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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
BEEBE – It’s off and running to the regular season for the Heber Springs Panthers.
Heber Springs coach Todd Wood spoke of the positives and areas that need improvement following Tuesday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit football scrimmage at Bro Erwin Field.
Neither team scored during the opening sequence of the scrimmage when two teams played two sets of 10 plays each. Each team scored one touchdown during the 40-minute timed session.
“We just needed to get the scrimmage under our belt,” Wood said. “I wanted to test our offensive line against a bigger line. Beebe is a strong line and its six-man front made it difficult to run the ball. I’m proud of the way we responded to everything.”
The Panthers had 50 yards of offense and scored one touchdown during the timed portion of the scrimmage.
Beebe scored on its first possession, needing three plays to go 58 yards. After an illegal motion penalty against the Badgers, Oquoieah Earl’s 42-yard catch of a Zach Grant pass set up the scoring play. Grant, who was selected to the Class 5A all-state team last season, passed 21 yards to Earl for the touchdown with 13:49 left in the first half. The kick for the conversion was successful.
A short Beebe punt put Heber Springs in scoring position late during the first half for its touchdown. The Panthers started at their 48-yard line with a short run by Parker Brown, plus a personal foul penalty against the Badgers, for a first down at the Beebe 39-yard line.
Brown sneaked out of the backfield on the next play and caught a short pass from Xander Lindley and outran the Badger secondary to the end zone on the final play of the first half. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point for the 7-7 tie.
Rebuilding the offensive line has been one of the main objective since the end of the last season. Junior Corbin Jones, who started nine games in 2021, is the only returning player with experience.
“The scrimmage showed us things that we need to work on,” Wood said. “The linemen learned a lot and gained experience against a physical and fast defense. I saw a lot of positives, and we will learn from our mistakes. We are working and preparing for the first game at Clinton (Friday, Sept. 2).”
After Tate missed a field-goal attempt from 47 yards out, Beebe started at its 20-yard line early during the second half. Chandler Webber made one of the best defensive plays during the scrimmage by intercepting Grant’s pass at the Panther 45-yard line. Webber returned it 37 yards for a first down at the Beebe 18-yard line.
The Badgers sacked Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley on the next play. Two plays later, the Panthers decided to attempt a field goal to break the tie. Tate’s attempt from 37 yards out was unsuccessful.
“Chandler had a big interception and made a good play and return,” Wood said. “Beebe tested us deep with its two good receivers. They burned us earlier in the scrimmage and tried it again. Webber played the ball and made the play.”
Wood said he still believes in Tate’s ability to kick field goals, and the two misses are not a concern.
“We still have faith in Gideon, who has a great leg,” Wood said. “He will be OK.”
Beebe had a final opportunity of breaking the tie by gaining possession at the Badger 20-yard line with 2:48 left. The Panthers held and stopped Beebe inside the Heber Springs 20-yard line on the final play.
“We had a couple of guys out of position at times during the scrimmage,” Wood said. “We had guys on defense in the right place most of the time. We were executing well on the defensive line and that’s a positive. I liked seeing not just seeing two to three guys making the play, but seven to eight players. That is what we want from the defense, swarming to the ball.”
Wood said it’s full steam ahead for the Panthers in preparation for Clinton on Sept. 2.
“We can get into a regular routine with the start of classes,” he said. “Everything will become more like clockwork. We have almost two weeks to get ready for Clinton. The extra time will give us an opportunity to concentrate on improving.”
By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Execution in all phrases will be the No. 1 objective for the Heber Springs Panthers during Tuesday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit football game at Bro Erwin Stadium in Beebe.
The junior high squads are scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and scrimmage for approximately one hour, followed by the high school teams at 6:15 p.m.
“We had a good summer overall,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “One of the good points so far is the players are in their third season of what we want to do on offense and defense. The players came in with a lot of knowledge and how we want to do everything. We’ve been going at a good pace. I like what I’ve seen, and we made gains from last year.”
The teams will open the scrimmage by running two 10-play sequences on offense and 10 plays on defense. Kickoffs will be live while when a team attempts an extra point or a field goal, the defense will not rush. The scrimmage will conclude with two 20-minute halves with a running clock.
“We want players to line up in the right place and know their role,” Wood said when asked about expectations for the scrimmage. “Defensively, we are looking for correct alignment and good pass coverage. We want players to be in the right place and get to the ball quickly every play.”
The offensive line is one of the most inexperience areas of the team, but Wood said he has been encouraged with its performance during fall camp.
“They are performing well right now with guys getting more comfortable at their positions,” he said. “I like the players’ work ethic.”
One of the team’s strengths will be experience at quarterback. Junior Xander Lindley started for four games before an injury ended his season. Senior Easton Cusick, who moved from receiver, took the helm of the offense and finished the season.
“I’ve been pleased with the progress of the quarterbacks,” Wood said. “Xander came back ready and know what he needs to do. Easton (who will start at receiver) is taking more snaps, and he will be ready to go, if needed.”
Senior linebacker Kenan Sneed, who led the Panthers in tackles for the past two seasons, returns on defense. Wood said work continues to putting players at the right positions before the season opener at Clinton on Sept. 2.
“We have made a couple of changes on defense, and it has made us better,” Wood said. “Players may not be playing the same position during the scrimmage when we play at Clinton.”
Two transfers during the summer may give a boost to the offensive and defensive lines.
Sophomore Jordan Tidwell played defensive end and receiver at Cabot. Eli Presnutt, a sophomore who attended Heber Springs schools two years ago, returns after playing at Vilonia last season.
“Jordan will help us at defensive end,” Wood said. “He has the physical traits to be a good player. Eli (6-0, 270 pounds), will help us on the offensive and defensive lines. They are coming from two good football programs.”
Wood and his staff plan to watch the Riverview at Clinton benefit game on Thursday and the Yellowjackets’ season opener at Cave City on Aug. 26. He said preparation for Clinton will start on Wednesday.
“That will give us a better idea what to expect from Clinton and an ideal about Cave City and Riverview (conference opponents),” Wood said. “We will watch Tuesday’s film, correct mistakes and than turn our focus to Clinton.”