Panther GameDay: Bald Knob, Heber Springs look to stay in playoff hunt

The Heber Springs defense, from left, Lucas Langster (50), Payton Owens (68), Thad Bray (55) and Jackson West (23), hits the road tonight at Bald Knob. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs will play the second of an important 4-game stretch with the same approach — focus on the next opponent.

The Panthers (1-2 in 2-4A Conference, 2-3) will play the winless Bald Knob Bulldogs (0-3 in 2-4A Conference, 0-6) at Bulldog Stadium in Bald Knob at 7 p.m. Friday.

Hooten’s Magazine made the Bulldogs an 1-point favorite against Heber Springs in its weekly Class 4A predictions.

It also will be homecoming for Bald Knob, which lost to conference leader Stuttgart 42-19 last week. The Panthers are coming off a 47-26 win against Central Arkansas Christian.

“Win or lose, we always only look at the next game,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We have a group of good guys, who aren’t looking past Bald Knob. We played our most complete game of the season against CAC. I liked what I’ve seen during practice this week.”

Running back Parker Brown and quarterback Xander Lindley were responsible for 470 yards for the Panthers against CAC. Brown rushed 16 times for 223 yards and four touchdowns, and he caught three passes for 44 yards and one touchdown.

Lindley completed 11-of-13 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown against the Mustangs. He ran for 134 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns.

“Parker did what he was capable of, and Xander continues to mature at quarterback,” Wood said. “I’m proud of the number of players — receivers Chris Edwards, Austin Winchester, Easton Cusick, Dalton Yancey and Jackson West — touching the ball. When you can spread the ball around to that many receivers, that helps an offense quite a bit.”  

Brown didn’t set a school or stadium single-game record with his five total touchdowns. However, he did become the first Panther to have a 200-yard rushing and a 200-yard receiving games during the same season. Markeyvus Mays rushed for seven touchdowns on 11 carries in a win over Cave City on Nov. 4, 2010. Jerry Pilkington holds the school record with eight rushing touchdowns against Ola on Oct. 14, 1949.

Wood also was elated with the Panthers not having a turnover. Heber Springs had eight turnovers in the first four games.

“We spent more time this year stressing the importance of protecting the ball,” he said. “We didn’t do that much last year because of limited practice time because of Covid-19.”

Brown is the leading rusher for the Panthers with 537 yards on 63 carries and seven touchdowns. He has caught eight passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns.

Lindley has completed 35-of-61 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns. He is the team’s second-leading rusher with 185 yards on 54 attempts and two touchdowns.

Wood said credit for the offense’s success against CAC came from the performance of the offensive line — Lucas Langster (left guard), Payton Owens (left tackle), Zach Thomas (center), Tristan Thissen (right guard) and Thad Bray (right tackle).

“I really enjoyed watching them on film after the game,” he said. “It was good seeing them come off the ball strong, and they executed well. They are showing improvement, and we need it to continue.”

Wood recalled the six turnovers — four interceptions and two fumbles — against Bald Knob in last year’s 35-15 loss.

Quarterback Leason Pierce, who completed 13-of-23 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns in 2020, returns for the Bulldogs. Pierce connected on 11-of-17 passes for 132 yards during the second half. Bald Knob converted 5-of-7 third-down plays, and 2-of-8 plays on fourth down.

Wood is confident that his defense with a year of experience, plus playing three of the conference’s best quarterbacks this season, will play well.

“I told the players and defensive coaches we faced a talented mobile quarterback for the past three weeks,” he said. “They had speed and were able to go outside the pocket and make plays. We are looking at a quarterback (Pierce) who doesn’t have that kind of speed, but he has the ability to make things happens. We must contain him in the pocket.”

Linebackers Kenan Sneed, Hayden Johnson and West continue to lead the Heber Springs defense. Sneed had 21 tackles against CAC, while Johnson recorded 13 tackles and West was credited with 12 tackles.

“I’m pleased with our defense,” Wood said. “They did a good job of containing (CAC quarterback) Tyler Williams. He got a couple of big plays, but we kept him contained most of the game. Sneed puts up the numbers, and Johnson is playing well and making big plays.”

Wood said the play of the defensive line is improving.

“We changed our tactics and our strength is beginning to show,” he said. “Owens has been a surprise. Langster has the speed, and Bray has the size. The line can cause trouble for other teams.”

Wood said the formula is simple for a win.

“On offense, we must control and protect ball and execute well,” he said. “On defense, we must pressure the quarterback.”

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Bald Knob
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. Streaming is available on The Lake’s YouTube page.

THE SERIES: Bald Knob leads 38-23-2

SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 64th time these two schools have meet on the football field. Heber Springs and Bald Knob first played during the 1929 season, a 26-2, Panther victory. It would be 11 more seasons before the two teams played again, a 1940 12-0 victory by Heber Springs. Heber Springs would win the first three games in the series before Bald Knob would win 18 out of 20 games played (a 1950 34-13 win by the Panthers broke a five-game losing streak in the series while a 1964 12-7 win broke a 10-game losing streak). The series would be fairly even before Heber Springs won eight straight from 1976 through 1983 before the Bulldogs closed out the 1980s winning six-in-a-row. In the 1990s, the teams would meet seven times with the Panthers getting wins during the 1990 and 1999 seasons. Since the 2005 season, Heber Springs and Bald Knob have played 10 times with the Panthers winning seven of those contests, but the Bulldogs did spoil the Heber Springs’ homecoming last season with a 35-15 victory.

2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS
                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   3 0 29  5 1 208 112 
Little Rock Mills           2 1 26  5 1 276 151 
Lonoke                      2 1 26  5 1 197 105
Southside Batesville        2 1 15  4 2 197 118                      
Clinton                     2 1 23  3 3 168 179  
Heber Springs               1 2 13  2 3 112 146  
Bald Knob                   0 3  0  0 6  74 195
Central Arkansas Christian  0 3  0  2 4 159 278    

Friday, October 9
Heber Springs 47, Central Arkansas Christian 26
Stuttgart 42, Bald Knob 19
Southside Batesville 38, Lonoke 36 (OT)
Clinton 38, Little Rock Mills 28
Friday, October 16
Heber Springs at Bald Knob
Southside Batesville at Central Arkansas Christian
Lonoke at Little Rock Mills
Clinton at Stuttgart

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