By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Two objectives lie ahead for the Heber Springs Panthers against Clinton in the sixth The Battle of the Little Red at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers seek to finish the home football schedule with a win and also secure their first The Battle of the Little Red trophy in a match-up of 2-4A Conference teams at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It will be a big night for the seniors,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “It’s probably their last game before the home crowd. Winning the trophy is in the back of their minds. We have not won the trophy yet and will try to bring it home. We want to be the first Heber team to win the trophy.”
Heber Springs (2-3 in 2-4A Conference, 3-4 overall) currently is tied for fifth place with Little Rock Mills (2-3 in 2-4A Conference, 6-2 overall) in the conference standings. The Panthers will conclude the regular season at Mills on Nov. 5. Clinton (3-2 in 2-4A Conference, 4-4 overall) is in fourth place.
“Each week is different,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “When you lose a game (35-7 to Southside Batesville) like we did last Friday, you must forget about it quickly and look forward. Clinton is similar to Southside with the Wing-T offense. We are playing another strong running team. We still haven an opportunity to make the playoffs.”
Junior quarterback Easton Cusick is the expected starter for the second straight game, despite recovering from an injury. Cusick completed 17-of-32 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown against Southside.
The Panthers hope for more production from the running game, which netted zero net yards against the Southerners.
Sophomore running back Parker Brown, who leads team in rushing with 86 carries for 603 yards and seven touchdowns, was held to two yards by the Southerners. Brown also has been the team’s most productive receiver with nine catches for 279 yards and five touchdowns. Cusick has completed 28-of-57 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns overall.
“Cusick did a good job last Friday night,” Wood said. “He is gaining more confidence. We showed the ability at times to move the ball. Like Southside, Clinton will focus on stopping Parker. We will need other players who to contribute.”
The Yellowjackets are coming off a 56-28 win against Bald Knob. Clinton led 8-6 after the first quarter before it exploded for five touchdowns during the second quarter to pull away.
Junior quarterback Harley Tobin led the charge by completing 11-of-13 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore wingback Zane Widener rushed 12 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Brody Emberton caught five passes for 69 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“The quarterback is very smart with experience,” Wood said. “They have speedy running backs (Cody Davis, Nick Epley and Spencer Bannister) and a good fullback (Jacob Hutto). We must stop all of them.”
Wood said the Yellowjackets are more than a run team.
“They will keep your honest with the run (253 yards against Bald Knob) and also pass (240 yards),” he said.
The Heber Springs defense will play with a new starter on after sophomore linebacker Hayden Johnson suffered a concussion against Southside.
Sophomore safety Chris Roberts will move to outside linebacker. Dalton Yancey, also a sophomore, will start at safety for Roberts.
“We will adjust our linebacking corp and go on,” Wood said. “Some players will assume roles. I liked what I saw from the linebackers during practice.”
Wood said one of the game’s determining factors will be which team is more successful on first down.
“We had too many third-and-long situations last week,” he said. “We want to win the battle on first down and have a lot of third-and-short situations.”
HEBER SPRINGS VS. CLINTON
“Battle of the Little Red”
Clinton leads the series 41-38-5
Games played in Heber Springs: Clinton leads, 20-19-1
Games played in Clinton: Clinton leads 21-18-4
Games played on a Neutral Field: Heber Springs leads, 1-0.
FIRST MEETING: Heber Springs’ first season of football was 1913 and it would be 26 years before Clinton fielded its first team. It didn’t take long for the two teams to meet after that with Heber Springs winning the first game played between the two schools on October 13, 1939, in Heber Springs. The Panthers won by a score of 31-0 on that day. The two teams met again less than a month later on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, in Clinton where the Panthers and Yellowjackets played to a 6-6 tie. The teams would go on to play continuously after that with a couple of exceptions. During World War II, neither school fielded a team during the 1943 season while Clinton did not field one during the 1944 season. After the war, Clinton and Heber Springs would meet twice per season in 1945 and 1946 with the Yellowjackets winning all four meetings. Financial constraints in the Heber Springs School District forced the school to not field a football team for the 1947 and 1948 seasons. The two teams meet again during the 1949 season with Clinton winning both games of the home-and-home series. The teams would go on continuously playing until 2007 when the opener scheduled with Clinton — which was played during the 2006 season at the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic at Estes Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway — was changed to allow the Panthers to play Mayflower instead of Clinton in the same Kickoff Classic in 2007. The series resumed in 2008 and continues today.
LONGEST WINNING STREAKS: Clinton has won six straight in the series twice. Once from 1945-1949 and the second time from 2000-2005. Heber Springs won seven straight in the series from 1978-1984.
CONFERENCE FOES: Heber Springs and Clinton were first paired in the same conference in 1974 and would remain conference foes until 1990. They would again in the same conference from 1993-2001 and from 2008-2013. The two teams are back in the same conference after Clinton moved up from 3A and replaced Riverview in the conference beginning in the 2020 season.
OVERTIME GAMES: There have only been three overtime games in the series and those all occurred during a four-year span from 1986-1989. Clinton won a double overtime home contest in 1986 (20-14) while the Panthers won in overtime the following season in 1987, 19-12, in Heber Springs. In 1989, Clinton defeated Heber Springs, 13-12, at Panther Stadium.
CLOSE GAMES: Twenty-five of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less during the series, not including the five ties.
TROPHY GAMES: Heber Springs won the trophy for the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic between the two schools in 2006, but since the inception of the “Battle of the Little Red” trophy, Clinton has won all five meetings, 28-20 in 2016 in Clinton, 28-17 in 2017 in Heber Springs, 36-34 in 2018 in Clinton, and 28-27 in 2019 and 32-26 at Clinton last season . Heber Springs will be looking to break a five-game losing streak to Clinton.
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2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS W L CP W L PS PA Stuttgart 5 0 55 7 1 314 154 Lonoke 4 1 52 7 1 274 124 Southside Batesville 4 1 41 6 2 291 144 Clinton 3 2 36 4 4 238 250 Little Rock Mills 2 3 26 5 3 300 249 Heber Springs 2 3 20 3 4 133 188 Bald Knob 0 5 0 0 8 109 265 Central Arkansas Christian 0 5 0 2 6 191 379 Friday, October 23 Southside Batesville 35, Heber Springs 7 Clinton 56, Bald Knob 28 Stuttgart 63, Little Rock Mills 28 Lonoke 42, Central Arkansas Christian 13 Friday, October 30 Clinton at Heber Springs Little Rock Mills at Southside Batesville Stuttgart at Lonoke Bald Knob at Central Arkansas Christian
Stuttgart, Lonoke and Southside Batesville have clinched playoff spots. Bald Knob and Central Arkansas Christian have been eliminated. If Stuttgart wins tonight it will clinch the No. 1 seed.
The Panthers will not clinch a playoff spot with a win or will not be eliminated with a loss. Clinton will clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win and would not be eliminated with a loss. The playoff picture will be clearer after tonight’s games.