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.”