By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
SOUTHSIDE — The Heber Springs Panther defense demonstrated a new step of maturity against Southside Batesville late in the fourth quarter at Stewart Field Friday night.
After a questionable fumble call at the goal-line, the Panthers forced the Southside into a three-and-out and maintained possession during the final 3:37 for a 22-17 road win.
Heber Springs (1-4 2-4A Conference, 2-6 overall) won its first conference game for coach Todd Wood and moved into fifth-place tie with Little Rock Mills and Southside with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“We talked about responding to quick-turnovers all season,” Wood said. “They wanted to go out there and do something about it this time. The players seemed to play with more energy on that series than other series in the game. We had a lot of big plays by a lot of players. Jayden Bremmon made two big plays. Preston Roberson moved back to linebacker and also made a lot of big plays.”
Wood noticed a different attitude among players. Instead of talking about the questionable fumble play, the defense made its biggest stand of the season yet.
“They played like their backs were against the wall and didn’t want to give Southside anything,” he said. “They had something to prove. I told the players after the game that they always were capable of playing that way and finally did it.”
Wood also had praise for the play of his linemen.
“It starts up front and I can’t say enough good things about all of those guys on the offensive line,” he said.
Big plays happened throughout the game, but Wood said one of the most important came on the final play of the third quarter. Heber Springs faced a fourth-and-10 at the Southside 34 when quarterback Matthew Cook connected on a 32-pass completion to Easton Cusick for a first down at the Southerner 7.
“We (coaching staff) noticed Cusick was open when we tried that play earlier in the game,” Wood said. “I told Matthew to watch for Easton. Matthew was throwing against the wind. Easton bobbled the ball a bit, but he brought the ball back to his chest and caught it.”
Cusick described the play.
“As soon as I saw the safety come up, the ball was there right in my hands,” he said. “Matthew passed the ball perfect to me. It was a great fourth-down play.”
Cook, who completed 9-of-12 passes for 159 yards and and rushed for 85 yards, said Wood told him before the play that Cusick might be open.
“He (Cusick) was open and I threw it to him,” Cook said. “We need those fourth-down conversions.”
Two plays later, Diego Rubio scored from the 1.
Southside controlled the first half, outgaining Heber Springs. The Southerners rushed for 131 yards, 81 coming on Brendan Frazier’s touchdown run. The Panthers were held to 53 yards — 10 yards rushing and 43 passing. Southside sacked Cook and John McBroome four times for losses of 28 yards.
Frazier’s scoring run and Skyler Anorve’s extra point kick gave Southside a 7-0 lead with 4:39 left in the first quarter. Frazier finished with 120 yards on 13 carries.
Heber Springs led for the first time in the game when Nathan McKee scored on a 2-yard carry, and Cook passed to Gus Hannah for the 2-point conversion. The Panthers led 8-7 with 11:56 to go in the first half.
Southside regained the lead with 4:14 left until halftime. The Panthers held on downs at the 2, but the Southerners’ Jamie Riggs scooped up a Diego Rubio fumble and scored. Anorve kicked the extra point for the 14-8 lead.
Heber Springs reached the goal line in the closing seconds, but the drive ended on a Cook interception in the end zone.
The second half became a different game. Heber Springs rushed for 106 yards and passed for 114 yards. Southside was held to 64 yards
Thad Bray set up the first touchdown of the third quarter when he blocked a punt. Bremmon recovered the ball at the Southside 20-yard line. Four plays later, Rubio scored on a 1-yard dive with 8:39 left in the third quarter. Jackson West caught a 3-yard pass from Cook for the 2-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 16-14 lead.
The Southerners regained the lead for the final time when Anorve kicked a 33-yard field. Southside led 17-16 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Heber Springs started its 11-play, 79-yard drive for the eventual winning score late in the third quarter. Cusick’s fourth-down catch put the Panthers in scoring position. Rubio scored from two yards out with 11:14 to play. The 2-point conversion try failed as Heber Springs led, 22-17.
McKee’s 55-yard catch of a Cook pass put the Panthers in position to increase the lead. McKee caught three passes in all for 81 yards on the night.
“I made a move to the outside and turned upfield.” McKee said. “Matthew saw I was open and put the ball where I could go and catch it.”
Cook said the play worked like Wood told him while on the sidelines earlier.
“Nathan was open, and I threw the ball to him,” Cook said. “The ball went right in his hands like it is suppose to.”
Heber Springs reached the Southside 7 when McKee apparently scored, but officials ruled he fumbled before crossing the goal line.
Heber Springs held on downs the next series and then maintained possession for the rest of the game.
“It was a good feeling after so much disappointment,” Cook said. “We’ve been through a lot of things this year. It felt great and it was against Southside. It was a relief. I had a big smile for the win with my teammates after the final play.”
Heber Springs will play at Clinton Friday in the fifth annual Battle of the Little Red.
“This was a great victory,” Wood said. “We will start preparing for the Clinton game. We have two more games to to take care of before looking at the playoffs.”
The Panthers will conclude the regular season by hosting Little Rock Mills.
SCORING Heber Springs (1-4, 2-6) 0 8 8 6 - 22 Southside Batesville (1-4, 2-6) 7 7 3 0 - 17 FIRST QUARTER Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 81-yard run (Skyler Anorve kick), 4:39 SECOND QUARTER Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 2-yard run (Matthew Cook to Gus Hannah pass), 11:56 Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs 2-yard fumble return (Anorve kick), 4:15 THIRD QUARTER Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 1-yard run (Cook to Jackson West pass), 8:39 Southside Batesville, Anorve 33-yard field goal, 4:22 FOURTH QUARTER Heber Springs, Rubio 1-yard run (pass failed), 11:14 TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 4, Southside 4 First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 6, Southside 2 First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 3, Southside 0 Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Southside 6 Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 5/10, Southside 1/8 Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/2, Southside 0/2 Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 5/3, Southside 1/0 Time of Possession: Heber Springs 28:55, Southside 19:05 Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Southside 1/1 Turnovers: Heber Springs 3, Southside 2 Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 8, Southside 7 Penalties: Heber Springs 7/43, Southside 8/75 Rushing: Heber Springs 43/126/2.9, Southside 30/172/5.7 Passing: Heber Springs 10/14-157-0/1, Southside 4/7-23-0/1 Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 57/283/5.0, Bald Knob 37/195/5.1 Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Southside 5/29 Punts: Heber Springs 4/107/26.8, Southside 3/61/20.3 Inside 20: Heber Springs 1, Southside 1 Blocked Punts: Heber Springs 1, Southside 0 INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSE RUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 21/85, Diego Rubio 13/26/2, Nathan McKee 5/24/1, Jackson West 1/4, Team 1/(-3), John McBroome 2/(-10). Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 13/120/1, Brycen Sutton 12/39, Jacob Dunne 3/29, Chase Duncan 1/1, Team 1/(-17). PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 9/12-159-0/1, John McBroome 1/2- (-2)-0/0. Bald Knob, Chase Duncan 4/7-23-0/0 RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 3/81, Jackson West 3/27, Easton Cusick 2/50, Diego Rubio 1/1, Matthew Cook 1/(-2). Southside Batesville, Bo Trucks 2/19, Jacob Dunne 1/4, Isaac Smith 1/0. TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 244, Diego Rubio 26, Nathan McKee 24, Jackson West 4, John McBroome (-12). Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 120, Brycen Sutton 39, Jacob Dunne 29, Chase Duncan 24. PUNT RETURNS: Southside Batesville, Isaac Smith 1/12 KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Austin Winchester 2/0 FUMBLE RETURNS: Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs 1/2 INTERCEPTION RETURNS: None OTHER RETURNS: Jayden Bremmon 1/18 ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 105, Matthew Cook 83, Easton Cusick 50, Jackson West 31, Diego Rubio 27, Jayden Bremmon 18. Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 120, Brycen Sutton 39, Jacob Dunne 33, Chase Duncan 24, Bo Trucks 14, Isaac Smith 12, Jamie Riggs 2. SCORING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 12, Nathan McKee 6, Gus Hannah 2, Jackson West 2. Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 6, Jamie Riggs 6, Skyler Anorve 5 (2/2 XPA, 1/1 FG - Made: 33). DEFENSE PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 3/50/16.6, John McBroome 1/57/1/0. Southside Batesville, Blayne Warden 2/61/30.5/1, Team 1/0/0/1. SACKS/YARDS LOST: Southside Batesville, Vern Deering 2/13, Lincoln Fair 1/9, Ricky Vickers 1/6, Alex Allen 1/1 FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs BLOCKED PUNTS: Heber Springs, Thad Bray BLOCKED PUNT RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Jayden Bremmmon INTERCEPTIONS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee. Southside Batesville, Justin Vannattan