Panthers schedule includes summer camps, new opponents in the fall

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Heber Springs kicker Gideon Tate attempts an extra point off the hold of Easton Cusick at Little Rock Mills last season. Tate, Cusick and the rest of the Panthers have busy summer schedule planned before Fall camp opens in August. PHILIP SEATON FILE PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP McCARTY

The 2022 football schedule consists of familiar teams for the Heber Springs Panthers and again will be a nine-game regular season.

Heber Springs will open the nonconference season at Clinton on Sept. 2, followed by former conference foe Southside Batesville, who moved to Class 5A, and a first-ever meeting with Jonesboro Westside.

Reclassification kept Heber Springs in the 2-4A Conference with Lonoke, Stuttgart and Bald Knob, plus previous league foes Riverview and Cave City.

Harding Academy, a longtime nonconference opponent, moved up from Class 3A. Mountain View was assigned to the conference, but later school officials decided to play 8-man football.

“We still have Stuttgart, Lonoke and Bald Knob in the conference, with new teams like Harding Academy, Cave City and Riverview,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “It’s a good conference and if we can put all the pieces together, we will be competitive with all of them. I’m excited about the new conference.”

Wood said the nonconference schedule came together quickly.

“We went with Clinton for the first game because of the rivalry,” he said. “Clinton always is a big game and a good way to start the year. Southside is another rivalry and in the area. Then, we looked and schedule a game against Westside. There are three good opponents.”

Wood debated about scheduling a 10th game against a nonconference opponent after Mountain View opted out of the conference before staying with nine games. The Panthers will begin conference play by hosting Cave City on Sept. 23 for homecoming before playing the following week at Bald Knob.

The open date will come before a three-game stretch against the projected conference contenders — at Lonoke (Oct. 14), Stuttgart (Oct. 21) and at Harding Academy (Oct. 28).

“We decided not to fill the Mountain View date,” Wood said. “It will give us an open date before playing Lonoke, Stuttgart and Harding.”

A busy summer awaits the players, who will participate in three 7-on-7 events, plus three team camps.

The Panthers played at the Greenbrier 7-on-7 Tournament in early June and hosted Melbourne in 7-on-7 on June 13 and will again on July 18. Heber Springs will participate in team camps at Central Arkansas Christian on Tuesday and July 13 and at Mayflower on July 19.

Fall practice will start on Aug. 1, with the benefit game scheduled at Beebe on Aug. 16.

“This is my third year and everything is in place for an opportunity at success,” Wood said. “A talented group of last year’s junior high school players will be joining our returning players.”

Wood said one of the keys to the season is the development of the offensive and defensive lines.

“We will go as far as our linemen take us,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of them, but we have young guys who are learning. We have talented skilled players, but we need to develop a good line on both sides of the ball.”

HIGH SCHOOL
Aug. 16 x-Beebe 6 p.m. Away
Sept. 2 Clinton 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 9 Southside Batesville 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 16 Jonesboro Westside 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 23 y-Cave City 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 30 Bald Knob 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 14 Lonoke 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 21 Stuttgart 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 28 Harding Academy 7 p.m. Away
Nov. 4 Riverview 7 p.m. Home
x-Benefit game
y-Homecoming game

JUNIOR HIGH
Aug. 16 x-Beebe 5 p.m. Away
Aug. 25 Southside Batesville 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 1 Clinton 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 8 Jonesboro Westside 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 22 Cave City 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 29 Bald Knob 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 13 Lonoke 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 20 Stuttgart 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 27 Harding Academy 7 p.m. Home
Nov. 3 Riverview 7 p.m. Away
x-Benefit game

SEVENTH GRADE
Aug. 25 Southside Batesville 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 1 Clinton 5:30 p.m. Home
Sept. 8 Jonesboro Westside 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 22 Cave City 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 29 Bald Knob 5:30 p.m. Away
Oct. 13 Lonoke 5:30 p.m. Home
Oct. 20 Stuttgart 5:30 p.m. Away
Oct. 27 Harding Academy 5:30 p.m. Home
Nov. 3 Riverview 5:30 p.m. Away

Panthers begin offseason work

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Heber Springs junior defensive lineman Corbin Jones tangles with a Harding Academy lineman in nonconference action last season. The Wildcats will be a conference beginning this season. PHILIP SEATON FILE PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

An injury will force reshuffling of the backfield for the Heber Springs Panthers football team.

Sophomore Liam Buffalo, who was projected to become the starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice, recently suffered a knee injury while playing baseball and underwent surgery Friday. Buffalo, who participated for the junior high school football, basketball and track and field, plus he was a starter on the high school baseball team last year. is expected to miss the 2022 football season.

Buffalo led the Panther Cubs to a 13-5 record during the past two football seasons. He completed 82-of147 passes for 1,160 yards and 15 touchdowns with only one interception last season. He rushed 101 times for 931 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

“We are disappointed in losing Liam,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said when asked about the team’s reaction. “Liam was looking forward to moving up to high school. He has a bright a future ahead and good things are coming.”

Junior Xander Lindley, last year’s starter before breaking his collarbone against Bald Knob, will assume the quarterback duties fulltime. Lindley had moved to wide receiver during spring practice.

Senior Easton Cusick, a two-year starter at receiver, will be Lindley’s backup. Cusick replaced Lindley when he was injured during the second series of the Bald Knob game.

In 2021, Lindley completed 35-of-62 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed 58 times for 180 yards and scored two touchdowns. Cusick connected on 51-of-104 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns.

“If there is a good part to this, we still have two guys coming back with experience,” Wood said. “I talked with Xander and told him that it was going back on his shoulders again.”

Lindley had his best game of last season against Central Arkansas Christian when he completed 11-of-13 passes for 113 yards and ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

“Xander was getting to his peak before the injury,” Wood said. “He had a great game against CAC. He and Parker Brown were becoming a dual threat in the backfield. This situation is an opportunity for Xander to rise up and do well.”

Wood said Lindley may play occasionally at receiver and in the defensive secondary.

Meanwhile, building an efficient offensive and defensive lines also will be focal points going into the new season. The Panthers return one experienced offensive lineman (Corbin Jones), but Wood liked the progress going into summer workouts.

“Corbin started last year as a sophomore and will be our left tackle,” Wood said. We have two players who were on last year’s junior high school team — Axley Davis (6-2, 270 pounds) and Gauge Owens (5-9, 200 pounds), who are battling for starting roles.”

Tripp Young (6-1, 260 pounds), who will be a senior, was on the team last year, and Wood expects Young to make an impact on the offensive and defensive lines.

“The coaching staff is excited about him (Young) coming back,” Wood said. “We expect good things from him as one of our guards. He also will be a strong player on the defensive line. We don’t have much depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Our main focus during the spring was getting the offensive and defensive lines ready.”

On a brighter side, most of last year’s skilled position players return.

“I’ve been pleased with the performance of the returning players,” Wood said. “They jumped right in there because they already knew what to do. We are ahead of last year on both sides of the ball. The returning players have positive attitudes and provided leadership, both from seniors and some of our younger players.”

Brown led the Panthers in rushing (113-834 yards, 11 touchdowns) and receiving (17-314 yards, five TDs). He also became the first player in school history with a 200-yard rushing and receiving games during the same season. Brown also rushed for 100 yards or more in four games. Brown excelled in the return game by returning 10 kickoffs for 195 yards and four punts for 65 yards.

Junior Dalton Yancey emerged as one of the team’s primary targets during the second half of last season by catching 15 passes for 122 yards.

“We have players with experience at receiver,” Wood said.

Warden rushed 48 times for 247 yards and scored two touchdowns for the junior high team last season. He caught 30 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Weston played running back for the junior high team last season, but he has worked at receiver,” Wood said. “Weston has speed and good hands.”

Gideon Tate, who made 17-of-18 points after touchdowns last season, returns at placekicker and ranks among the best in the state.

“I like the onside kickoff, but challenged Tate if he can kick it into the end zone consistently, we will do that more,” Wood said. “He is a good kicker.”

Linebacker Kenan Sneed will lead the defensive charge for the third straight season. Sneed led the Panthers with 115 tackles, including 17 for losses last season — it was the second straight season for Sneed to record more than 100 tackles. He had two quarterback sacks. Sneed also turned in one of the top plays of the season, a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown to switch the momentum in the win at Bald Knob.

Chris Edwards will move from cornerback to outside linebacker. Edwards ranked second among tacklers with a total of 66 stops, including seven for losses. He also had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown against Dover.

“It’s good to have your leading tackler back coming back,” Wood said. “We will try and put guys around him, like Jacob McMullin, to build a stronger defense. Jacob is coming up from the junior high team and will be a solid inside linebacker. He will be in a good situation playing next to Kenan.”

Edwards and Zack Parker are the projected starters at outside linebackers. Parker started at safety for most of last season.

“Chris Roberts played safety and outside linebacker last year,” Wood said. “(Sophomore) Kaden Terrell has speed and plays aggressively. Warden played at cornerback in junior high. We are trying to put the right pieces in the right places.”

Wood said candidates are available to step in and play at safety.

“Colton Turley didn’t play last year, but he came back and can become a solid safety,” Wood said. “We have a lot of guys to look at.”

Lady Panthers finish on high note, look to down host at district tournament

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Heber Springs catcher Vallie Cantrell askes the umpire where the offering from Taylor Parker was located after the official called a ball against South Side Bee Branch on Friday at the Heber Springs Sports Complex. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

The Heber Springs softball team opens 4-4A district tournament play today at Pottsville against the host school with a lot on the line for both teams.

A win would advance the Panthers to the 4A-North Regional Tournament at Morrilton next week.

“It has been three seasons since a Heber softball team has played in the postseason,” Heber Springs coach Dusty West said.  “We have talked all year about setting the foundation for the future and rebuilding the legacy of Heber Softball and this is part of the equation.”

To rebuild that legacy, the Panthers (9-11 overall) must get past a Pottsville team that beat Heber Springs 7-0 on April 5th in Pottsville.

“We are excited to play the host school Tuesday in the first round,” West said on Monday. “They beat us the first time on only two earned runs.

“If we can limit the number of free passes and errors, we will have a great opportunity to move on to the semis (of the district tournament) and regionals.  Making a regional has been this team’s goal this year.  We knew it would be a challenge and we have set ourselves up to make it reality.”

The Panthers are coming off a week which saw victories over Rose Bud (7-3 on April 18) and South Side Bee Branch on Friday (13-6) sandwiched in-between a 13-2 loss to a hard-hitting Dardanelle team on April 19th.

“This team has really been playing well here of late,” West said.  “They have been getting better every time we get to play.  Our pitching has become more consistent over the past two weeks and that has really helped us as a team.”

The Panthers will play the second game of the day (Dardanelle will open with Ozark) around 6:30 p.m. A win would set-up a re-match with conference champion Morrilton in the semifinals on Thursday at Pottsville.

“Coming from where we were this time last year, I couldn’t be more excited for this team and the opportunity they will have Tuesday night,” West said on Monday.  “We have improved in all areas on the field this year and Tuesday is a chance for these kids to see their hard work throughout the summer/fall/winter finally pay off. ”

4-4A CONFERENCE 
FINAL STANDINGS
Morrilton       5-0    16-6
Clarksville     4-1    11-7
Dardanelle      3-2    13-5
Pottsville      2-3     3-13
Heber Springs   1-4     9-11
Ozark           0-5     3-17

HEBER SPRINGS 13, SOUTH SIDE BEE BRANCH 6

April 22

Senior Kylie Carr finished with five RBIs in helping lead Heber Springs to the 13-6 win.

Each team collected 11 hits each. Heber Springs was led by junior Madison Clemons, who finished 3-for-3 at the plate.

The Panthers score a pair of runs in the first inning highlighted by a Carr double.

Singles by Clemons, Carr and Gracie Parish, and a walk by Vallie Cantrell helped Heber Springs plate six runs in the fourth inning as the Panthers led 8-0.

South Side plated three in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Addison Hudspeth also finished with a pair of hits for the Panthers.

Freshman Taylor Parker claimed the win in the circle for Heber Springs working four innings and striking out four. Brooklyn Barnes and Hudsepth each pitched in relief.

DARDANELLE 13, HEBER SPRINGS 2

April 19

Dardanelle scored in five of the seven innings to claim the win over Heber Springs.

Trailing 6-0, the Panthers plated a run in the fourth on a Hudspeth RBI single that drove in Parker, who had reached on a double.

The Sand Lizards made it 9-1 with three in the fifth and 10-1 with a run in the sixth before the Panthers plated another run after Vallie Cantrell singled and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Rylee Birmingham.

HEBER SPRINGS 7, ROSE BUD 3

April 18

Parker pitched a complete striking out 11 for Heber Springs allowing three runs on seven hits.

Hudspeth went 2-for-4 at the plate to lead the Panthers.

Rose Bud scored all three of its runs in the fifth inning.

Heber Springs took a 1-0 advantage in the second after Hope Turney reached on a walk and would later score on a Barnes single.

The Panthers made it 3-0 in the third as both Parish and Turney reached base and would later score on an error.

In the fourth, Parker walked, stole second and score on an error off the bat of Hudspeth. After a strikeout, Clemons drove in a Hudspeth with a two-out single to right.

Heber Springs added two insurance runs in the sixth as Parker and Birmingham both scored.

 

Fourth-quarter comeback fuels Heber Springs past Shirley

SHIRLEY – Jovie Smithson finished with a game-high 19 points as Heber Springs downed Shirley, 40-35.

Heber Springs trailed 13-10 at the end of the first quarter, but outscored the Blue Devils 10-6 in the second quarter to take a one-point advantage into the half.

Shirley outscored the Panthers 12-6 in the third quarter before Heber Springs rallied by outpacing  the Blue Devils, 14-4, in the final stanza.

HEBER SPRINGS SCORING (40): Taylor Parker 5, Jovie Smithson 19, Baleigh Burchfield 4, Zoey Hendrix 2, Ella Williams 6, Ada Choate 4

SHIRLEY SCORING (35): Overturf 11, Rocha 18, Vasquez 6