By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
A mission awaits the Heber Springs Panthers for homecoming at Panther Stadium Friday.
The Panthers (2-2 in 2-4A Conference, 3-3 overall) will host Southside Batesville (3-1 in 2-4A Conference, 5-2) and hope not only to slow down the Southerners’ running game, but move up a notch in the conference standings. Southside and Lonoke are tied for second place in the conference, one game ahead of Heber Springs.
The Southerners rolled past Central Arkansas Christian 59-19 last week, while the Panthers escaped with a 14-7 win at Bald Knob.
“We were put in a difficult situation with our starting quarterback (Xander Lindley) was injured early in the game,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “The injury forced us to find other ways to win. We pulled it out and won on the road. That game built our confidence and tells the guys if you keep fighting, good things can happen.”
Lindley suffered a broken collarbone and will miss the remainder of the season. Easton Cusick, who starts at wide receiver, moved to quarterback. Cusick completed 9-of-16 passes for 56 yards and one touchdown, and he rushed nine times for 27 yards.
“Cusick played in other games and took snaps in practice, but he was put in a different situation,” Wood said. “We talked at halftime, made a few adjustments. He led the team well during the second half.”
Wood changed blocking assignments and adjusted two plays.
“We made changes at halftime for the offensive line and went with shorter patterns in the passing game,” Wood said. “The change gave more time to pass and helped Cusick to read the defense better.”
Wood said the defense kept the team in the game during the first half, stopping Bald Knob four times in five possessions, all that started on the Panthers’ side of midfield. Kenan Sneed’s interception return early during the fourth quarter keyed the Panthers’ comeback.
“I can’t say enough about the defense, especially during the first half,” Wood said. “The defense played lights out. Sneed’s interception return for a touchdown was the turning point. The Bulldogs surprised us by going for the first down late in the game. Our defense shut them down and got the ball back.”
Dalton Yancey caught two passes for 24 yards, but his 18-yard reception on fourth down late in the game set up the winning touchdown.
“If we don’t get the first down, we don’t have the last two plays and score the touchdown,” Wood said. “Dalton found a way to get open and got in a good spot. Eastern scrambled, threw a good pass and kept us alive.”
Heber Springs plans no major changes on defense, but preparing to slow down the Southside running game. The Southerners rushed for 480 yards and eight touchdowns against CAC.
“Southside is rolling with a win against Lonoke and took Stuttgart to the wire,” Wood said. “Their style of offense is difficult to defend. They have speed in the backfield, and the line is very athletic and strong.”
Quarterback Landen Haas directs Southside’s Wing-T attack with running threats like Nick Risner, Jacob Dunne, Brandon Lopez and Steven Riggs. Dunne ran for three touchdowns and Risner scored two touchdowns in last week’s game.
The Southerners also have the capability to throw the ball downfield. Tyler Jones is one of Haas’ primary targets.
“They have the pieces for a good team,” Wood said. “We need to control the ball and execute well. It’s a good combo when a team can run and pass the ball effectively. That puts pressure on the defense. We must be ready for the run and the pass.”
Coaches often worry about the distractions at homecoming to players, but Wood said his team will handle them well.
“I mentioned to the players they need to enjoy all of the festivities,” Wood said. “They need to focus on the game when it is time to play.”
Wood explained the keys to a third straight win for the Panthers.
“Offensively, we need to control the ball and adjust to a new quarterback,” he said. “The game will be decided on the line of scrimmage. The defense must read its keys and play physical. We played well again CAC and Bald Knob, which were running teams. We need to force them to pass.”
- Kickoff: 7 p.m.
- Admission: $5
- 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. Steaming is available on The Lake’s YouTube page.
- Homecoming: The Homecoming parade begins at 2 p.m. and ends with a pep rally in downtown at 2:30 p.m. Tailgating starts at 4 p.m. A track-naming dedication ceremony for coaches Harold Wilson and Johnette Goldman at 5:30 p.m. and the homecoming ceremony at 6:15 p.m.
THE SERIES: Heber Springs lead 13-2
SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 16th time these two teams have meet on the football field since Southside Batesville started its football program in 2006. Heber Springs won the first 10 meetings in the series before the Southerners claimed a 24-20 victory at home in 2016 before the Panthers would win the next two. Southside Batesville has won only once at Panther Stadium, 48-20, in 2019. The Panthers won last season 22-17 at Southside Batesville.
2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS W L CP W L PS PA Stuttgart 4 0 42 6 1 251 126 Lonoke 3 1 39 6 1 232 111 Southside Batesville 3 1 28 5 2 256 137 Clinton 2 2 23 3 4 182 222 Little Rock Mills 2 2 26 5 2 282 186 Heber Springs 2 2 20 3 3 126 153 Bald Knob 0 4 0 0 7 81 209 Central Arkansas Christian 0 4 0 2 5 178 337 Friday, October 16 Heber Springs 14, Bald Knob 7 Southside Batesville 59, Central Arkansas Christian 19 Lonoke 35, Little Rock Mills 6 Stuttgart 43, Clinton 14 Friday, October 23 Southside Batesville at Heber Springs Bald Knob at Clinton Stuttgart at Little Rock Mills Central Arkansas Christian at Lonoke