By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
After playing the two teams predicted during the preseason to finish one-two in the 2-4A Conference, the Heber Springs Panthers hope to start on a winning streak that leads to a state football playoff berth.
Heber Springs (0-2 in the 2-4A, 1-3 overall) will host Central Arkansas Christian (0-2, 1-4) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Panthers opened the conference season with losses to Lonoke and Stuttgart. CAC dropped games to Clinton and Little Rock Mills.
“The players knew what they were up against at Stuttgart,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We played the two teams picked to be at the top of the conference standings. The next five games will decide who goes to the playoffs.”
Senior Tyler Williams will be the focus of the Heber Springs defense. Williams, who played tailback last season, moved to quarterback this season and responsible for 1,185 of the 1,484 yards for the Mustangs.
Williams leads CAC in rushing with 781 yards on 114 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. He has completed 39-of-74 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Williams ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes for 63 yards and one touchdown in last year’s win against the Panthers.
Vance Strange and Isaac Rine are the Mustangs’ primary targets in the passing game. Strange has caught 15 passes for 122 yards and scored one touchdown. Rine has 10 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown.
“He (Williams) runs the ball most of the time, and we are preparing for that,” Wood said. “But we also have to be ready to defend the pass. I expect him to run 35 to 40 times.”
Heber Springs hopes to get sophomore Parker Brown into the open field against CAC. Brown has been one of the Panthers’ best offensive threats with 273 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns. He has caught five passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
“CAC primarily plays a 3-5-3 defense and blitz at least two players every play,” Wood said. “They stacked the box against Mills (a 60-16 loss) last week. Being a defensive coordinator in a similar system in the past, I understand some things will open up, and we must take advantage of them.”
The Mustangs have allowed 46 points per game. Wood is confident that other aspects of the Heber Springs offense will benefit and have similar success that it had against Dover (a 44-0 win).
“CAC is going through a similar situation with a lot of young players,” Wood said. “It has played good teams. Our goal is to prevent them from getting too many big plays and have big plays on offense.”
Heber Springs will have two players sidelined by non-Covid illnesses back on the field — offensive lineman-inside linebacker Tristan Thissen and center-defensive lineman Joenah Cordell.
“We were down to 22 players for Stuttgart,” Wood said. “Both players will help us at their positions and provide the team more depth.”
Wood expects better production from quarterback Xander Lindley, who has been playing behind a patched-up offensive line, and receivers Dalton Yancey and Easton Cusick. Receiver Gus Hannah, who injured an ankle against Lonoke, is questionable for the game.
The coach also said some players who had primarily played on defense will see action on offense.
“Kenan Sneed (inside linebacker) and Chris Edwards (cornerback) played at receiver last week,” Wood said. “Jackson West (outside linebacker) will play running back and receiver. Zane Lozeau (cornerback) will play at receiver. We will do whatever it takes to put us in position to win the game.”
Senior players will be recognized before the game for their contributions to the program.
“It will be a big night for the seniors,” Wood said. “It’s not their last home game, but a special night to reflect on what they have done, and the legacy they will leave. They want to get the fans a win at home.”
It’s not due or die, but a win would put the Panthers in good position to challenge for a postseason.
“We have five games left and critical for the playoffs,” Wood said. “We probably will need three wins to get into the playoffs. Our backs are up against the wall. We must come out fighting.”
- Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium (Senior Night festivities start around 6:15)
- 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: CAC leads the leads the series at 5-4
SERIES HISTORY: The two teams first meet in the 2000 season when the Panthers and Mustangs played nonconference games, both won by CAC. The two teams would not face each other again until CAC was paired with Heber Springs in the 2-4A conference in 2014. In conference play, the Panthers won four out of the first five meetings between the schools (CAC’s win came in 2015 with a 48-12 decision). Since then, the Mustangs have won back-to-back games (a 24-6 game in 2019 and 35-14 last season).
FORMER HOG: Former University of Arkansas and NFL receiver Joe Adams is an assistant coach at Central Arkansas Christian.
2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS W L CP W L PS PA Little Rock Mills 2 0 26 5 0 248 113 Lonoke 2 0 26 5 0 161 67 Stuttgart 2 0 16 4 1 166 93 Southside Batesville 1 1 13 3 2 159 82 Clinton 1 1 13 2 3 130 151 Heber Springs 0 2 0 1 3 65 120 Bald Knob 0 2 0 0 5 55 153 Central Arkansas Christian 0 2 0 2 3 133 231 Thursday, September 30 Stuttgart 42, Heber Springs 0 Friday, October 2 Little Rock Mills 60, Central Arkansas Christian 16 Southside Batesville 35, Clinton 20 Lonoke 14, Bald Knob 0 Friday, October 9 Central Arkansas Christian at Heber Springs Stuttgart at Bald Knob Lonoke at Southside Batesville Little Rock Mills at Clinton