Panthers travel to Searcy to tangle with Wildcats

The Heber Springs offensive line, from left, Thad Bray (58), Trevor Weathers (75), Zach Thomas (57), Preston Roberson (51) and Jayden Bremmon (55). PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Fans may need a game program to keep up with the Heber Springs Panthers against Class 3A defending champion Harding Academy at First Security Stadium in Searcy at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Panthers (0-1) will look to rebound from last week’s 45-6 loss to Newport. Harding Academy (1-0) began the season with a 44-20 win at Mena.

“We have a lot of things to correct,” Heber Springs head coach Todd Wood said. “We will make changes, so we can become a better team. Most of our mistakes can be corrected. We worked on doing that in practice.”

The Panthers were held to 121 yards and look for more production. Wood said personnel changes on offense and defense may occur, but the final decision on starting lineups may not be decided until Friday.

Wood didn’t talk about specific changes, but he said junior John McBroome and senior Matthew Cook worked at quarterback, along with sophomore Conner Riddle.

Cook started at receiver against Newport and switched to quarterback. He led the Panthers’ running game with 48 yards. McBroome and Cook combined to complete 10-of-22 passes for 53 yards.

Wood didn’t talk about specific players and accepted the blame. He vowed to do a better job of calling plays against Harding Academy.

“I was not pleased with my play calling against Newport,” Wood said. “On offense, the play of the line is important. We had too many missed assignments. The receivers sometimes didn’t run the right routes. We need to change a lot of the things we do and worked on correcting mistakes in practice.”

Wood said players spent more time this week working on tackling and he expects a better performance against the Wildcats.

“Our tackling must improve,” he said. “We need better leverage in coverage of the receivers and stopping the running game.”

Heber Springs’ Gus Hannah. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

Wood said the goal is to make the right changes and put the players in position to have success.

“We will put the players in the right positions to help us win the game,” Wood said.

Harding Academy will put a 16-game win streak on the line.

Senior quarterback Caden Sipe, who passesd for 364 yards and six touchdowns last season against the Panthers, returns to lead the offense. Sipe completed 27-of-38 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns against Mena. He also is a run threat and rushed for 104 yards in the Wildcats’ opener.  

Ty Dugger, considered one of the state’s top receivers, caught 10 passes for 148 yards and two scores in the opener. Dugger caught 11 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s game at Panther Stadium.

“It will be a similar challenge as against Newport, playing a team that has been executing the same offense for a period of years,” Wood said. “Harding Academy is a very disciplined team on offense and defense. Harding will be very physical like Newport, but it will not have the speed of Newport.”

Sipe caught the attention of Wood quickly.

“The quarterback is very impressive as a passer and runner,” Wood said. “He makes good decisions.”

Wood said Harding Academy’s defense will be a different challenge for the Panthers.

“Harding will play more zone, but it will play man-to-man,” he said. “They will show us a variety of coverages.”

Heber Springs will play the underdog role for the second straight week, but Wood said improvement in one area can help the Panthers to succeed.

“We need better execution,” he said. “If we can do that, we will have a chance to do well.”

NOTEBOOK

ADMISSION: For those wanting to attend the game in Searcy, they must pick up a voucher at the Heber Springs school district. Those without vouchers will not be admitted.

RADIO/VIDEO STREAMING: 101.9 The Lake. Billy Morgan will handle play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing the color commentary. Pregame begins at 6:45 with kickoff at 7 p.m.

Heber Springs vs. Harding Academy
The Series
Harding Academy leads 32-14
LAST MEETING: 2019 in Heber Springs, Harding Academy won 50-49
LAST WEEK: Heber Springs lost to Newport, 45-6; Harding Academy defeated Mena, 44-20.
TONIGHT: Friday night’s match-up at in Searcy will be the 47th in the series between Heber Springs and Harding Academy. The two teams first met in 1951. Heber Springs won that contest 33-6. The Panthers won the first two meetings before the Wildcats won three straight.
OLD CONFERENCE FOES: The Panthers and Wildcats played continuously from 1951 until 1969. The two teams were part of the 2B conference from 1951-1968 and part of the 2A-South in 1969.
STATE CHAMPIONS: Harding Academy has won seven state titles 1976, 1977, 1983, 2002, 2012, 2015 and 2019. The two teams did not meet when the Wildcats won the title in 1976, 1977 and 2002. In 1983, Harding Academy defeated Heber Springs, 19-14. In 2012, Heber Springs led 6-0, but the game was canceled due to weather in the first quarter. In 2015, the Widlcats won 40-12 and the Wildcats also won last season, 50-49.
HIATUS: From 1995 through 2006, the two teams only meet twice, both games won by Harding Academy in 1998 and 1999. Since the series resumed in 2010, the two teams have played nine completed games with Harding Academy winning four of those.
SHUTOUTS: The Panthers have won three games by shutouts, while the Wildcats have shutout Heber Springs, 13 times. The last shutout in the series came in 1993, a 28-0 win by the Wildcats.
TOUCHDOWN OR LESS: 12 games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year. There have been no overtime games in the series.
MOST POINTS: The most points scored by the Panthers in series was 49 in 2011 and 2019 while Harding Academy scored 50 last season for the most points the Wildcats have scored against the Panthers. 
NONCONFERENCE WOES: Heber Springs has lost seven consecutive regular-season nonconference games. The Panthers last regular season nonconference win came on Sept. 15, 2017, at Panther Stadium against Harding Academy, 35-14. Since 2015, Heber Springs is 2-14 in regular-season nonconference games. 
INJURED: Nathan McKee is questionable for tonight's game against Harding Academy while Preston Roberson is out.

By PHILIP SEATON