By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Lonoke converted two first-half Heber Springs turnovers into touchdowns and pulled away during the second half to claim a 36-14 win in the 2-4A Conference football opener for both teams at Panther Stadium Friday.
Heber Springs (0-1 in conference, 1-2) had four turnovers for the game — three interceptions and a lost fumble. The Jackrabbits (1-0 conference, 4-0) lost two fumbles.
“We need to fix our offense,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “Right now, we are having hard time figuring out how to take care of things up front (offensive line). We will work on that in practice next week. If we don’t fix it, it could be a long season.”
Lonoke wore down the Panther defense by keeping possession for almost 27 of minutes, including 16 of 24 minutes during the second half.
“We got good effort from the players,” Wood said. “I’m proud of the defense hanging in there, and it never quit fighting. They were on the field for the majority of the second half.”
Heber Springs sophomore running back Parker Brown rushed for more than 100 yards for the second time in three games. He ran for 163 yards on 22 carries and scored both touchdowns. Quarterback Xander Lindley, also a sophomore, completed 4-of-13 passes for 56 yards and rushed 18 times for 31 yards
Heber Springs had 14 lost-yardage plays on 59 snaps, but Panthers did record 14 first downs.
Spencer Pepper started at quarterback for the Jackrabbits in place of Bradon Allen, who was sidelined because of an injury. Pepper, who started last year at quarterback, had been used at running back and receiver this season, but he occasionally was inserted as the wildcat quarterback.
Pepper completed 7-of-12 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. He rushed 13 times for 74 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Latrell Burnett and Landon Jones also played a major role in Lonoke’s offense. Burnett had 74 yards rushing on 11 attempts and scored one touchdown. Landon Jones caught four passes for 103 yards and one touchdown.
“We knew he (Pepper) would be the quarterback before the game,” Wood said. “He is more of a scat back, but he could throw deep. Our secondary did a good job overall defending the pass.”
Late in the first quarter, Brown’s 28-yard run gave the Panthers a first down at the Lonoke 32-yard line. The game-changing play came three plays later. Jones intercepted a Lindley pass and returned it 77 yards for a Lonoke touchdown with 5:02 remaining in the first quarter. Tom Boatright kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
The Jackrabbits increased their lead midway through the second quarter after recovering a fumble at the their 35-yard line. Pepper capped a 5-play, 65-yard drive by scoring on a 36-yard run with 8:11 left in the first half. Boatright kicked the extra point for the 14-0 lead.
Lonoke scored its third touchdown on a 7-play, 68-yard drive. Pepper connected on passes to Jones and Chaston Dockery put the Jackrabbits in scoring position. Burnett scored on an 8-yard carry with 3:49 to go in the first half for the 20-0 lead.
Heber Springs responded quickly by driving 57 yards on four plays for its first score. Dalton Yancey’s 18-yard pass reception from Lindley set up Brown’s 32-yard touchdown run with two minutes remaining. A low snap spoiled the conversion as the Panthers trailed 20-6 at halftime.
Lindley rushed for 10 yards and a first down on the Panthers’ opening drive of the second half. Lonoke’s defense held on the next three plays and forced a punt.
Lonoke started the drive at the 20-yard line, but a holding penalty on first down moved the ball to the 10. Two plays later, Pepper passed to Jones at the 15-yard line and completed the 89-yard scoring play with 8:56 left in the third quarter. Boatright kicked the conversion for a 27-6 lead.
Heber Springs reached the end zone for the second time early in the fourth quarter. Brown capped the five-play drive by scoring on an 8-yard run with 11:17 left in the game. Lindley ran for the 2-point conversion, pulling the Panthers with 27-14.
Lonoke recorded a safety after Lindley retrieved a high snap in the end zone with 10:05 to play. Jones returned the free kick 60 yards for a touchdown, but a penalty wiped out the score. Pepper capped a 40-yard drive by scoring on a 3-yard carry with five minutes left. Boatright kicked the extra point.
Heber Springs will have a short week as the Panthers will play at Stuttgart in a game Thursday that will be telecasted statewide on KARZ (Channel 42, Little Rock). The Ricebirds began the conference schedule with a come-from-behind 21–18 win at Southside Batesville.
LONOKE AT HEBER SPRINGS SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 Lonoke (3-1, 1-0) 7 13 7 9 - 36 Heber Springs (1-2, 0-1) 0 6 0 8 - 14 FIRST QUARTER L - Landon Jones 77-yard interception return (Tom Boatright kick), 5:02 SECOND QUARTER L - Spencer Pepper 35-yard run (Boatright kick), 8:11 L - Latrell Burnett 8-yard run (kick failed), 3:50 HS - Parker Brown 32-yard run (run failed), 2:00 THIRD QUARTER L - Pepper to Jones 90-yard pass (Boatright kick), 8:56 FOURTH QUARTER HS - Brown 8-yard run (Xander Lindley run), 11:17 L - Safety, snap into end zone, 10:05 L - Pepper 3-yard run (Boatright kick), 5:00 TEAM STATISTICS FIRST DOWNS: HS 14, Lonoke 16 RUSHES-YARDS: HS 44/201, Lonoke 34/217 PASSING YARDS: HS 56, Lonoke 131 COMP-ATT-INT: HS 5/14-3, Lonoke 7/17-0 TOTAL OFFENSE: HS 257, Lonoke 348 FUMBLES: HS 1, Lonoke 2 PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 4/20, Lonoke 7/88 PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 2/40, Lonoke 3/36.7 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHING: HS, Parker Brown 22/163, Xander Lindley 18/31, Gideon Tate 3/19, Team 1/(-12). Lonoke, Spencer Pepper 13/74, Latrell Burnett 11/74, Landon Jones 5/36, Jamarrion Johnson 3/24, Jalon Branscomb 1/15, Team 1/(-6). PASSING: HS, Lindley 5/14-56-0/2, Easton Cusick 0/1-0-0/1. Lonoke, Pepper 7/17-131-1/0 RECEVING: HS, Gus Hannah 2/27, Dalton Yancey 1/18, Austin Winchester 1/12, Brown 1/(-1). Lonoke, Jones 4/103, Chaston Dockery 3/25, Burnett 1/4. KICKOFF RETURNS: HS, Brown 3/47, Jackson West 1/18. Lonoke, Jones 1/35 PUNT RETURNS: HS, Brown 1/9 INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Lonoke, Jones 1/77, Burnett 1/25, Tom Boatright 1/11. PUNTS: Heber Springs, Lindley 2/80. Lonoke, Boatright 3/110.