Carmikle charged with leading Heber Springs football program

New Heber Springs football coach Caleb Carmikle is all smiles as he introduces his family at a meet-and-greet for the coach Saturday at Panther Gymnasium. Carmikle replaces Van Paschal, who took a job at Cross County following his lone season at Heber Springs. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

The Heber Springs High School football team celebrated “Homecoming” early this year.

Though there was no queen and her court, there was a coronation as Caleb Carmikle was introduced as the 40th head football coach in school history at a meet-and-greet event held at the Panther Den on the campus of Heber Springs High School on Saturday.

Carmikle was hired in early March to replace Van Paschal, who took a job at Cross County in January.

The 2011 graduate of Heber Springs High School was head coach at Rison last season and told the 100 plus gathered for the event, including several former teammates, that becoming the head coach of the Panthers was the only job he would leave Rison for.

“Honestly up until the time I accepted the job was on the fence about it,” Carmikle said afterward. “It was my first year at Rison and I didn’t want to leave with that job being unfinished.

“But it’s home, and so when it came down to it, it just felt like God was leading us to come home and serve this community.”

In 103 seasons of Heber Springs High School football, Carmikle becomes the seventh former Panther charged with leading the program, but the first since Dale Cresswell, who was head coach for three seasons starting in 2003.

Carmikle joins Cresswell, Dennis DeBusk (the winningest coach in school history), Cecil Alexander, Bob Fisher, Henry Clay Kelley and Neill Reed as Heber Springs High School graduates to serve as head coach.

“You know, this is my fourth head coaching job now, and each of the other three were a special opportunity to be a head coach,” Carmikle said, “but to be able to do it where I grew up and coach guys that were just like me and sat in the same chair that I did, it means that much more, so it’s a special feeling.”

Carmikle played for the Panthers during the 2008 through 2010 seasons and was named to the all-decade team for the 2010s, but did he ever think about wanting to come back and be coach here while he was still playing?

“Yeah, I knew, once I decided I wanted to be a coach, I knew at some point in my career I would want to come home,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when. I knew everything had to align perfectly, and it has, and so I think this is a great time to come home.”

The 2015 graduate of Arkansas Tech played under former Panther coach Steve Janski.

“The nuts and bolts of the program will be similar to the way it was when I was in school, but I told the interview committee and everybody else in the audience (today), I’m not Steve Janski,” Carmikle said. “Obviously there is things that he did that I’ve molded my program around and put my own twist to it.

“But I learned early on in my career that you can’t try to be a Steve Janski or (former Panther head coach and new athletic director) Darren Gowen or (former Panther assistant coach) Scott Davenport, I can be Caleb Carmikle, but there’s pieces from all the places that I’ve been that have blended into the style.”

Prior to coaching Rison in 2023. Carmikle was the head coach at Magnet Cove, where he compiled a 39-30 record in six seasons winning three conference titles. Before that, Carmikle spent two seasons at the head coach at Glenbrook, a private school in Minden, Louisiana. His first team in 2015 went 1-9 but his second went 5-5 earning him parish coach of the year honors by the Minden Press-Herald. His overall record as a head coach is 48-52.

Carmikle will inherit a coaching staff that includes assistants Hunter Davis, Micah Dew, Curtis Shannon, Easton Seidl, and Kevin Youngblood. He said he likes the makeup of the coaching staff, calling it “balanced with a mix of older experienced guys and some young, fiery guys.”

In taking the job at Heber Springs, it will allow Carmikle an opportunity to work with someone he was wanted to work since his days at Magnet Cove, Panther defensive coordinator Kevin Youngblood, who’s defensive pitched the most shutouts in season in 2023 since 2009 with three — Carmikle was a junior on that 2009 team.

“I first met him when we coached against each other when I was at Magnet Cove and he was Quitman,” he said. “They had the best defense in the conference that year and that was maybe one of the best teams I had at Magnet Cove, we won 11 games that year, and he shut us down.”

Carmikle said he tried to hire Youngblood at Rison to be his defensive coordinator, but the timing wasn’t right.

“When all this started happening, I thought, well, if I can’t get him to come work with me somewhere else, I’ll just go where he’s at,” he said. “So that made it even more special to get a chance to work with him.”

Carmikle, who will also work at the middle school, officially starts at Heber Springs on Monday.

Heber Springs’ Martin signs with Arkansas Tech

February 5, 2020


Quarterback Adam Martin capped his Heber Springs High School football career by signing a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II letter-of-intent with Arkansas Tech at the Panther Den Tuesday.

Martin, who started the final two games of his freshman season and the past three years, led the Panthers to a 21-17 record, four playoff appearances and a share of a conference championship.

Overall, Martin completed 387-of-662 passes for 5,051 yards and 42 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,042 yards and scored 30 touchdowns.

“I’m very excited, like Russellville and excited what the future will hold,” said Martin when asked about selecting Arkansas Tech. “I’m ready to start working on my football career in Russellville. I like the coaches who kept in touch with me throughout the process. They were honest and treated me like family.”

Will Cox, who was interim head coach last season for the Panthers, said Martin was one of the key parts on offense. Martin was responsible for 54 percent of the team’s touchdowns and 64 percent of the team’s total offense.

In 2019, Martin completed 139-of-232 passes for 1,627 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was the team’s second-leading rusher with 864 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Martin also handled the punting duties.

“I only coached Adam during the past two years, but he played well beyond his years,” Cox said. “He took pride in how he played. I’m happy he is getting this opportunity. His stats are incredible and only tells part of the story. Adam always put our offense in good position to be successful.”
Cox said he never doubted Martin would play college football and said his new coach will learn quickly how valuable of a player he is.

Heber Springs’ Adam Martin waits to sign his letter-of-intent with Arkansas Tech University. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

“I told every coach once he gets in your program, you would see why,” Cox said. “Adam is the best high school quarterback I ever coached. His best attributes are leadership and he holds himself to a higher standard than others.”

Martin is expected to compete for playing time next season for the Wonder Boys, who tied for eighth place with East Central Oklahoma in the Great American Conference last season during head coach Kyle Shipp’s first season.

“Most likely, I will probably be redshirted, but that decision will not be made until after the August camp,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to Tech. Coach Shipp takes pride in being a Wonder Boy (player and assistant coach before becoming head coach). The program is going in the right direction.”

Martin was one of three quarterbacks signed.

“I’m excited about all of the kids that we’re signing,” Shipp said. “I feel like it’s a very good class from top to bottom. This class is a building block to where we want to get to in the future. Along with our returning class we feel like this group will have the chance to be special.”

Martin said he is ready for the challenge and compared it to when he was summoned to the varsity during his freshman year for the Panthers.

“I already was playing junior high basketball and coach (Darren) Gowen came and told me I was going to be playing more football,” Martin said. “I learned a lot in those games. I have so many memories, but two of the highlights were winning at Southside Batesville during my junior year and defeating Riverview at senior night last season.”

Martin said it was special to play on the same field as his father, Danny.

Adam Martin poses with father, Danny, in front of the Heber Springs High School class of 1981 class portrait. Danny was a 1981 graduate of Heber Springs. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

“I built a lot of relationships in the locker room and the community,” he said. “It also was special playing where my dad and uncles did.”

Martin continues to play for the Heber Springs basketball team and will compete for the baseball squad before heading to Russellville.

“Learning a new playbook will be the first challenge,” he said. “I need to become more physically because Division II football is a different game than high school. I want to get it up to their standards.”

Martin will join former teammate, Julian Cameron, at Tech. Cameron signed with the Wonder Boys last spring and redshirted this past season.

Martin is also the fifth Panther football player in the past three seasons to sign to play college football joining Cameron (Arkansas Tech), Blaze Nelson (Lyon College), J.J. Bray (Southwest Baptist, Mo.) last year and Jacob Bremmon (Hendrix) in 2018.

RELATED ARTICLE: Arkansas Tech announces 2020 signing class

Adam Martin with his family.




Wood named new head coach at Heber Springs

January 20, 2020


Todd Wood, the defensive coordinator at Russellville High School since 2017, became the new leader of the Heber Springs Panther football program at Monday night’s school board meeting.

Wood was hired on a vote of 3-2. Kevin Thomas, Dr. Ryan Buffalo and Bryce Farmer voted in favor of Wood, while Judy Crowder and Jason Jones voted no.

Wood was one of six candidates interviewed by a five-member search committee and Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher. Wood is expected to be on campus Wednesday and begin his duties on Feb. 3. He also will teach social studies.

Wood was the defensive coordinator at Pulaski Academy from 2003-2016. The Bruins won six state titles during that time frame. He also a baseball coach at Pulaski Academy.

Wood and five other candidates were interviewed in December and then again in January. The position became vacant in July when Darren Gowen resigned to accept another coaching position. Assistant coach Will Cox was interim head for the 2019 season.

“We started this process in the summer when coach Gowen resigned,” Stauffacher said. “We are ready to move forward.”

Stauffacher said Wood will work with a contract to finish the spring semester before he will have a new contract for the 2020-21 school year.

Wood is the first football coach hired that had not previously served on the coaching staff since Steve Janski in 2005 and only the third head coach hired outside of the program since 1974, joining John Richardson in 1989. Richardson came to Heber Springs from Huntsville.

The Panthers will open their 99th football season against Newport in September.

(Editor’s Note: Philip Seaton contributed to this article.)

Panthers expect to name new football coach Monday

January 20, 2020


The search for Heber Springs’ next head football coach will end Monday night when a recommendation will be presented to the school board during its meeting.

Six candidates were interviewed by Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher and a five-member search committee in December and then again in January.
The position became vacant in July when Darren Gowen resigned to accept another coaching position. Assistant coach Will Cox was named interim head coach for the 2019 season.

Athletic director Brad Reese, high school principal Marc Griffin, former school board member Richard Whybrew, current board member Dr. Ryan Buffalo and coach Jay Bishop comprise the committee.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the school district’s central office.

Interviews for Heber Springs football coach continue Wednesday

January 7, 2020


A second round of interviews with Heber Springs High School head football coaching candidates will be held on Wednesday.

The five-member search committee met last week after the initial interviews of six candidates in December.

Assistant coach Will Cox was named interim head coach in July, replacing Darren Gowen, who resigned in June.

Heber Springs finished the season at 4-7.

Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher earlier said he expected a recommendation for the school board’s January 20 meeting. Stauffacher said the recommendation may be delayed.

Athletic director Brad Reese, high school principal Marc Griffin, former school board member Richard Whybrew, current board member Dr. Ryan Buffalo, coach Jay Bishop and Stauffacher comprise the committee.

Interviews begin today for Heber Springs football coach

December 18, 2019


A five-member search committee, along with Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher, will interview six candidates to become the next head football coach at Heber Springs High School Wednesday.

Athletic director Brad Reese, high school principal Marc Griffin, former school board member Richard Whybrew, current board member Dr. Ryan Buffalo and coach Jay Bishop comprise the committee.

Stauffacher said the plan is to conduct the first round of interviews before Christmas and possibly calling for second interviews either in late December or early January. He said the committee’s goal is to have a recommendation ready for the Jan. 20 school board meeting.

Assistant coach Will Cox was named interim head coach in July, replacing Darren Gowen, who resigned in June.

“The committee and I met twice and reviewed the applications,” Stauffacher said. “We decided on who would be interviewed and possibly the best fit for the job. We plan to keep our options open. We wanted to do the first round of interviews before Christmas, and then we will look at where we are at that point.”

The search process began following the completion of the football season in mid-November.

“I’m pleased with the six candidates,” Stauffacher said. “We are looking for a quality person to lead the football program. We also want a coach who wants to be at Heber Springs, become vested into the community and build the program. We want a coach with high energy and a proven record. Those are some of the qualities we are looking for in the next coach.”

If a new coach is hired at the January school board meeting, Stauffacher hopes to have him on campus by late February or possibly early March.

“The holiday may delay it, but I believe we can have a recommendation by the next board meeting,” Stauffacher said. “We will have to wait and see how the process goes.”

Panthers crush the Comets, head to playoffs

November 2, 2018


HEBER SPRINGS – The Heber Springs Panthers accomplished what they needed too in a 47-6 4A-2 victory over Little Rock Mills, and even left with a couple of records.

Coming into Friday night’s contest at Panther Stadium against winless Little Rock Mills, Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen had said he was more concerned about his team, how they played and more importantly, that his team just had fun.

It would be easy to say that happened on a night that seniors were honored before the game.

Senior running back Blaze Nelson rushed eight times for 198 yards and four touchdowns while the defense held Mills to 80 yards of total offense in the first half as the Panthers built up a 40-0 lead at the break and emptied the bench in the second half.

“We got everybody in there, even the foreign exchange students,” Gowen said. “It was great to take care of business like we needed to, get everybody on the field, stay healthy and get ready for the playoffs.”

Heber Springs (6-4, 6-1 in 4A-2) almost got a gift from the Central Arkansas Christian Mustangs on Friday night, but a last second field goal that would have sent that game into overtime fell short as Stuttgart claimed a 30-27 victory and the overall conference crown — a Ricebird loss would have given the Panthers a share of the 4A-2 title. 

Heber Springs will head into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed and host Pocahontas (4-6) Friday night at 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium.

Against the Comets, it didn’t take long for the Panthers to strike. After a 15-yard run by senior Dalton Hall on the games first play from scrimmage, Nelson raced past the Mills defenders for a 65-yard score. The Julian Cameron PAT kick made it 7-0 with 11:27 to play in the first quarter.

Mills followed with a nine-play drive that netted only seven yards but ate more than three minutes off the clock before Heber Springs would take over on Comet 44. After a pair of Nelson runs, Adam Martin connected with senior Rocky Finney for a 19-yard completion that put the ball on the 2. From there, Nelson would run up the middle to make 14-0 with 5:52 left in the first quarter.

Mills (0-10, 0-7) then put together a 14-play, 61-yard drive that netted nearly all of its first-half offense and pushed the ball to the Panther 18. But the Heber Springs first-team defense, which has allowed only four touchdowns during the Panther’s five-game winning streak to close the regular season, stopped the Comets a yard short on fourth-and-2.

Nelson took over from the carrying twice before finally breaking free on his third carry of the drive for a 76-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0 with 10:07 left to play in the first half.

Sophomore Matthew Cook got the ball right back for Heber Springs when he stepped in front of Braelon Adams pass attempt on the Comets first play from scrimmage on the drive and returned it 27 yards. 

The Panthers didn’t waste any time as Martin hit Finney in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-0 with 9:28 left in the second quarter.

After a three-and-out, Hall tackled the Mills punter in the end zone for a safety to make it 30-0 at the 7:38 mark.

On the ensuing possession after the Comet free kick, Nelson raced 23 yards to score his 26th rushing touchdown of the season to make it 37-0 Heber Springs with 5:17 left in the half. The 26 rushing touchdowns by Nelson ties a school record set by Braylon Mitchell in 2009.

Heber Springs would add one more score in the first half when Cameron connected on a 35-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left on the clock.

With the Arkansas Activities Association Mercy Rule in effect in the second half, Heber Springs added one more score when sophomore Diego Rubio scored on a 17-yard run. Seth Dickeson hit the PAT kick to make 47-0 with 8:38 left in the third.

Mills’ Demetrius Abernathy set the final score with a six-yard run with 43 seconds to play in the third quarter.


First Downs: Heber Springs 10, Mills 10

Third-Downs: Heber Springs 2-5, Mills 2-8

Fourth-Downs: Heber Springs 0-0, Mills 2-4

Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 25-296-11.8, Mills 32-143-4.5

Passing Comp.-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 4-5 67 0, Mills 5-11 54 2

Total Offense: Heber Springs 363, Mills 197

Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 1-0, Mills 0-0

Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 7-55, Mills 2-15

Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 0-0, Mills 4-1

Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 1-53, Mills 2-26.5


Rushing: Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 8-198-4, Jackson West 5-17, Diego Rubio 4-31-1, Levy Phillips 4-31, Adam Martin 3-4, Dalton Hall 1-15. Mills, Braelon Adams 14-84, Terryn Withers 9-20, Malik Bean 4-33, Demetrius Abernathy 2-14, Favionne Bell 1-4, Logan Archer 1-(-2), Landen Epps 1-(-10).

Passing: Heber Springs, Adam Martin 4-5 67 1-0. Mills, Braleon Adams 5-11 54 0-2.

Receiving: Heber Springs, Rocky Finney 2-51-1, Seth Dickeson 1-9, Landon Johnson 1-7. Mills, Jaden Withers 4-42, Malik Bean 1-12.

Panthers clinch No. 2 seed with mercy-rule win in Searcy

October 26, 2018


SEARCY – Heber Springs scored 42 unanswered points and cruised to a 42-6 4A-2 win over Riverview Friday night at Raider Stadium.

The Panthers fourth-straight win clinched Heber Springs (5-4, 5-1 in the 4A-2) the No. 2 seed in the upcoming playoffs and a home game in the first-round, most likely against Pocahontas.

“I am just proud of the kids,” Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen said. “We got out of here healthy and with a win, and guaranteed ourselves of a No. 2 seed and first-round playoff game at home and possibly more.”

Senior Blaze Nelson rushed 21 times for 151 and three touchdowns while junior quarterback Adam Martin completed six of 14 passes for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Panthers.

“Blaze had another great night and Adam threw the ball very well,” Gowen said. “He finally let a couple of them go and we didn’t catch them like we should have, but he threw it well.”

Heber Springs’ defense had another good night limiting Riverview (2-7, 1-5) to 128 yards of total offense with only 28 of those coming the second half.

Coupled with the week 8 shutout of Southside Batesville, the six points allowed by the Panther defense are the fewest allowed in back-to-back weeks since 1990 when Heber Springs shutout Dardanelle in week three and beat Yellville-Summit, 7-6, in week four.

Despite the fast finish, it was a slow start for the Panthers.

A holding penalty on the Heber Springs’ first possession negated a 20-yard, first-down run by Nelson forcing a punt, while an illegal procedure penalty helped stall out the Panthers second possession late in the first quarter.

It would be the Raiders that would strike first on six-play, 63-yard drive capped off by a 36-yard touchdown reception by Cade Trickey from Griffin Miller with 11:51 to play in the half. A bad snap on the PAT attempt made the score 6-0 in favor of Riverview.

“We didn’t have a great week of practice and that leads to not playing well on Friday night,” Gowen said. “It’s tough when you win several games against teams that look better in terms of records and scores, and it’s hard for the kids to play at the same level they have been playing when they do that.

“It took us a while to get going, but we got there.”

It wouldn’t take Heber Springs long to “get going” after the Raiders’ took the lead, in fact only 51 seconds. Two plays after the Riverview touchdown, Martin would connect with Tri Johnson on a short screen pass and the junior would do the rest racing 50 yards to give the Panthers the lead at 7-6 after the Julian Cameron PAT kick.

Three plays later, the Panthers would get the ball back after Fate Berry sacked Miller for a 10-yard loss causing the senior to cough up the football. Senior Dalton Hall picked up the ball at the 20 and almost scored before being brought down at the 1. Nelson would punch it in on the next play to make it 14-6 with 9:57 to play in the half. Miller was injured on the sack and would not return for Riverview.

Heber Springs threatened again late in the half after Martin connected with Johnson on a 36-yard pass play to put the ball at the Raider 38. Four runs moved the ball to the Raider 19 with less than a minute to play, but three pass attempts came up short leaving the score 14-6 at the half.

“I thought the defense played,” Gowen said. “We almost had a scoop and score, their quarterback went out and that kind of hamstrung them a little bit in terms of what they could do but we also figured out what they were doing. 

“In the second half, we just came out and shut them down, and our offense was able to score.”

And score they did on all four second-half possessions.

The first one came with 7:03 to play in the third when Nelson scored on an 18-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6.

The next tally came with 1:34 to play in the quarter when Martin connected with senior Rocky Finney on a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-6.

After the Panther defense forced a three-and-out, Heber Springs struck again this time on a 5-yard run by Nelson, his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season, to make it 35-6 with 9:26 to play in the contest.

Tanner Tillman recovered a Raider fumble on the Riverview 14 three plays later and Hall would follow with six straight runs. His 1-yard scoring run would invoke the Arkansas Activities Association 35-point Mercy Rule with 5:32 left to play.

Heber Springs will look to a secure a winning season Friday night at home against winless Little Rock Mills. Seniors will be honored before Friday night’s game.



First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Riverview 8

Third-Downs: Heber Springs 3-9, Riverview 4-15

Fourth-Downs: Heber Springs 2-4, Riverview 1-2

Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 29-171-5.9, Riverview 45-70-1.6

Passing Comp.-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 6-14 151 0, Riverview 6-7 55 0

Total Offense: Heber Springs 314, Riverview 125

Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 1-10, Riverview 1-8

Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 4-30, Riverview 4-25

Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 1-0, Riverview 4-2

Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 1-40, Riverview 4-36


Rushing: Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 21-151-3, Dalton Hall 6-19-1, Adam Martin 2-1, Riverview, Baylee Dillin 13-27, Griffin Miller 10-20, Landon Chandler 10-5, Santos Gutierrez 7-1, Xavier Duckett 3-20, Team 2-(-3). 

Passing: Heber Springs, Adam Martin 6-14 151 2-0. Riverview, Griffin Miller 4-4 54 1-0, Landon Chandler 2-2 1 0-0, Cade Trickey 0-1 0 0-0.

Receiving: Heber Springs, Tri Johnson 3-92-1, Rocky Finney 2-50-1, Matthew Cook 1-9. Riverview, Cade Trickey 3-40-1, Baylee Dillin 2-12, Carlos Munoz 1-3.

Heber Springs blanks Southside Batesville, clinches playoff berth

October 19, 2018


SOUTHSIDE BATESVILLE – Heber Springs did something Friday night only one other Panther football team has done this decade, and that was shut out an opponent.

Heber Springs used a “bend but don’t break” defense, two big pass plays and one long drive to claim a 21-0 4A-2 victory over Southside Batesville Friday night in a game that was played in a steady downpour at times.

“I’d take a one-point win, but 21-0?” Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen said. “I wasn’t thinking shutout, but the defense played incredible.”

The last time the Panthers blanked an opponent was on Oct. 5, 2012, a 54-0 victory at Marianna-Lee.

The Panther defense limited Southside Batesville (4-4, 2-3 in 4A-2) to 189 total yards, but only 57 yards and two first downs in the second half. 

“The defense just dominated in the second half,” Gowen said.

Heber Springs (4-4, 4-1) clinched a playoff berth with the win and have put themselves in a position to clinch a home playoff berth this week (the conference’s top three seeds get a first-round playoff game at home)”

“They put themselves in a position that they want to be in,” Gowen said of his team. “We just have to take care of business the next two weeks.”

It was a sluggish start for both teams Friday night.

The Panthers coughed up the football on the Southside 14 early in the contest. Later in the quarter, Tri Johnson recovered a muff punt return at the Southerner 18. However, the drive would stall and Julian Cameron’s 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

“We were kind of feeling each other out,” Gowen said. “I thought we back to doing some of our old stuff of just trying to figure out if we could play with them, block them, that sort of stuff. Then we realized that we could get after them.”

And “get after them” they did, early in the second quarter.

The Southerners put together their best drive of the night marching from their own 18 on a 14-play drive that stalled out at the Panther 22 with 9:59 left to go in the half. Southside had reached the Panther 11 before Alex Bryant held Alex Palmer to a two-yard gain on first down. Then Southside quarterback Koby Rich was called for intentional grounding on second down pushing the ball back to the 22. Two more pass attempts by Rich were also incomplete and Heber Springs took over on downs.

Junior quarterback Adam Martin carried for seven yards on first down, before senior Blaze Nelson took over. Nelson carried the ball eight times before scoring on a 20-yard run on his ninth carry. Cameron’s PAT kick made it 7-0.

After the Panther defense held the Southerner’s to a three-and-out, it was time for a trick play.

On first down from the Panther 43, Nelson took the pitch from Martin, pulled in the Southside defense in and lobbed the ball downfield where both Johnson and Rocky Finney were waiting for it wide open. Johnson took it and raced downfield for the score to make it 14-0 Heber Springs with 3:24 to play before halftime.

“He came back to me, ‘That was an awful pass’, and said, ‘No, that was a touchdown’,” Gowen said of Nelson. 

“We had that incredible drive were we ran every play and scored, and we were going to take a shot when we scored (that touchdown). We got a stop, got it back and that’s what we did.”

Gowen said the play had been set up the week prior against Bald Knob.

“We ran that formation three times last week, and they were all sweeps,” he said. “I knew they were going to be aggressive.

“I told him (Nelson) to catch it, act like you are going to run it, and just chunk it up there. It slipped out his hand a little bit, but Rocky and Tri were both wide open. We got it to Tri and he just out ran them to the end zone. That was a big play. It put us up two touchdowns at halftime.”
After a 29-yard kickoff return, Southside appeared to be cutting into that two-touchdown advantage reaching the Panther 10 with seconds remaining in the half. But Landon Johnson tipped the Rich pass attempt and Finney picked it off in the end zone to keep it 14-0 at the half.

“We talked about that play all week to Landon,” Gowen said. “‘You have to get under the curl. You have to get under the Curl’ and he did. He tipped it and then Rocky made the play.”

The Panthers sealed the game early in the fourth quarter when Martin connected with Finney at the Southside 40. Finney made a spin move on the defender, then out ran him to complete the 63-yard play to make it 21-0 with 9:25 left.

“I was probably too conservative (on the play calling in the second half),” Gowen said. “We knew with their coverage if we got the ball to him (Finney) quick, that he would probably have a big play. Didn’t know he would score, but he broke a tackle and did that.”

Justin Bray had a late interception with 3:40 let to play on a screen pass attempt to seal the win for Heber Springs.

“We worked on that all week because they do all of those screens,” Gowen said. “We worked on our d-linemen seeing it.

“We had just subbed him in. He saw the screen and they threw it right to him.”

Heber Springs finished with 307 yards of total offense, led by Nelson’s 148 yards on the ground on 29 attempts.

The Panthers travel to Searcy on Friday to tangle with Riverview for their final regular season road game of the season. A win by Heber Springs would clinch them the conference’s No. 2 seed and first-round playoff game at home against the No. 5 seed from the 4A-3 (either Gosnell or Pocahontas).


First Downs: Heber Springs 12, Southside 10

Third-Downs: Heber Springs 4-10, Southside 2-12

Fourth-Downs: Heber Springs 0-2, Southside 1-5

Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 40-192-4.8, Southside 39-130-3.3

Passing Comp.-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 2-8 120 0, Southside 8-18 59 2

Total Offense: Heber Springs 307, Southside 189

Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 0-0, Southside 1-5

Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 3-15, Southside 5-41

Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 2-2, Southside 3-1

Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 3-50, Southside 5-38


Rushing: Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 29-148-1, Dalton Hall 5-41, Adam Martin 3-7, Team 3-(-4). Southside, Brayden Duncan 19-55, Alex Palmer 12-44, Braden Jones 3-13, Koby Rich 2-14, Caden Huskey 2-8, Will Sitkowski 1-(-4).

Passing: Heber Springs, Adam Martin 1-7 63 1-0, Blaze Nelson 1-1 57 1-0. Southside, Koby Rich 5-10 40 0-1, Braden Jones 3-8 19 0-1.

Receiving: Heber Springs, Rocky Finney 1-63-1, Tri Johnson 1-57-1. Southside, Will Sitkowski 5-29, Kilynn Dugger 2-29, Caden Huskey 1-1. 

Big return helps Panthers mercy-rule Bulldogs

October 12, 2018


HEBER SPRINGS – The pomp and circumstance wasn’t relegated to the crowing of homecoming queen Carlei Douglas and her court before Friday’s night 4A-2 contest between Heber Springs and Bald Knob at Panther Stadium.

Senior Rocky Finney provided a little bit of his own with a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown that helped spark the Panthers to 21-point lead at the half as they cruised to a 42-14 mercy-rule victory over Bald Knob to improve to 3-1 in conference play.

After a 39-yard touchdown run by Blaze Nelson gave the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 4:15 to play in the second quarter, the two teams traded possession before the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-3) appeared to be driving for a score to make it a seven-point game.

Bulldog quarterback Johnson Capps had led his team from the Bald Knob 26 to the Heber Springs 27 with a pair of completions to Eli Mean, but with just over 21 seconds to play before the half, Capps was looking for Mean again when Finney stepped in front of the pass in full stride from the Panther 6. He wouldn’t stop until he found the Bulldog end zone to give Heber Springs a 28-7 lead.

It was Finney’s third interception in the past two weeks.

“Last week, I had two that I took pretty far, but I didn’t get into the end zone,” Finney said. “On this one, I was determined to not let them stop me.”

And determined he was.

After racing down the Panther sideline, he split of pair of Bulldog offensive linemen near the Panther 35, cut across the field and avoided five tackle attempts before reaching the Bald Knob sidelines at the Bulldog 40 where he outran the Bald Knob players pursuing him for the score.

“The play of the game was Rocky’s interception,” Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen said. “He weaves back-and-forth, through people and around them, and takes it to the house.

“It put us up three touchdowns and we get the ball to start the second half. We go and score and put the mercy rule on them early in the second half.”

Finney finished the night with 290 all-purpose yards, including 157 yards receiving on seven receptions.

“You have a special guy and he is starting to come on,” Gowen said. “The last two weeks he has played really well.

“It’s a tribute to the way he practices, and he’s had two really good weeks of practicing hard. He’s showing out in games and I’m just proud of him.”

It was a big night for Nelson. The senior topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season with 127 yards on 18 carries for three touchdowns. He now has 1,050 yards on the ground.

His first score came with 11:40 to play in the second quarter with a five-yard run to cap off a nine play, 70-yard drive. After the Julian Cameron extra point, the Panthers led 7-0.

Bald Knob answered with its own nine play, 65-yard drive to tie things up at 7-all with 7:41 to play before the half after Capps connected with Mean for a 13-yard pass.

The Panthers wasted little time taking the lead as junior quarterback Adam Martin scored on a 1-yard sneak at the 6:04 mark of the second quarter to make it 14-7.

Martin finished the night completing 17 of 21 pass attempts for 232 yards.

One those passes, a 22-yarder to Finney, helped push the Panthers from the 50 to Bald Knob 28 on Heber Springs’ first drive of the second half. After Nelson carried three times to move the ball for the Bulldog 11, senior Dalton Hall took over picking up nine yards before scoring on a two-yard run with 8:40 to play in the third to put Heber Springs up 35-7.

After sophomore Matthew Cook picked up off a Capps pass at the Panther 13, Heber Springs marched 87 yards in nine plays as Nelson scored from five yards out with 4:14 to play in the third quarter. That score invoked the Arkansas Activities Association 35-point Mercy Rule which meant the clock would continuously run for the rest of the game.

Heber Springs will travel to Southside Batesville this week to tangle with the Southerners.

“When this game was over, I told them great job and it’s Southside week now,” Gowen said. “Last time we went there, they beat us and kept us from an outright conference championship.

“Last year, (they came here and) we kept them from being undefeated. They are going to be out for us.”


First Downs: Heber Springs 19, Bald Knob 16

Third-Downs: Heber Springs 2-8, Bald Knob 4-10

Fourth-Downs: Heber Springs 3-4, Bald Knob 1-1

Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 32-225-7, Bald Knob 25-133-5.3

Passing Comp.-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 17-21 232 0, Bald Knob 11-23 100 2

Total Offense: Heber Springs 452, Bald Knob 233

Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 0-0, Bald Knob 1-5

Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 6-50, Bald Knob 3-24

Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 2-0, Bald Knob 1-1

Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 1-28, Bald Knob 4-29.5


Rushing: Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 18-127-3, Levy Phillips 6-27, Dalton Hall 5-40-1, Adam Martin 2-14-1, Rocky Finney 1-17. Bald Knob, Josh Clark 8-47, Johnson Capps 6-30, Michael Wingo 5-29, Blain Willard 4-23, Tyrese Dinwiddie 2-4.

Passing: Heber Springs, Adam Martin, 17-21 232 0-0. Bald Knob, Johnson Capps 11-23 100 2-2.

Receiving: Heber Springs, Rocky Finney 7-157, Blaze Nelson 5-8, Dalton Hall 3-41, Fate Berry 1-22, Matthew Cook 1-4. Bald Knob, Eli Mean 5-74-1, Blain Willard 3-7, Colton Collins 2-13-1, Josh Clark 1-6.