Panthers run free on Mustang Mountain, crush CAC

October 5, 2018


NORTH LITTLE ROCK – Heber Springs scored 42 unanswered points and cruised to 52-21 victory over Central Arkansas Christian in 4A-2 conference play Friday.

The Panthers trailed 14-10 with just over four minutes to play in the first half before junior quarterback Adam Martin connected with senior Rocky Finney for a 39-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers up, 17-14. Heber Springs (2-4, 2-1 in the 4A-2) added another touchdown late in the first half and then scored on it’s four possessions of the second half to claim the win.

The 52 points were the most scored by a Panther team since Sept. 16, 2016, when Heber Springs defeated Stuttgart, 56-29.

Senior Blaze Nelson paced the Panthers with 180 yards rushing and four touchdowns as Heber Springs finished the night with 326 yards on the ground as team.

“I wouldn’t want to run behind any other line,” Nelson said. “They were great all night with the blocks.”

Coming into the contest, Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen, who improved to 3-1 as head coach against CAC, said he wanted to take away the Mustang running attack and make them one dimensional. 

CAC (3-3, 2-1) finished with 153 yards on the ground, with a majority of those yards coming on a fourth-quarter, 58-yard touchdown run by CAC’s Krishaun Watson.

“Their run game turned into screens (passes),” Gowen said. “So we did a pretty good job there. We knew if we kept forcing them have to make plays, we would have chances (at interceptions).” 

The Panther defense did take advantage of those chances as Finney picked off two Palmer Gilbrech pass attempts while Fate Berry added another interception.

“Those were big plays for us,” Gowen said.

Each interception led to a Panther touchdown with Finney’s first pick coming late in the first half with the Mustangs driving into Panther territory. After a 55-yard return, Nelson would run the ball into the end zone a few plays to put Heber Springs up 24-14 at the half.

The Panthers also picked up three CAC fumbles to finish the game with a season-high six takeaways.

Heber Springs returns to Panther Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday for Homecoming. The Panthers will face Bald Knob (3-3, 1-2), a 35-0 loser to Stuttgart last week.


The first of the six CAC turnovers came on the Mustangs first play from scrimmage as Dalton Hall stripped Watson of the football after a 10-yard run and Nelson pounced on it to give Heber Springs possession at the Mustang 48.

The Panthers first drive appeared to stall at the 41, but on fourth-and-3, Martin found Finney all alone for a 38-yard completion. 

“We saw some stuff (on film that) they were doing that we thought we could take advantage of,” Gowen said. “Rocky ran a great route, Adam found him and that got us down there. Then we scored.”

That score would come on the next play as Nelson punched it in from three yards out to put Heber Springs up, 7-0, after the Julian Cameron PAT, with 9:39 to play in the first quarter.

“I told our kids we have got to start early,” Gowen said. “We haven’t started early yet (all season).

“We come out and get a turnover on the first play, and offensively we haven’t clicked on the first drive all season, then we had to have a big play on fourth down.”


Last season, Palmer Gilbrech was quarterbacking the Heber Springs Junior High team, but the sophomore transferred to CAC over the summer and he would lead his new team downfield on a 10-play, 74-yard drive to tie things up 7-7 with 5:10 left in the first quarter.

After connecting with Gentry Miller on a 31-yard completion to push the ball into Panther territory, CAC faced a fourth-and-9 when Finney broke up the third-down pass attempt by Gilbrech. But the sophomore used his legs for an 11-yard, first-down run, and three plays later connected with Brock Hendrix for a 19-yard score.


Neither team could hold onto the football to close out the first quarter.

Heber Springs went first. After a Hall 21-yard run had moved the ball to the CAC 38 at the 4:38 mark, the Panthers coughed it up on the next play.

Three plays later, the Mustangs would return the favor when Julio Rubio would fall on a loose football at the CAC 43 with 3:41 left in the first.

On the Panthers first play of the possession, they would again lose control of the pigskin as the Mustangs recovered it on their own 44.

After a 33-yard Gilbrech to Crews pass put the Mustangs deep in Panther territory, Nelson would recover the football for Heber Springs at the CAC 14 with 1:31 showing on the first quarter clock.

“Blaze continued to have a good night after I changed the footballs out,” Gowen said jokingly after the game. “I had slick footballs in there for those two possessions. That was my fault. I must have gave them the wrong footballs. 

“We changed that and got some sandpaper balls out.”


A large contingent of Heber Springs students made the trip to North Little Rock on Friday to follow the Panthers.

During the season, the group has used the popular soccer chant, “Ole, Ole, Ole,” to cheer on kicker Julian Cameron, who is also a member of the Panther soccer team, whenever he gets a chance to get kick.

On Heber Springs’ next possession, the students got their chance.

Nelson gained 26 yards on four carries to move the ball to the Panther 44.

Martin then connected with Hall for a 38-yard completion before the Heber Springs drive fizzled out at the Mustang 21.

Cameron came on and booted the 38-yarder through the uprights to give the Panthers a 10-7 advantage with 10:38 to play before the half.

“It’s always great to have that in your backpocket when you get inside the 30- to 25-yard line,” Gowen said. “I don’t want to settle for field goals often, but that puts us up right there.”


The Mustangs responded with an 11-play, 70-yard drive to go up 17-14 with 6:54 to play in the half as Gilbrech connected with Miller for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The big play on the drive came when Gilbrech found Crews for a 24-yard, first-down pass completion on a fourth-and-6 play from the Panther 38.

Heber Springs’ did likewise on its next possession. Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Mustang 46, Nelson carried for seven yards before Martin found Finney for the 39-yard touchdown pass on the next play to put the Panthers up 17-14 with 4:06 to play in the second quarter.

The Panthers wouldn’t trail again.


The Mustangs appeared ready to have an answer to Heber Springs’ score as they moved the ball into Panther territory.

But Finney stepped in front of a Gilbrech pass at the Panther 22 and raced to the Mustang 28 before things got a little touchy.

Both teams were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play continued on the Mustang sidelines as Fate Berry continued his block on the return. Those penalties offset each other, but the Mustangs were flagged an additional 15 yards after a player allegedly said something to an official.

“We had a big turnover there,” Gowen said. “Rocky steps in front of one, and Fate’s doing a great job blocking a kid (on the return). He kinda off blocks him over to the track and the kid didn’t like it.

“You never know with young kids, but Fate did a good job of keeping his cool. I just pulled him away just to let him know that we needed him stay in the game, and that we needed him next week too.”

A player ejection would have carried over to the next week.

That series of events seemed to fire-up the Panthers.

After an officials inadvertent whistle cost Nelson a nice gain on the first play from scrimmage, Martin connected with Finney to move the ball to the 2. Nelson would score on the next play to put Heber Springs up, 24-14 with 49 seconds left in the half.


At halftime, Gowen told his team that they needed to “impose our will” on the first drive.

“We had a 10-point lead, and we could put a lot of pressure on them if we go down there and score,” he said. “If we go down and have a drive to stall or turn it over, then they go score then it’s a ballgame.”

Evidently the players were listening to their coach as the Panthers took to the ground.

Nelson picked up 17 on two carries to move the ball to the Panther 37. After a seven-yard run by Martin, Hall gained 27 to push it the Mustang 29 before Nelson would finish off the drive with a 29-yard run to put Heber Springs in control, 31-14, with 10:18 to play in the third quarter.

“We had a full house backfield with him,” Gowen said of Nelson. “He showed his speed, ran down the sideline and scored. He’s a special dude.”


Nelson needs 71 more yards to top the thousand-yard rushing mark for the season, and if the football field had been longer Friday night, he might have gotten all of that on his last rushing attempt of the night.

After the Panther defense had forced the Mustangs to turn the ball over on downs with 7:24 left in the quarter at the Panther 35, Nelson ran to the left, made a defender miss, spun past two more defenders and then raced 65 yards to put Heber Springs up 38-14 at the 7:11 mark of the third.

“We were thinking we could come out and hit ‘em in the mouth,” Nelson said. “At that point, you could tell they were down on each other, they were tired and wore out.

“We just kept going.”


After Berry picked-off a Gilbrech pass at the Panther 35, Martin found Nelson for a 13-yard gain on a screen pass before Hall carried two more times to move the ball to the Mustang 35.

From there, Julio Rubio got a chance to carry the football and five plays later he found paydirt for his first touchdown of the season on a 14-yard run with 1:22 to go in the third. Heber Springs led 45-14 at the point.


Rocky Finney was not done. 

On the Mustangs’ ensuing possession, the senior stepped in front the Gilbrech pass attempt at the Panther 14 and raced 61 yards to put the ball deep in CAC territory at the 25.

“I just watched the quarterback,” Finney said. “I seen my guy in front of me, so I just focused on where he was and placed myself in the perfect position.”

Five plays later, sophomore Nicholas Hitchcock scored his first touchdown of his senior high career with a 3-yard run to make it 52-14 with 9:02 to play and invoking the Arkansas Activities Association 35-point mercy-rule, which meant a continuous running clock the rest of the contest. 

Senior Seth Dickeson connected on his first PAT kick of the season.


Heber Springs finished with 469 yards of total offense on the night as neither team attempted a punt.

Rocky Finney had 207 all-purpose yards on the night while Blaze Nelson finished with 192 yards of total offense.

“I haven’t been matching the intensity of my teammate, Blaze,” Finney said, “so I wanted to step up and contribute to the team as he does.”

Dalton Hall also finished over the century mark with 102 yards of total offense.



First Downs: Heber Springs 20, CAC 21

Third-Downs: Heber Springs 2-5, CAC 4-9

Fourth-Downs: Heber Springs 2-2, CAC 2-4

Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 41-326-8, CAC 26-153-5.9

Passing Att.-Comp-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 6-9-143-0, CAC 20-32-247-3

Total Offense: Heber Springs 469, CAC 393

Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 1-7, CAC 0-0

Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 9-65, CAC 5-50

Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 4-2, CAC 3-3

Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 0-0, CAC 0-0


Rushing: Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 18-180-4, Julio Rubio 9-67-1, Dalton Hall 6-65, Nicholas Hitchcock 3-15-1, Adam Martin 3-7, Team 2-(-8). CAC, Krishaun Watson 11-108-1, Blake Smith 9-25-1, Palmer Gilbrech 6-20.

Passing: Heber Springs, Adam Martin 6-9 143 1-0. CAC, Palmer Gilbrech 20-31 247 1-3, Eli Garrison 0-1 0 0-0.

Receiving: Heber Springs, Rocky Finney 3-94-1, Dalton Hall 2-37, Blaze Nelson 1-12. CAC, Brock Hendrix 5-75-1, Seth Crews 5-72, Gentry Miller 4-48, Krishaun Watson 2-11, Garrett Overstreet 1-17, Eli Jenkins 1-14, Eli Garrison 1-8, Blake Smith 1-2.