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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
SEARCY – The Heber Springs Panthers must wait for another year to participate in the Class 4A state football playoffs.
Riverview converted a third-quarter interception into the game’s only points and defeated the Panthers 7-0 in the season finale at Raider Stadium on Friday.
The win was the first ever for the Raiders against Heber Springs (1-5 in 2-4A Conference, 2-7 overall), which won the first six games of the series between the two teams.
Riverview’s Robert Lee III intercepted a Xander Lindley pass midway through the third quarter. The Raiders, aided by a personal foul and unsportsmanlike penalties against Heber Springs, capitalized by driving 51 yards on six plays for a touchdown.
On a fourth-and-goal play, Koby Teeter scored on a 5-yard run with 5:55 left in the third quarter. Jonny Montalvan kicked the extra point.
“Like I told the team after the game, it has been a rough two weeks,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood, referring to the loss of two more offensive starters on offense. “About 70 percent of our offensive production was not on the field. It forced us to play a lot of freshmen.”
Receivers Easton Cusick and Dalton Yancey joined running back Parker Brown on the injured list.
“We learned Yancey had a season-ending injury early in the week,” Wood said. “Easton injured his ankle last week and then came down with the flu. Only one of our receivers who was a starter from the beginning of the season was able to play. We had to look at other ways to make things happen on offense.”
Heber Springs outgained Riverview in total offense for the game — 186 yards to 160 yards. The Panthers rushed for 81 yards and passed for 105 yards. Riverview had 151 yards of its total offense on the ground.
Nick Franklin rushed 20 times for 78 yards to lead Raiders. Teeter had 35 yards on 11 carries and scored one touchdown. Charles Thompson ran seven times for 16 yards.
Freshman Bryce Siegrist, who replaced starter Lindley at quarterback in the second half, completed 4-of-8 passes for 51 yards. Siegrist had 28 yards rushing on nine attempts.
Lindley rushed 20 times for 64 yards and completed 4-of-15 passes for 54 yards with one interception. Sophomore Logan Rutridge caught two passes for 44 yards.
“Siegrist went into the game and tried to make things happen,” Wood said. “Xander was called to run more times than any other game this season because he gave us the best shot. He (Lindley) did that as long as he could, and we made the change.”
Wood said Siegrist’s performance is a sign of the program’s bright future.
“He had to use his feet sometimes to make things happen,” Wood said. “He showed a little of what he did during the junior high season, keeping plays alive and finding open receivers. That is what you have to do to be a playmaker.”
The other freshmen didn’t go without catching the coach’s eye.
“I give a lot of credit to the guys who had to come in and play,” Wood said. “They did the best that they could. They showed a lot about their character and kept battling until the end of the game.”
Wood said senior Chris Edwards, a starting linebacker all season, accepted more of a role on offense because of the injuries. Edwards caught four passes for 56 yards.
“Chris assumed the role of lead blocker at a position he normally doesn’t play,” Wood said. “He also played on defense and never asked at anytime to come out of the game. He was a warrior.”
The game was scoreless during the first half. Riverview reached the red zone once when it received the opening kickoff and drove to the Heber Springs 14-yard line. The Panthers held on a fourth-down play.
The Raiders committed their only turnover when Heber Springs junior Corbin Jones recovered a fumble during the first quarter.
But the Panthers didn’t go away easily.
Late in the third quarter, Siegrist’s 49-yard punt was downed inside the Riverview 1-yard line. The Panthers held and forced a punt, but Rutledge mishandled the punt on the return as Riverview recovered at the Heber Springs 41-yard line.
The Panthers again held the Raiders and regained possession following a punt at their 12-yard line.
Heber Springs started its final drive by overcoming overcame consecutive holding penalties. Siegrist scrambled for 15 yards on third down and ran four yards on fourth-and-one for the first down.
After a quarterback sack on first down, Siegrist connected on a 30-yard pass to Logan Rutledge to the Heber Springs 49-yard line. The Panthers converted their second fourth-down conversion of the drive on the next play when Edwards caught a 16-yard pass from Siegrist for a first down.
Siegrist connected on an 8-yard pass to freshman Emmett Dwyer with 1:10 left in the game. After a Heber Springs timeout, Siegrist tried to threw deep, but Riverview’s Matthew Jones leaped and intercepted at the 9-yard line with 1:04 to play.
“Bryce gave the team a spark on the final drive,” Wood said. “He kept things alive and found players open downfield, like Dwyer, who ran earlier in the day at the state cross country meet (in Hot Springs). He showed up right before gametime and made a big catch late in the game.”
Wood said the team will move forward and start preparing for next season.
“We learned that we have to hit the weightroom harder and get bigger bodies,” he said. “We dressed out 40 players and that is one of the keys to have a better team in the future. We got to keep all of them together.”
Riverview (2-4 in 2-4A Conference, 3-7 overall) earned the No. 4 seed while Bald Knob finished as the five seed from the conference. Harding Academy won the conference title, Stuttgart finished second while Lonoke finished third.
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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
The Heber Springs Panthers will go into a season finale for the second straight year needing a win to earn a playoff berth.
Heber Springs finished the home football schedule by falling to Harding Academy 39-13 at Panther Stadium on Friday. The Wildcats (5-0 in 2-4A Conference, 9-0 overall) clinched at least a share of the 2-4A Conference championship and a No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
Heber Springs (1-4 in 2-4A Conference, 2-6 overall) will play at Riverview (1-4 in 2-4A Conference, 2-7 overall) on Friday, with the winner advancing to the playoffs.
With a win, the Panthers would play at 4-4A Conference champion Haskell Harmony Grove in the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 11.
Harding Academy built a 21-0 lead against Heber Springs by the end of the first quarter and scored touchdowns on its first four possessions. The Wildcats added a field goal and a fumble return for a touchdown during the second quarter.
Heber Springs scored two second-half touchdowns against Harding Academy reserves.
“That’s right,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood when asked about playoff possibilities. “It was part of the decision-making with some players in this game. We need to get healthy. One of our goals is still in our hands. We need to go and win at Riverview. We will find a way to get into the playoffs.”
The Panthers were not at full strength against the Wildcats with running back Parker Brown held out because of a knee injury. Senior linebacker Kenan Sneed started and played one snap on senior night, but missed the rest of the game with a broken toe.
“Parker’s status is uncertain at this time,” Wood said. “Kenan played briefly to keep his streak of starting every game. We will try and figure everything out for the Riverview game.”
Harding Academy scored on drives of 60, 69 and 61 yards during the first quarter. Owen Miller threw for touchdowns of 20 and 16 yards to Landon Koch and a 5-yard shovel pass to Kyler Hoover. Kyle Ferrie, a Mississippi State commit, kicked the extra point following the scores.
Miller, who was 15-of-18 passing for 187 yards, completed his first nine passes of the first quarter for 144 yards. Koch caught six passes for 99 yards.
The Wildcats finished the first half with 209 yards of total offense and 14 first downs.
The Panthers had minus 8 yards of total offense and two first downs over the first two quarters against the Wildcat starters.
“Harding is ranked No. 1 in most state polls for Class 4A and an outstanding team,” Wood said. “They know what to do in big games and won the last three Class 3A state championships.”
For the game, Harding completed 15-of-19 passes for 187 yards and rushed for 78 yards on 23 attempts. Heber Springs connected on 7-of-12 passes for 53 yards and 87 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Gideon Tate rushed 11 times for 76 yards, while Easton Cusick had 43 yards on four attempts.
Xander Lindley completed 4-of-6 passes for 33 yards. Lindley, who was sacked twice, ran 13 times for a minus 41 yards. Logan Rutledge caught a 35-yard pass.
In the second quarter, Hoover caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Miller. Ferrie, who was seven-of-seven on touchbacks on kickoffs, kicked the extra point and later made a 29-yard field goal.
The Wildcats scored their final touchdown when a high snap over Lindley’s head was retrieved by Wyatt Simmons, the son of Harding University coach Paul Simmons, and returned 37 yards. Holder Jack Citty picked up a low snap and ran for a 2-point conversion.
“You have to be hitting on all cylinders when playing Harding,” Wood said. “It was all about execution, and we didn’t execute well in areas. We will keep working to improve and move to the next game.”
Heber Springs scored at the end of a 7-play, 95-yard drive late in the third quarter. Tate’s 39-yard run gave the Panthers working room on the first play of the series. Cusick, who moved to quarterback for the second half, rushed for 20 yards and a first down at the Harding Academy 36-yard line.
Staying with the running game, Tate gained 27 yards on the next three plays for a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Tate scored on a 6-yard carry. The kick for the conversion try was unsuccessful because of a bad snap.
Heber Springs converted a fumble recovery at the Wildcat 29-yard line that set up the second touchdown. Cusick ran for 17 yards and three more running plays set up a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line.
Cusick scored on the next play. Tate kicked the extra point.
“Easton is a guy who is ready to play every position,” Wood said. “He played well, and I was proud of how he moved the offense down the field. He was able to score a touchdown on senior night.”
Wood also liked Tate’s performance at running back.
“Tate is a hard runner,” Wood said. “He will spin and make good moves.”
Twenty-two freshmen joined the Panther roster after completion of the junior high school season.
Bryce Seigrist threw two passes to Eli Buffalo for 16 yards. Cooper Holmes contributed a 9-yard rushing carry.
“It was good to get the freshmen into the game,” Wood said. “That will benefit us not only for the rest of this season, but the future.”
By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Stuttgart’s running game overwhelmed the Heber Spring Panther defense during Friday’s 2-4A Conference football game at Panther Stadium.
The Ricebirds (3-1 in 2-4A Conference, 6-2 overall) rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns, including two 70-yard plus scoring plays, and coasted past the Panthers 38-6 and stayed one-half game behind second-place Lonoke in the conference standings.
Heber Springs (1-3 in 2-4A Conference, 2-5 overall), remained in a fourth-place tie with Bald Knob and Cave City, one-half game ahead of Riverview.
Cedric Hawkins carried 13 times for 214 yards and scored three touchdowns. Deontae Clark rushed for 115 yards on 17 attempts and completed 4-of-7 passes for 50 yards and one touchdown to Kentavian Daniels.
Hawkins, who had 258 all-purpose yards, and Clark combined for 379 of Stuttgart’s 474 yards of total offense.
“We played a very physical team for the second week in a row,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood, referring to the previous week’s loss at Lonoke. “We had opportunities on offense and showed flashes from Jonesboro Westside and Cave City games. That was encouraging.”
The Panthers, who didn’t have a turnover in a single game for the first time this season last week at Lonoke, lost three fumbles, one setting up a touchdown, and an interception. Heber Springs had 16 turnovers during the first five games.
The Panthers compiled 273 yards of total offense – 143 rushing and 130 passing.
Running back Parker Brown ran 12 times for 75 yards and caught four passes for 54 yards. Quarterback Xander Lindley gained 34 yards on 11 carries. Gideon Tate rushed five times for 24 yards.
Lindley, who finished with 164 yards of total offense, completed 16-of-22 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Easton Cusick caught seven passes for 64 yards and scored one touchdown. Dalton Yancey had five catches for 12 yards.
Brown compiled 129 all-purpose yards, including six kickoff returns for 68 yards. Cusick gained 113 all-purpose yards, which included five kickoff returns for 49 yards.
“We had guys in the right places and executed on offense at times,” Wood said. “When we got into the red zone, we have to put points on the board.”
Wood said he talked with the team before the game about preventing big plays by the Stuttgart offense.
“Defensively, we needed to eliminate explosive plays. We must contain and tackle better. We have a way to go in learning how to get the right tackling angles and how to execute better on defense. Our goals remain to improve every game and get into the playoffs.”
Stuttgart, which overcame two offsides and a holding penalties, received the opening kickoff and drove 52 yards on nine plays. Hawkins scored on a 2-yard carry with 8:17 left in the first quarter. Jack Hosman kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
The Ricebirds increased their lead when Stuttgart linebacker Cade Coats returned a Parker Brown fumble 14 yards to the Heber Springs 33-yard line and set up the game’s second touchdown. Clark connected on a 21-yard scoring pass to Daniels and Hosman’s successful kick gave the Ricebirds a 14-0 lead with 26 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Heber Springs’ only first-half scoring opportunity at the end of a 42-yard drive to the Stuttgart 14-yard line. Tate’s 31-yard field-goal try went wide.
Stuttgart needed only two plays to reach the end zone again. Hawkins’ 79-yard run and Hosman’s successful kick gave the Ricebirds a 21-0 halftime lead.
Stuttgart extended its lead during the third quarter on Hosman’s 24-yard field goal and Hawkins’ 87-yard touchdown run. The Ricebirds took a 31-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
Heber Springs avoided a shutout by driving 80 yards on 11 plays during the fourth quarter. The Panthers moved into scoring position thanks to Lindley’s three pass completions to Brown. Cusick caught a 21-yard scoring pass from Lindley with 8:38 to play. Tate’s kick for the extra point was blocked.
Stuttgart’s final touchdown came on a 5-play, 69-yard drive when A.J. Higgins scored on a 2-yard run with 6:38 to play. Hosman kicked the extra point.
Heber Springs will finish a three-week stretch against conference contenders when the Panthers host first place Harding Academy on Friday.
“We knew this was going to be a tough stretch,” Wood said. “It will not get any easier against Harding, perhaps the best team in the conference. We still will be working on executing better.”
Even with another loss, the Panthers can punch a postseason ticket by winning at Riverview on Nov. 4.
“We don’t want to be in the position that the playoffs may be determined in our final game,” Wood said. “Our plan is to come out and stop Harding, and continue growth on offense and defense. Our playoff fate is still in our hands.”
Senior linebacker Chris Edwards was held out of the Stuttgart game following an injury at Lonoke.
“He could have played against Stuttgart, but we decided to hold him out,” Wood said. “He may play in the Harding game.”
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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
LONOKE –Two game-changing plays late in the first half changed momentum during Friday’s 2-4A Conference football game between the Heber Springs Panthers and Lonoke Jackrabbits at James B. Abraham Stadium and helped Lonoke defeat Heber Springs, 28-7.
Heber Springs threatened to tie the game and possibly take the lead late in the first half. The Panthers drove to the Lonoke 6-yard line where the Jackrabbits held on fourth down.
“One of my first thoughts was kicking the field goal,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “The receiver was open, but the pass was a little low. We need to execute better in that situation.”
Momentum continued its swing toward the Jackrabbits. On the next series, Lonoke quarterback Bradon Allen avoided being sacked in the end zone for a safety on a third down, forcing a punt.
Heber Springs couldn’t get a first down on three plays as the Jackrabbits regained possession on Parker Brown’s punt that rolled into the end zone. Lonoke then drove 80 yards on play for a touchdown and 14-0 halftime lead.
Lonoke built a three-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter and remained in second place, a half-game lead ahead of Stuttgart in the conference standings.
The Panthers stayed in a fourth-place tie with Bald Knob, one-half game ahead of Cave City and Riverview, which are tied for sixth place.
“We gave a great effort (against Lonoke), never quit and kept fighting,” Wood said. “I liked the effort in the first half when we had a chance to be only down 6-0. We did a good job of maintaining the ball during the first half and you have to do that against a team like Lonoke.”
Lonoke compiled 358 yards in total offense — 248 rushing and 110 passing — and held the Panthers to 209 yards — 137 rushing and 72 passing. The Jackrabbits held a 16-11 in first downs.
“Sometimes, you go against a team more physical with more size and speed,” Wood said. “Lonoke is a good team and one of the best in the conference. When you play a team like Lonoke, you must make sure you are hitting on all cylinders.”
Brown led the Heber Springs running game with 21 carries for 78 yards. Quarterback Xander Lindley had 47 yards on 12 carries and scored one touchdown.
Lindley completed 8-of-14 passes for 72 yards. Easton Cusick caught four passes for 54 yards. Brown and Dalton Yancey each had two catches for 12 yards.
Brown, who averaged 42 yards on three punts, had 142 all-purpose yards, including three kickoff returns for 64 yards. Chris Edwards, who left the game during the second half with a knee injury, had two kickoff returns for 38 yards.
Allen rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown for Lonoke. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Latrell Burnett rushed nine times for 67 yards and caught two passes for 85 yards and one touchdown. Burnett had 152 all-purpose yards.
Wood said depth played a role, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Our bigger guys played most of the game and were worn out by the second half,” he said. “But they kept working hard and never quit. I’m proud of the way Parker ran. You saw that he can run when the defense tried to box him on the inside. Parker showed what he is capable of doing, made things happen and got positive yardage.”
After Brown’s 44-yard punt, Lonoke drove 95 yards on six plays for a 6-0 lead. Burnett caught a short pass from Allen and broke free down the sidelines on a 67-yard scoring play with six minutes left in the first quarter. Tom Boatright’s kick for the extra point was unsuccessful.
The Jackrabbits didn’t reach the end zone again until late in the first half. Allen, who scrambled 35 yards earlier in the drive, scored on an 11-yard run with 1:31 left in the first half. Burnett ran for a 2-point conversion, giving Lonoke a 14-0 halftime lead.
Lonoke’s depth became eventual when the Jackrabbits increased its lead by driving 57 yards on nine plays during the third quarter. Landon Jones scored on a 4-yard run and Boatwright’s conversion kick increased the lead to 21-0 with 2:57 left.
Heber Springs responded by driving 52 yards on nine playoffs following the kickoff. Cusick’s 35-yard catch of a Lindley pass advanced the Panthrs into the red zone. Lindley scored on a run from the 1-yard line with 10:18 left in the game. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point.
Lonoke added a final touchdown on Cody Amato’s 32-yard touchdown run and Boatwright’s conversion kick with 5:53 to play.
Heber Springs (1-2 in 2-4A Conference, 2-4 overall) will play back-to-back home games, starting with Stuttgart on Friday. Heber Springs will host conference leader Harding Academy on Oct. 28.
“Two of the conference’s top two teams will be coming and playing us at home,” Wood said. “We need to learn from the Lonoke game and start preparing for Stuttgart. We still have an opportunity for the playoffs.”
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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
BALD KNOB – The Heber Springs Panthers appeared in position for their second 2-4A Conference football win against Bald Knob at Bulldog Stadium on Friday.
Heber Springs (1-1 in 2-4A Conference, 2-3 overall) led 21-12 early in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs (1-0 in 2-4A Conference, 2-3 overall), drove 63 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown.
Bald Knob’s Brady Johnson turned in the defensive play of the game by intercepting a Xander Lindley pass at the Panther 30-yard line and returned 10 yards.
Four plays later, quarterback Reece Moody scored on a 1-yard sneak as the Bulldogs upset Heber Springs, 26-21.
“Bald Knob moved the ball during the second half, and we didn’t,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said when asked the difference during the second half. “Bald Knob pushed our (offensive and defensive) lines around, and we didn’t have a response to them. We have a lot of work to do on our blocking.”
The Bulldogs finished with an advantage of 335 yards to 295 yards in total offense. One of the deciding factors was Bald Knob’s run game. The Bulldogs rushed for 203 yards on 43 attempts to Heber’s 102 yards on 21 carries.
Moody led Bald Knob’s ground game with 93 yards on 16 tries and scored two touchdowns. Bohn Hickman had 64 yards on 16 carries and scored one touchdown. Landon Gilmore ran nine times for 39 yards and one touchdown.
Moody, who compiled 225 total yards, completed 13-of-21 passes for 132 yards. Gilmore and Jamos Holder each caught five passes for 75 and 42 yards, respectively. Gilmore had 114 all-purpose yards.
Chris Roberts and Easton Cusick each intercepted passes for the Panthers.
Brown, who had 202 all-purpose yards, rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries, while Lindley ran eight times for 25 yards. Lindley, who compiled 218 yards of total offense, completed 14-of-27 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Brown was 0-of-1 passing.
Brown also was the leading receiver with six catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Edwards caught three passes for 18 yards. Dalton Yancey and Easton Cusick each had two catches for 19 and 18 yards, respectively. Logan Rutledge caught a 10-yard pass.
Johnson intercepted three passes, while Eric Williams had an interception to lead Bald Knob’s defense.
“We tried to get the ball on the edge to Parker because he can make things happen,” Wood said. “That is a coaching point, and we need to a better job doing that for the next game.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Bald Knob took a 6-0 lead by driving 58 yards on 10 plays. Moody broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1 and ran 21 yards for the touchdown with 8:57 left in the first half. The try for the 2-point conversion was unsuccessful.
Heber Springs needed one play following the ensuing kickoff to take the lead. Lindley passed to Brown, who slipped free down the sidelines on a 66-yard touchdown play. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point, giving the Panthers a 7-6 lead with 8:43 to go until halftime.
A fourth-down stop at the Heber Springs 48-yard line set up the next score. The Panthers, who overcame a holding penalty, needed eight plays on a 52-yard drive, capped by Brown’s 16-yard touchdown pass from Lindley. Tate’s successful kick increased the lead to 14-6 with 4:29 left in the first half.
Bald Knob pulled to within two points before halftime when Gilmore scored on a 5-yard run at the end of the 9-play, 65-yard drive with 1:23 remaining until intermission. The Panthers held again on the Bulldogs’ 2-point conversion try for a 14-12 halftime lead.
“The defense overall played well during the first half,” Wood said. “They were on the field too long during the second half. Our offense couldn’t move the ball because of a lack of execution.”
Roberts’ 40-yard interception return put Heber Springs in position to build a two-score advantage midway through the third quarter. The Panthers drove from their 43-yard line to the Bald Knob 14-yard line as the quarter ended.
Brown caught his third TD pass from Lindley, a 14-yard grab, on the first play of the fourth quarter. Tate kicked the extra point for a 21-12 lead.
Bald Knob drove 63 yards for the first of two touchdowns during the fourth quarter. Gilmore scored on a 4-yard carry with 6:30 left. The try for the 2-point conversion was unsuccessful as Heber Springs led, 21-18.
Next came Johnson’s interception and set up the winning touchdown.
Holder’s 9-yard reception and Moody’s 10-yard carry for a first-and-goal at the 1. Moody, who also ran for the 2-point conversion, scored on the next play with 3:36 left in the game.
“We had opportunity to win the game, leading by nine points, and couldn’t stop them,” Wood said. “Roberts made a good play on the interception. He jumped at the right time. That play shifted momentum to us.”
Heber Springs had a final opportunity for a comeback win. The Panthers drove to midfield when Lindley attempted to throw over the middle, but Williams intercepted at the Bulldog 43-yard line.
The Panthers will have a bye on Friday before returning to action at Lonoke on Oct. 14.
“We will have two weeks for some of our players to recover from illness and prepare for Lonoke,” Wood said. “We are 1-1 in conference and still have our goal of getting to the playoffs within reach.”
By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
The Heber Springs Panthers started the 2-4A Conference schedule on a positive foot last Friday and defeated Cave City at Panther Stadium.
Heber Springs (1-0 in 2-4A Conference, 2-2 overall) hope for another fast start beginning at 7 p.m. Friday when the Panthers will meet the Bald Knob Bulldogs (1-3 overall) at Bulldog Stadium in Bald Knob.
Friday’s game will be the conference opener for the Bulldogs, who are coming off an 8-3 win at Magnet Cove, coached by former Panther Caleb Carmichael.
“It’s always good to get the first conference win,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We now can focus on the things that matter the most, win the second conference game. We took our first step toward the playoffs, which is one of our season goals. We celebrated until Monday before starting preparation for the next game. We don’t want to take a step backwards, but a step forward.”
After playing run-dominated offenses for four weeks, Heber Springs switched gears in preparing to defend the spread. The Bulldogs, who converted 4-of-9 third-down plays into first downs, rushed for 162 yards and passed for 62 yards against Magnet Cove.
“The defense understands Bald Knob plays a different style of offense from what we saw in the first four games,” Wood said. “Bald Knob will run more than the typical spread team. We need to play aggressive on defense, stop the run and force them to pass. It’s going to be a new challenge for the defense.”
Bald Knob’s losses came to Southside Batesville (28-0), Melbourne (34-14) and Barton (32-24). Wood expects a competitive game, similar to last year’s 14-7 win by the Panthers.
“Bald Knob has a big offensive line that can push a defense,” Wood said. “The quarterback (Reece Moody) is a good runner and passer with size. We must key and keep him contained. They will try and get the run game going and then focus on the pass.”
Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley continues his week-to-week improvement. Lindley completed 13-of-15 passes for 179 yards and six touchdowns against Cave City. He had 58 yards rushing on seven attempts. Lindley is the first Panther to pass for six touchdowns in a single game since Brandon Loethen against Arkansas Baptist Prep in 2016.
Easton Cusick emerged as the team’s leading receiver by catching four passes for 76 yards, three for touchdowns. Dalton Yancey also had four catches for 34 yards and one touchdown.
Chris Edwards snagged three passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass and Parker Brown had one catch for 20 yards.
Wood said, like most games, the battle on the line will decide the outcome.
“Bald Knob’s defensive line will be a challenge for our offensive line,” he said. “We need to move them off the line of scrimmage. The outside linebackers play aggressively, but the focus will be on the guys up front.”
Wood said he liked his offense’s performance last week and looks for more improvement against the Bulldogs on Friday.
“We did a better job of maintaining drives against Cave City, except for the fumble at the 2-yard line before the end of the first half,” Wood said. “I liked our execution, and we did a good job of protecting Xander. Our line is improving every game.”
Another major improvement is the versality of the offense from last year. Brown remains important, but Wood said the development of other players is leading to more production.
Brown surpassed his season rushing total (37-179) from the first three games. He rushed 14 times for 191 yards and scored one touchdown.
“We were one dimensional with Parker last year,” Wood said. “We have guys, like Cusick, Yancey, Rutledge and Edwards, with a lot of catches and yards after the catch. The defense can’t just focus on stopping one player.”
Kenan Sneed and Edwards led the charge for the defense with 22 and 18 tackles, respectively, against Cave City. Edwards was credited with two tackles for a loss. But Wood said other players contributed.
“The only disappointment on defense was letting Cave City complete those passes (7-of-12 for 130 yards),” Wood said. “We were in position to make the play, but didn’t finish the job. We tightened up the defense and played well during the second half. I’m thrilled how Corbin Jones played (offensive and defensive lines). Parker came in when (linebacker Weston) Warden was injured and helped at linebacker.”
Weston’s injury will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
Heber Springs played three consecutive games at home, winning back-to-back games. The Panthers now look for success on the road.
“It’s time to go back on the road and show what we can do,” Wood said. “Our goal is the playoffs. We can’t look ahead, but only to the next game. We hope to be 2-0 in conference going into the bye week.”
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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Whatever, Heber Springs coach Todd Wood told the Panthers during halftime worked.
Heber Springs trailed Cave City 15-14 at halftime of Friday’s 2-4A Conference football opener and the homecoming game at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers (1-0 in 2-4A Conference, 2-2 overall) scored on their first play from scrimmage to begin the third quarter, plus three more touchdowns before the start of the fourth quarter and pulled away to a 50-22 win against the Cavemen (0-1 in 2-4A Conference, 0-5 overall).
A fourth-down stop deep in Cave City territory sent everything into motion and led to a two-touchdown advantage. Heber Springs then dominated the remainder of the game.
“We felt good about how the offense performed during the first half,” Wood said. “A lost fumble stopped us on one drive at the 2-yard line. We knew if we could control the ball, we could score. We had to fix the defense, made adjustments during halftime and it worked out well.”
The Panthers started the third quarter when the kickoff went out of bounds. Running back Parker Brown scootered to the outside, turned the corner and ran 60 yards untouched with 11:40 left. Quarterback Xander Lindley ran for the 2-point conversion as Heber Springs led, 22-15, and never trailed again.
Two penalties — personal foul and delay of game — pushed Cave City back toward the end zone at the start of the next series. The Cavemen stalled and decided to go for a first down on a fourth-down play at their 17-yard line.
Linebacker Kenan Sneed blitzed and tackled Cave City’s Shawn Walling in the backfield as the Panthers took possession at the 16-yard line.
“Cave City didn’t surprise me at all by going for a first down, even deep in its territory,” Wood said. “They appeared confident that they could run the ball on us and felt they could do that anywhere on the field. Once we got the stop and the momentum, we felt good about how the game was going.”
Heber Springs turned in increased production on offense for the fourth consecutive game. The Panthers had 460 total yards — 281 rushing and 179 passing.
Brown, who compiled 234 all-purpose yards, surpassed his season rushing total (37-179) from the first three games. He rushed 14 times for 191 yards and scored one touchdown.
“The game plan was to bounce out on the sweeps,” Brown said. “We kept doing those plays and it was working. I got good blocks from the receivers to get into the secondary and moved down the field.”Lindley gained 58 yards on seven rushing attempts. Backup running back Gideon Tate carried eight times for 50 yards during the fourth quarter.
Lindley, who was responsible for 237 yards of his team’s total, completed 13-of-15 passes for 179 yards and six touchdowns. He is the first Panther to pass for six touchdowns in a single game since Brandon Loethen against Baptist Prep in 2016.
“We were able to find their weaknesses and kept running those plays,” Lindley said. “We found out they couldn’t defend the sweeps or the screen passes. We hit the passes to Easton, who utilized his speed when getting to the open field and scored the touchdowns. We were trying to work the inside and then open the outside for the sweeps with Parker.”
Cusick caught four passes for 76 yards and three touchdowns, which matched Brown’s total in a single game against Dover last season.
“On my first touchdown, I got perfect blocking by the outside receiver, who sealed the guy off of me,” Cusick said. “The same thing on the second TD. I cut off the block to the inside, and it was a wide-open field to the end zone. Zander saw me in the corner of the end zone on the last TD and put the ball in the right place.”
Dalton Yancey also had four catches for 34 yards and one touchdown. Chris Edwards snagged three passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass and Brown had one catch for 20 yards.
“We put in a few new plays for Parker where he could get on the edge and into the open field,” Wood said. “Xander continues to execute better every game and getting more freedom to make more plays. He is gaining confidence in himself and executing better. He is throwing the ball better and making good decisions.”
Cave City had 376 yards of total offense — 246 rushing and 240 passing. Bryce Walling rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Shawn Walling gained 76 yards on 16 tries and had one touchdown. Kolbie Birdsong carried eight times for 61 yards.
Cavemen quarterback Jacob Moore completed 7-of-12 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Birdsong caught three passes for 44 yards, while Shawn Walling had two catches for 36 yards and one touchdown.
Cave City received the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards on 10 plays. Shawn Walling scored on a 7-yard carry with 6:04 left in the first quarter. Millie Beller kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Heber Springs tied the game at 7-7 by driving 72 yards on 11 plays. Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lindley with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point.
The Panthers took the lead following a defensive stop. Lindley passed eight yards for a touchdown to Cusick and finished a 56-yard series with 11:28 to go in the first half. Tate’s successful kick increased Heber’s lead to 14-7.
Cave City had a second 80-yard scoring drive, this time needing 12 plays. Bryce Walling had a 3-yard scoring run with 5:39 left in the second quarter, and Shawn Walling ran for the 2-point conversion, giving the Caveman a 15-14 halftime lead.
Heber Springs took the lead for good on Brown’s touchdown run to start the third quarter. Following a defensive stop, Lindley connected on a 16-yard touchdown toss to Dalton Yancey. Tate’s kick gave the Panthers a 29-15 lead with 10:07 to go in the third quarter.
The Heber Springs offense scored two more touchdowns before the end of the quarter. Cusick caught touchdown passes of 43 and 10 yards. Tate kicked the extra points. Moore passed 18 yards to Shawn Walling for Cave City’s final touchdown with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. Beller kicked the extra point.
Heber Springs led 43-22 going into the fourth quarter.
Lindley connected with Edwards on a 23-yard touchdown with 9:25 to play, followed by Tate’s kick for the extra point.
“It’s a big deal winning the first conference game and my final homecoming game,” Cusick said. “It felt good leaving the field after winning.”
“This win will give us a lot of momentum and carry over to the next game,” he said. “We came out for the second half and got the job done.”
Heber Springs will play the first of back-to-back conference road games at Bald Knob (0-0 in 2-4A Conference, 1-3 overall) on Friday. The Panthers will be open on Oct. 7 and then play at Lonoke on Oct. 14.
“I’m looking forward going to next week’s game,” Wood said. “It’s going to be a battle. I remember last year when Xander was injured, but we still pulled out the game. We want to put things together and be 2-0 going into the off week.”
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