Panther GameDay: Panthers open 2-4A play against Lonoke

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Celebration of last week’s 44-0 win at Dover quickly became short-lived for the Heber Springs Panthers.

The Panthers (1-1) turned their attention at Monday’s practice to Friday’s 7 p.m. 2-4A Conference football opener against Lonoke (3-0) at Panther Stadium.

“We had good execution for the most part against Dover,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We accomplished our goal of fixing some areas and discovered other areas that need more work. We were going into situation that we need a win and proved that we could put points on the board, and we could stop the other team.”

Wood told his team during the Dover postgame huddle that the conference race begins the following week.

“I told them we played two nonconference games and now our focus should be on the conference games, starting with Lonoke,” Wood said. “What we do in conference play will determine if we are playing in late November and December. It’s a fresh start for all teams.”

The Jackrabbits rolled past Carlisle (54-12) in their opener and had impressive wins against Beebe (28-21) and Newport (29-20).

Quarterback Braylon Allen is the leader of the offense with multi-talented Spencer Pepper. In 2020, Pepper was the starting quarterback until an injury sidelined him. He will start at running back and occasionally move to receiver. Pepper also has been used as the wildcat quarterback.

“No. 7 (Allen) was a ninth-grader who moved up when Pepper was inured and played well,” Wood said. “He is very athletic and can throw or run. No. 5 (Pepper) is also a threat. We must know where they are at all times.”

Lonoke uses a spread attack on offense, but different than what the Panthers witnessed against Harding Academy.

“They will try and establish the run,” Wood said. “Lonoke has the capability of throwing the ball, but it wants to spread the defense. We must be careful of not just playing the run.”

Wood plans to counter with the Panther dynamic duo of quarterback Xander Lindley and running back Parker Brown. Lindley completed 12-of 18 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns against Dover. Brown caught three passes for 220 yards, all for touchdowns.

“Parker is an athlete who makes big things happen,” Wood said. “If team concentrates just on Parker, it will up open the offense for other players. I was pleased with Parker’s play against Dover. (Easton) Cusick and (Austin) Winchester had good games, too. Austin caught the touchdown pass and ran like a bull for the last 10 yards. He showed his determination to get into the end zone.”

Wood also liked the defense’s performance. The Panthers held Dover to a minus 30 yards rushing and 23 net yards of offense.

“I was pleased with the defense’s pursuit and seeing four or five guys making tackles,” Wood said. “We want a swarming type of defense. The shutout was nice and gives confidence to the defense. One of the defensive keys against Lonoke will be keeping leverage on whoever has the ball. “

Wood said Friday’s game will set the tone for the remainder of the season.

“We want to start conference play with a win,” he said. “Lonoke was our focus this week and then we will move on to Stuttgart and Central Arkansas Christian.”

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m.
  • 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.  You can listen live here.

CONFERENCE SCOREBOARD WEEK 3

  • Heber Springs 44, Dover 0
  • Central Arkansas Christian 35, Mayflower 34
  • Lonoke 29, Newport 20
  • Dardanelle 42, Clinton 26
  • Bald Knob bye
  • Little Rock Mills bye
  • Southside Batesville Bye
  • Stuttgart bye

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE WEEK 4

  • Heber Springs (1-1) at Lonoke (2-1)
  • Little Rock Mills (3-0) at Bald Knob (0-3)
  • Clinton (1-2) at Central Arkansas Christian (2-1)
  • Stuttgart (2-1) at Southside Batesville (2-1)

The Series: Lonoke leads the all-time series, 15-10

The two teams first meet in 1931, a 25-0 victory by the Jackrabbits in Lonoke. The schools would play eight times between 1931 and 1942 with the Panthers lone victory coming in 1933, 19-0. The two teams wouldn’t meet again for almost 50 years when the two schools were both part of the 5AA-North conference for the 1991-92 cycle with the Jackrabbits winning both of those conference contests. Fourteen years later in 2006, Heber Springs and Lonoke would again be placed in the same conference (the 4A-2). Since 2006, the Panthers have won nine out of 15 contests, including five straight in the series before Lonoke won in 2019 and 2020.

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