
LAST MEETING: 2019 in Heber Springs, Harding Academy won 50-49
LAST WEEK: Heber Springs lost to Newport, 45-6; Harding Academy defeated Mena, 44-20.
TONIGHT: Friday night’s match-up at in Searcy will be the 47th in the series between Heber Springs and Harding Academy. The two teams first met in 1951. Heber Springs won that contest 33-6. The Panthers won the first two meetings before the Wildcats won three straight.
OLD CONFERENCE FOES: The Panthers and Wildcats played continuously from 1951 until 1969. The two teams were part of the 2B conference from 1951-1968 and part of the 2A-South in 1969.
STATE CHAMPIONS: Harding Academy has won seven state titles 1976, 1977, 1983, 2002, 2012, 2015 and 2019. The two teams did not meet when the Wildcats won the title in 1976, 1977 and 2002. In 1983, Harding Academy defeated Heber Springs, 19-14. In 2012, Heber Springs led 6-0, but the game was canceled due to weather in the first quarter. In 2015, the Widlcats won 40-12 and the Wildcats also won last season, 50-49.
HIATUS: From 1995 through 2006, the two teams only meet twice, both games won by Harding Academy in 1998 and 1999. Since the series resumed in 2010, the two teams have played nine completed games with Harding Academy winning four of those.
SHUTOUTS: The Panthers have won three games by shutouts, while the Wildcats have shutout Heber Springs, 13 times. The last shutout in the series came in 1993, a 28-0 win by the Wildcats.
TOUCHDOWN OR LESS: 12 games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year. There have been no overtime games in the series.
MOST POINTS: The most points scored by the Panthers in series was 49 in 2011 and 2019 while Harding Academy scored 50 last season for the most points the Wildcats have scored against the Panthers.
NONCONFERENCE WOES: Heber Springs has lost seven consecutive regular-season nonconference games. The Panthers last regular season nonconference win came on Sept. 15, 2017, at Panther Stadium against Harding Academy, 35-14. Since 2015, Heber Springs is 2-14 in regular-season nonconference games.
INJURED: Nathan McKee is questionable for tonight's game against Harding Academy while Preston Roberson is out.
By PHILIP SEATON
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.”
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.”
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