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By PHILIP SEATON
Two big plays in a just over four-minute span cost the Heber Springs Junior Panthers a chance of a season-opening victory Thursday night at Panther Stadium.
Southside Batesville broke a 6-all halftime tie with a pair of late third-quarter and early fourth-quarters touchdowns to claim an 18-6 victory.
Heber Springs took the opening kick-off but couldn’t move the chains as Aiden Isom was stopped for a no gain on a fourth-and-4 play from the Panther 37.
The Panther defense appeared to have stiffened forcing a pair of short runs after Rhett Herring threw Southside’s Karsen McSpadden for a four-yard loss on first down. But with the Southerners facing a fourth-and-8 from the Heber Springs 35, Hanlee Cartmill got behind the Panther secondary and McSpadden connected with him for a 35-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed after Southside picked up three penalties on the attempt with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
Five straight fullback runs up the middle by Brody Loethen killed the rest of the first quarter and gave the Panthers a pair of first downs at the Southerner 42. But Heber Springs lost three yards over the next four plays forcing a turnover on downs.
The Southerners then drove to the Panther 17, before a high snap was recovered by Heber Springs’ Landon Brown.
The Panthers managed a first down on a seven-yard run by Landen Peterson, but a fourth-down run by Tanner Graham was stopped two-yards short with 2:03 left before the half.
Heber Springs got another chance before the break on the next play as another snap by Southerner was recovered by Cade Williams at the Southerner 30.
After a loss of a yard on first down, Isom broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run diving for the corner pylon to get the Panthers on the board with 1:07 left in the half. The 2-point conversion leaving the score at 6-all at the break.
The Southerners finished with 13 penalties on the night and on their first possession of the second half four flags frustrated a six-play drive that took 4:43 off the third-quarter clock. That drive only netted two yards and after a 13-yard punt, Heber Springs had the ball at the Southerner 30.
But on the first play of the drive, a Panther fumble was scooped up by Southside’s Cole Vaughn and returned 67 yards for a score with 3:01 left in the stanza. The 2-point conversion was again stopped by the Heber Springs defense.
The Panthers managed a pair of first downs pushing into Southerner territory, but Josiah Riggs was stopped a yard short on fourth down on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On second down, Bryson VanWinkle broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion was again stopped with 6:48 left.
Isom paced Heber Springs with 51 yards on nine carries and his 10-yard carry gave the Panthers their final first down of the night at the Southerner 33. Two plays later an interception ended Heber Springs’ hope of comeback as Southside killed the clock to end the game.
The start time of the game was pushed back due to an excessive heat warning and a seventh-grade game was changed to intra-squad scrimmage. The game was the first one on the new artificial playing surface that was installed this summer replacing the old turf.
Heber Springs will travel to Clinton Thursday night with a scheduled 6:30 p.m. kick-off. The Panther seventh-grade team will open their season at 5:30 p.m. against Clinton.
SOUTHSIDE BATESVILLE AT HEBER SPRINGS
August 25, 2023
TIME OF POSSESSION: Heber Springs 16:25, Southside 15:35
TOTAL FIRST DOWNS: Heber Springs 7, Southside 7
BY RUSH: Heber Springs 6, Southside 6
BY PASS: Heber Springs 0, Southside 1
BY PENALTY: Heber Springs 1, Southside 0
TEAM RUSHING: Heber Springs 32/101/3.2, Southside 29/115/4.0
TEAM PASSING: Heber Springs 0/2-0-0/1, Southside 1/3-35-1/0
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs 34/101/3.0, Southside 32/150/4.7
3RD CONVERSION: Heber Springs 1/6, Southside 0/4
4TH CONVERSION: Heber Springs 0/4, Southside 1/2
TURNOVERS: Heber Springs 2, Southside 2
FUMBLES/LOST: Heber Springs 1/1, Southside 2/2
PENALTIES: Heber Springs 2/10, Southside 13/81
RETURNS: Heber Springs 2/10, Southside 3/93
PUNTS: Heber Springs 0/0, Southside 1/13
SACKS: Heber Springs 1/14, Southside 0/0
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Heber Springs 9/66, Southside 8/20
RUSHING: Heber Springs, Brody Loethen 11/27, Aiden Isom 9/51/1, Landen Peterson 4/2, Landon Brown 3/9, Josiah Riggs 3/13, Tanner Graham 2/(-1). Southside, Karsen McSpadden 10/49, Bryson VanWinkle 9/91/1, Jake Roberts 5/16, Korbin Foster 3/(-8), Team 2/(-33).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Landen Peterson 0/2-0-0/1. Southside, Karsen McSpadden 1/1-35-1/0, Korbin Foster 0/2-0-0/0
RECEIVING: Southside, Hanlee Cartmill 1/35/1.
KICKOFF RETURNS: Heber Springs, Rhett Herring 2/10. Southside, Juju Brooks 1/6.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Southside, Cole Vaughn 1/67/1.
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Southside, Karsen McSpadden 1/20
By PHILIP SEATON
BEEBE – The Van Paschal era at Heber Springs kicked off Tuesday night.
Paschal, the winningest active coach in Arkansas with 240 career wins, was hired in May after spending the last six seasons at Wynne.
His Panthers traveled to White County to tangle with the Beebe in an Arkansas Activities Association Benefit scrimmage game, with proceeds going toward the catastrophic insurance fund.
The two teams played an untimed first half with first-, second- and third-teams facing off against each other for a set number of plays at the teams own 40. After each play, the ball was brought back to the line of scrimmage. In the second half, the teams played in near normal game conditions with a running clock.
Though no score was officially kept in the first half, both teams scored a touchdown. Parker Brown recovered a fumble and returned it for a score for the first-team Panther defense, while the Badgers added a score right before the break with the third-team on a 60-yard run.
Heber Springs was efficient out the teams new offense, the Flexbone, in the first half moving the ball consistently for four or more yards on each play.
Paschal was pleased with his team’s first half efforts telling them after the game, “that would have been a 21-0 game at the half.”
“I thought we played pretty well up front,” he said. “We were fresh. We ran the ball hard. We were sound and didn’t turn the ball over.”
The second half was different story. Beebe scored a pair of touchdowns, both coming off big plays in the passing game. On the Badgers first possession of the third quarter, a 33-yard pass set up a short touchdown. Beebe added a 68-yard touchdown pass on its final possession of the game.
“We came out sluggish, flat, can’t do that,” Paschal said. “We put the football on the ground.”
For the first time since the 2007 season, the Panthers offense will feature the quarterback calling plays under the center. That unfamiliarity led to several botched snaps and fumbles for Heber Springs, including one that killed the Panthers best drive of the second half that reached inside the Badger 20.
“That’s fixable,” Paschal said. “We were missing snaps. That’s fatigue, that’s what that is.”
Senior Xander Lindley and junior Liam Buffalo, who set out last season after an injury in the spring of 2022 both took first-team snaps under center while junior transfer Brodie Basford getting a bulk of the first-team carries at fullback in the new offense.
“You know the way this thing works is you take what they give,” Paschal said. “If we don’t put the ball on the ground, we have a lot of chewing up yards tonight. That just kills momentum.”
The game also marked the first under new defensive coordinator Kevin Youngblood, who came to Heber Springs after spending last season at Melbourne.
“I thought our defense fought hard all night long and played pretty well,” Paschal said. “We talk about being hard-nosed, physical team.
“You can’t be soft and beat anybody unless you are just really, really good at seven-on-seven. That’s my mentality. That’s coach Youngblood’s mentality. That’s what we are selling.”
Participation numbers were down for the football team when Paschal took over in May with around 20 out for the team. Tuesday night, Heber Springs had 40 on its roster — the most to start a season for the Panthers since the 2019 season.
“It’s a young football team,” Paschal said. “We have fought hard to get numbers up and get the kids out. We are young and fragile right now. We just have to stay together, and we have to fight.”
The Panthers will now get ready for the season-opener against Clinton on Sept. 1 at Panther Stadium. Heber Springs will be looking at breaking a seven-game losing streak to the Yellowjackets.
“We’ll watch film and they’ll be able to see things we have been preaching for three months,” Paschal said. “It’s like my wife said, ‘Are you worried about Beebe? No, not at all. I am worried about us.’
“We have to fix us first. The defense, they kind of have to worry about what the other team does a little bit, but offensively, we practice what they (Clinton) do anyway. We just have to get better at what we are doing.”
Heber Springs High School is looking for a new head football coach. A posting for the job on the Heber Springs School District website went up on Wednesday.
So with little fanfare, the Todd Wood era is over at Heber Springs. Wood finished his three-year run as head coach with a record of 7-22. His record as head coach is not indicative of what kind of coach and person he is. He is both an outstanding coach (his career speaks for itself) and an outstanding person. He truly cared and wanted to build something special. It just didn’t happen.
It is easy to blame the head coach in any sport, especially football. But sometimes there are circumstances that prevent success. Sometimes success even hides problems that simmering below the surface. The Heber Springs football program did not reach this point because of one coach, one player or one administrator. It reached this point through a series of things over a course of several years, long before coach Wood arrived on the shores of Greers Ferry Lake.
Having immersed myself in the history of the Heber Springs High School football program, one can point to the reasons for the ebbs and flows of the program. Excuses and reasons are plenty, and they have all been told over the century plus of Panther football. It never is one individual.
One could give their opinions or possibly even throw people “under the bus,” so to speak, but that would accomplish nothing. It has been proven that you can win at football at Heber Springs and you can build continued success. That is undeniable. There is passion for the sport in Heber Springs, history has proven that — not many programs in that state can say they have played more than 100 seasons.
The upcoming hire for the next head coach is a crucial one. The program is a pivotal moment. A young, energetic fresh perspective is needed. The number of student athletes committed to put the time into building the program has been dwindling for years. The ones that have done so, regardless of the wins and losses, deserve the respect and admiration of their peers and the community. There have always been outstanding young men that have made the sacrifice for the school, the coaches, their families and the community.
Without naming names, one such candidate is known to have expressed great interest in leading the Panther program (but since this the job was just posted on Wednesday is unknown whether or not he has formally applied yet). If he does apply, it should be a no-brainer. Though this coach has not been a head coach, he was the offensive coordinator last season for a 4A school that won it’s conference, scored more than 600 points and averaged 50.3 points per game (that would be a school record at Heber Springs). He is a former Razorback and NFL player, has a young family that he wants to raise in Heber Springs and he wants to build something special.
He checks all of the boxes needed to bring the program back. Let’s hope that it happens.
Philip R. Seaton
Heber Springs High School Class of 1988
Author of working title, “Decade Plus of Heber Springs Football“
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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