Panthers looking to claim another conference win

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From left, Parker Brown, Dalton Yancey, Xander Lindley and Easton Cusick. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

The Heber Springs Panthers started the 2-4A Conference schedule on a positive foot last Friday and defeated Cave City at Panther Stadium.

Heber Springs (1-0 in 2-4A Conference, 2-2 overall) hope for another fast start beginning at 7 p.m. Friday when the Panthers will meet the Bald Knob Bulldogs (1-3 overall) at Bulldog Stadium in Bald Knob.

Friday’s game will be the conference opener for the Bulldogs, who are coming off an 8-3 win at Magnet Cove, coached by former Panther Caleb Carmichael.

“It’s always good to get the first conference win,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We now can focus on the things that matter the most, win the second conference game. We took our first step toward the playoffs, which is one of our season goals. We celebrated until Monday before starting preparation for the next game. We don’t want to take a step backwards, but a step forward.”

After playing run-dominated offenses for four weeks, Heber Springs switched gears in preparing to defend the spread. The Bulldogs, who converted 4-of-9 third-down plays into first downs, rushed for 162 yards and passed for 62 yards against Magnet Cove.

“The defense understands Bald Knob plays a different style of offense from what we saw in the first four games,” Wood said. “Bald Knob will run more than the typical spread team. We need to play aggressive on defense, stop the run and force them to pass. It’s going to be a new challenge for the defense.”

Bald Knob’s losses came to Southside Batesville (28-0), Melbourne (34-14) and Barton (32-24). Wood expects a competitive game, similar to last year’s 14-7 win by the Panthers.

“Bald Knob has a big offensive line that can push a defense,” Wood said. “The quarterback (Reece Moody) is a good runner and passer with size. We must key and keep him contained. They will try and get the run game going and then focus on the pass.”

Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley continues his week-to-week improvement. Lindley completed 13-of-15 passes for 179 yards and six touchdowns against Cave City. He had 58 yards rushing on seven attempts. Lindley is the first Panther to pass for six touchdowns in a single game since Brandon Loethen against Arkansas Baptist Prep in 2016.

Easton Cusick emerged as the team’s leading receiver by catching four passes for 76 yards, three for touchdowns. Dalton Yancey also had four catches for 34 yards and one touchdown.

Chris Edwards snagged three passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass and Parker Brown had one catch for 20 yards.

Wood said, like most games, the battle on the line will decide the outcome.

“Bald Knob’s defensive line will be a challenge for our offensive line,” he said. “We need to move them off the line of scrimmage. The outside linebackers play aggressively, but the focus will be on the guys up front.”
Wood said he liked his offense’s performance last week and looks for more improvement against the Bulldogs on Friday.

“We did a better job of maintaining drives against Cave City, except for the fumble at the 2-yard line before the end of the first half,” Wood said. “I liked our execution, and we did a good job of protecting Xander. Our line is improving every game.”

Another major improvement is the versality of the offense from last year. Brown remains important, but Wood said the development of other players is leading to more production.

Brown surpassed his season rushing total (37-179) from the first three games. He rushed 14 times for 191 yards and scored one touchdown.

“We were one dimensional with Parker last year,” Wood said. “We have guys, like Cusick, Yancey, Rutledge and Edwards, with a lot of catches and yards after the catch. The defense can’t just focus on stopping one player.”

Kenan Sneed and Edwards led the charge for the defense with 22 and 18 tackles, respectively, against Cave City. Edwards was credited with two tackles for a loss. But Wood said other players contributed.

“The only disappointment on defense was letting Cave City complete those passes (7-of-12 for 130 yards),” Wood said. “We were in position to make the play, but didn’t finish the job. We tightened up the defense and played well during the second half. I’m thrilled how Corbin Jones played (offensive and defensive lines). Parker came in when (linebacker Weston) Warden was injured and helped at linebacker.”

Weston’s injury will sideline him for the remainder of the season.

Heber Springs played three consecutive games at home, winning back-to-back games. The Panthers now look for success on the road.

“It’s time to go back on the road and show what we can do,” Wood said. “Our goal is the playoffs. We can’t look ahead, but only to the next game. We hope to be 2-0 in conference going into the bye week.”

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Panthers club Cavemen on homecoming

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Heber Springs’ Logan Rutledge and Dalton Yancey celebrate after Yancey’s third-quarter touchdown reception Friday night at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Whatever, Heber Springs coach Todd Wood told the Panthers during halftime worked.

Heber Springs trailed Cave City 15-14 at halftime of Friday’s 2-4A Conference football opener and the homecoming game at Panther Stadium.

The Panthers (1-0 in 2-4A Conference, 2-2 overall) scored on their first play from scrimmage to begin the third quarter, plus three more touchdowns before the start of the fourth quarter and pulled away to a 50-22 win against the Cavemen (0-1 in 2-4A Conference, 0-5 overall).

A fourth-down stop deep in Cave City territory sent everything into motion and led to a two-touchdown advantage. Heber Springs then dominated the remainder of the game.

“We felt good about how the offense performed during the first half,” Wood said. “A lost fumble stopped us on one drive at the 2-yard line. We knew if we could control the ball, we could score. We had to fix the defense, made adjustments during halftime and it worked out well.”

The Panthers started the third quarter when the kickoff went out of bounds. Running back Parker Brown scootered to the outside, turned the corner and ran 60 yards untouched with 11:40 left. Quarterback Xander Lindley ran for the 2-point conversion as Heber Springs led, 22-15, and never trailed again.

Two penalties — personal foul and delay of game — pushed Cave City back toward the end zone at the start of the next series. The Cavemen stalled and decided to go for a first down on a fourth-down play at their 17-yard line.

Linebacker Kenan Sneed blitzed and tackled Cave City’s Shawn Walling in the backfield as the Panthers took possession at the 16-yard line.

“Cave City didn’t surprise me at all by going for a first down, even deep in its territory,” Wood said. “They appeared confident that they could run the ball on us and felt they could do that anywhere on the field. Once we got the stop and the momentum, we felt good about how the game was going.”

Heber Springs turned in increased production on offense for the fourth consecutive game. The Panthers had 460 total yards — 281 rushing and 179 passing.

Brown, who compiled 234 all-purpose yards, surpassed his season rushing total (37-179) from the first three games. He rushed 14 times for 191 yards and scored one touchdown.

“The game plan was to bounce out on the sweeps,” Brown said. “We kept doing those plays and it was working. I got good blocks from the receivers to get into the secondary and moved down the field.”Lindley gained 58 yards on seven rushing attempts. Backup running back Gideon Tate carried eight times for 50 yards during the fourth quarter.

Lindley, who was responsible for 237 yards of his team’s total, completed 13-of-15 passes for 179 yards and six touchdowns. He is the first Panther to pass for six touchdowns in a single game since Brandon Loethen against Baptist Prep in 2016.

“We were able to find their weaknesses and kept running those plays,” Lindley said. “We found out they couldn’t defend the sweeps or the screen passes. We hit the passes to Easton, who utilized his speed when getting to the open field and scored the touchdowns. We were trying to work the inside and then open the outside for the sweeps with Parker.”

Cusick caught four passes for 76 yards and three touchdowns, which matched Brown’s total in a single game against Dover last season.

“On my first touchdown, I got perfect blocking by the outside receiver, who sealed the guy off of me,” Cusick said. “The same thing on the second TD. I cut off the block to the inside, and it was a wide-open field to the end zone. Zander saw me in the corner of the end zone on the last TD and put the ball in the right place.”

Dalton Yancey also had four catches for 34 yards and one touchdown. Chris Edwards snagged three passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass and Brown had one catch for 20 yards.

“We put in a few new plays for Parker where he could get on the edge and into the open field,” Wood said. “Xander continues to execute better every game and getting more freedom to make more plays. He is gaining confidence in himself and executing better. He is throwing the ball better and making good decisions.”

Cave City had 376 yards of total offense — 246 rushing and 240 passing. Bryce Walling rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Shawn Walling gained 76 yards on 16 tries and had one touchdown. Kolbie Birdsong carried eight times for 61 yards.

Cavemen quarterback Jacob Moore completed 7-of-12 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Birdsong caught three passes for 44 yards, while Shawn Walling had two catches for 36 yards and one touchdown.

Cave City received the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards on 10 plays. Shawn Walling scored on a 7-yard carry with 6:04 left in the first quarter. Millie Beller kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Heber Springs tied the game at 7-7 by driving 72 yards on 11 plays. Rutledge caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lindley with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point.

The Panthers took the lead following a defensive stop. Lindley passed eight yards for a touchdown to Cusick and finished a 56-yard series with 11:28 to go in the first half. Tate’s successful kick increased Heber’s lead to 14-7.

Cave City had a second 80-yard scoring drive, this time needing 12 plays. Bryce Walling had a 3-yard scoring run with 5:39 left in the second quarter, and Shawn Walling ran for the 2-point conversion, giving the Caveman a 15-14 halftime lead.

Heber Springs took the lead for good on Brown’s touchdown run to start the third quarter. Following a defensive stop, Lindley connected on a 16-yard touchdown toss to Dalton Yancey. Tate’s kick gave the Panthers a 29-15 lead with 10:07 to go in the third quarter.

The Heber Springs offense scored two more touchdowns before the end of the quarter. Cusick caught touchdown passes of 43 and 10 yards. Tate kicked the extra points. Moore passed 18 yards to Shawn Walling for Cave City’s final touchdown with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. Beller kicked the extra point.

Heber Springs led 43-22 going into the fourth quarter.

Lindley connected with Edwards on a 23-yard touchdown with 9:25 to play, followed by Tate’s kick for the extra point.

“It’s a big deal winning the first conference game and my final homecoming game,” Cusick said. “It felt good leaving the field after winning.”

Lindley agreed.

“This win will give us a lot of momentum and carry over to the next game,” he said. “We came out for the second half and got the job done.”

Heber Springs will play the first of back-to-back conference road games at Bald Knob (0-0 in 2-4A Conference, 1-3 overall) on Friday. The Panthers will be open on Oct. 7 and then play at Lonoke on Oct. 14.

“I’m looking forward going to next week’s game,” Wood said. “It’s going to be a battle. I remember last year when Xander was injured, but we still pulled out the game. We want to put things together and be 2-0 going into the off week.”

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Cavemen foe for homecoming clash for Panthers

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Don’t look at Cave City’s games scores and expect the Heber Springs Panthers will coast to an easy win in the 2-4A Conference football at Panther Stadium.

The Cavemen (0-4) have been outscored 177-64 this season, but Heber Springs coach Todd Wood warned the Panthers (1-2) of falling into that trap for Friday’s 7 p.m. kickoff of the homecoming game.

Heber Springs finished the nonconference schedule last week with a second-half rally past Jonesboro Westside, 28-13. Cave City is coming off a 54-14 loss to Camden Harmony Grove.

“You can’t always just look at scores to learn about your next opponent, but situations and opponents are a better gauge,” Wood said. “Cave City played two good teams (Melbourne and Camden Harmony Grove). It’s the first conference game and a different situation. I expect a different Cave City team on Friday.”

The Cavemen depend on a one-two running punch from Bryce Walling and Shawn Walling, who also are starting linebackers on defense. Bryce Walling ran 16 times for 80 yards and scored one touchdown against Harmony Grove. He rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Clinton in the season opener.

“(Bryce) Walling gets the ball more, but both running backs are strong runners with speed,” Wood said. “He is similar to Clinton’s No. 7 (Spencer Banister), physical and will run over players. Cave City will put the ball into the air and try to catch the defense asleep. We can’t get locked in just on the running backs, but we must be ready for the pass.”

Wood said the team confirmed two characteristics during the three non-conference games, but also revealed other characteristics

“I already knew we would not quit and keep battling,” Wood said. “They showed me a lot of intangibles with players playing at different positions, especially on the offensive line. We also have last year’s starting defensive backs starting at two linebackers. We still are working on finding our identity.”

Wood said playing run-dominated teams helped in preparation for Friday’s conference opener.

“It gave us an advantage of what we need to do,” he said. “Chris Edwards and (Kenan) Sneed had great games. Jacob McMullen and Weston Warden played well on defense. We have a lot of guys that we can count on.”

One of the reasons for the offense’s improvement during the past two games was Lindley’s passing accuracy. Lindley completed 12-of-36 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown against Clinton. He completed 20-of-28 for 182 yards and one touchdown against Southside Batesville. Lindley completed 12-of-23 for 184 yards and two touchdowns against Jonesboro Westside.

Dalton Yancey, Easton Cusick and Parker Brown have been the primary targets. Yancey has caught 12 passes for 147 yards in the last two games. Cusick follows with eight catches for 99 yards. Brown caught four passes for 54 yards against Westside.

“Xander continues to improve and adding to his game,” Wood said. “I’m proud of how he steps up in the pocket, stays there and reads the defense and then runs. He ran for two first downs against Westside. He is getting more comfortable with the offense.”

The Panthers have struggled in protecting the football with 11 turnovers. Wood said the team is working to improving that.

“We have had issues holding onto the ball,” the coach said. “We must do a better job of protecting the ball.”

Like most games, the winner on the line of scrimmage will be the team that prevails.

“The battle up front is important,” Wood said. If we can establish the running game, it will make the passing game better.”

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Momentum swing lifts Panthers to nonconference victory

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Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley fights for yards against a Jonesboro Westside defender Friday night at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Two plays switched momentum from Jonesboro Westside to the Heber Springs Panthers during the second half of Friday’s nonconference football game at Panther Stadium.

Heber Springs linebacker Chris Edwards’ tackle knocked the ball loose from Westside’s Cameron Hedges, Carter Julian recovered, and then Easton Cusick caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Xander Lindley sealed the deal.

The Panthers (1-2) finished the nonconference schedule with a 28-13 win against the Warriors (1-2).

Heber Springs will open the 2-4A Conference schedule by hosting Cave City (0-4) for homecoming on Friday.

“We got the turnover, went down the field and scored, and took control of the game,” Panther coach Todd Wood said. “Then, we got the stop and that is what you must do against teams like Westside, which likes to control the football with the running game.”

Edwards led the defense with 18 tackles and had an 11-yard quarterback sack. Kenan Sneed, who had 17 tackles, knocked a Westside blocker out of the play for Edwards, who made the defensive play of the game by forcing a fumble. Heber Springs held a 21-13 lead before Cusick’s touchdown.

“I had a wide-open run at him,” Edwards said. “I grabbed his arm and the ball came out. We recovered and the offense scored on the next play. We had been over pursuing early in the game, but adjusted. We played better during the second half.”

Sophomore Carter Julian, who started at cornerback for the first time this season, recovered the fumble.

“Chris had the guy, and I came to the ball,” Julian said. “I saw the ball lying on the ground and jumped on it.”

Julian began preseason practice at linebacker before his recent move to cornerback. Wood said he had a good week of practice and showed it against the Warriors.

“Carter is a physical player,” Wood said. “He had a good game. (Sophomore) Jacob (McMullen) also played well.”

Once Heber Spring corralled the Warriors’ running game, the game’s outcome was decided. Westside was ineffective with their passing game, 0-of-6.

“I challenged the defense before the game we needed three stops, so we could score two touchdowns and force Westside to play catchup,” Wood said. “We wanted to put them behind on the scoreboard.”

Wood immediately decided to go deep on the next play and put the game away.

“Easton runs that kind of route well,” he said. “We wanted to take a shot and go for the big play after the turnover. It worked perfectly.”

Heber Springs had 301 yards of total offense — 117 rushing and 184 pass. Lindley completed 12-of-23 passes for 184 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns. The Panthers overcame three turnovers.

Dalton Yancey caught five passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. Parker Brown had four catches for 54 yards. Cusick snagged two passes for 46 yards and one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught one pass for 12 yards.

Lindley, who was responsible for 254 yards of the team’s total offense, was the leading rusher with eight carries for 70 yards. Brown ran for 47 yards on 14 attempts and scored two touchdowns.

Brown gained 187 all-purpose yards, including three punt returns for 61 yards and two kickoff returns for 25 yards. Brown also had an apparent 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it was called back by a penalty during the second quarter.

Westside gained 320 yards of offense, all rushing. Hedges rushed 15 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury in the third quarter. Darvin Fowler had 100 yards on 14 carries.

The Warriors drove 57 yards on seven plays for the initial lead. Westside, who grounded out two first downs, took the 7-0 lead on Hedges’ 30-yard touchdown run with 4:53 remaining in the first quarter. Montana Neely kicked the extra point.

The Panthers tied the game late in the first half on a 7-play, 87-yard drive. Lindley kept the drive going by scrambling for 11 and 19 yards on third-down plays.

Lindley and Yancey hooked up on the next two plays.

He passed 20 yards to Yancey and then connected with Yancey on a 32-yard scoring toss with 2:26 left in the first half. Gideon Tate, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on extra-points on the night, converted the conversion kick to tie the game at 7-7.

“The pocket was collapsing, but I found running room,” said Lindley when asked about the two scrambles. “I threw to Dalton on the next play, then hit him on the slant for the touchdown.”

Wood said the momentum shift began late during the first quarter once the defense made its adjustments.

“We had to match the speed of the game,” he said. “We were having issues with our outside containment. Westside got two big plays against us. We finally got it going and scored before the end of the first half.”

The Warriors scored on their first second-half-possession and regained the lead. Hedges ran 35 yards for the touchdown with 9:43 to in the third quarter. Neely missed the conversion kick as Westside led, 13-7.

Heber Springs recovered an onside kickoff at the Panther 44-yard line and didn’t take long in reaching the end zone. Brown caught a 35-yard pass from Lindley and then he scored on an 18-yard run to tie the game with 8:21 remaining. Tate kicked the extra point for the 14-13 lead, Heber’s first lead of the season.

A mistake in the kicking game benefitted Heber Springs and set up the next touchdown. Westside punter Weston Watlington shanked the kick to the right side. Corbin Jones scooped up the ball off the side of his foot and returned 32 yards for a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Brown scored on the next play as Tate’s successful kick increased the margin to 21-13.

Heber Springs extended its lead 20 seconds later following Julian’s fumble recovery on Lindley’s touchdown pass to Cusick with 6:06 left in the third quarter.

“It was a good pass to Easton,” Lindley said. “It gave us even more momentum.”

The nonconference schedule is in the books for the Panthers, who will play Cave City at home on Friday.

“This win will give us confidence going into conference play,” Wood said. “Xander is getting more comfortable and improving every game. I challenged him to be more of a runner because that will make the defense respect that and also open up other plays for the offense. It’s homecoming and the players need to enjoy it, but our goal is to be 1-0 in conference after the game.”

NOTES: First downs — Jonesboro Westside 13, Heber Springs 11; Penalties — Jonesboro Westside 7-71, Heber Springs 9-75; Punts — Parker Brown, Heber Springs, 2-39.0; Quarterback sacks — Chris Edwards 1 (11-yard loss) and Parker Brown 1 (7-yard loss).

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Panthers host Jonesboro Westside in final nonconference contest

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

The Heber Springs Panthers (0-2) will seek to build momentum going into the 2-4 Conference schedule by hosting Jonesboro Westside (1-1) in a nonconference football game at 7 p.m. tonight.

Heber Springs, which lost to Clinton and Southside Batesville during the past two weeks, looks for consistent play on both sides of the line of scrimmage going into the conference opener against Cave City, also at Panther Stadium, next Friday.

“It was not the outcome we wanted,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said when asked about the team’s start. “One of the keys against Southside were the turnovers inside the redzone. If we could have avoided the turnovers, we could have trailed by a touchdown or maybe tied at halftime. Defensively, we couldn’t match Southside’s size and strength. We still can be a good team if we start clicking on both sides of the ball.”

The Panthers showed more life on offense at times against Southside, except for the turnovers. Quarterback Xander Lindley completed 20-of-28 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown. Dalton Yancey caught seven passes for 75 yards, while Easton Cusick had six catches for 53 yards. Parker Brown snagged grabbed four passes for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Heber Springs, which has rushed for 209 yards through two games, will look for increased production from the running game.

“It’s a of matter learning from our mistakes, highlighting the positives and getting better at what we do,” Wood said. “Westside’s line is more to our level, but a little bigger than us. It’s a better matchup. We are hoping to put everything together for Westside.”

Wood liked playing a new nonconference opponent, and he said that will test his team.

“It’s good to play new teams and look at someone different,” Wood said. “Xander played more comfortable against Southside than Clinton. He is getting an idea what he needs to do.”

Wood expects Westside, like Southside, to ground and pound, and he believes the HSHS defense will be up to the task in controlling the Warriors’ run game.

“Westside will use two and three running backs,” Wood said. “They have the line and the backs to play that type of offense.”

Wood expects his team’s best performance of the season during Friday’s game

“It’s our last chance to put everything together for conference play,” Wood said. “It’s always nice to play at home. It’s a different level and excitement. We had a good home crowd last week. The game will be more of a test what we will face during conference play.”

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Panthers fall in home opener to Southside

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Heber Springs running back Parker Brown looks for running room against Southside Batesville Friday night at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Turnovers and Southside Batesville’s punishing run game proved too big of an obstacle for the Heber Springs Panthers to overcome at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Southside converted 3-of-5 Heber Springs turnovers into touchdowns and gained 509 yards of offense in a 44-6 nonconference win against the Panthers. The Southerners (2-1) won by their largest margin in the series (38 points), which started in 2006, and back-to-back games against Heber Springs (0-2) for the first time.

“When you give another team five turnovers, no matter the team, you are probably going to lose,” Panther coach Todd Wood said. “That is what happened in this game. I told the team at halftime the turnovers gave Southside 21 points. That’s an example you have to score when you have an opportunity.”

Even though Heber Springs only reached the end zone once, Wood said the offense showed more production than in last week’s game at Clinton.

The Panthers gained 270 yards, sparked by quarterback Xander Lindley, and receivers Dalton Yancey and Easton Cusick. Lindley completed 20-of-28 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown pass. Yancey caught seven passes for 75 yards, while Cusick had six catches for 53 yards.

Running back Parker Brown, who gained 165 all-purpose yards, rushed for 88 yards, caught four passes for 35 yards and one touchdown, plus 21 yards on punt returns and 46 yards on kickoff returns.

“We moved the ball on offense well at times,” Wood said. “But we need to find a way to not turn it over. Lindley threw better and had good preparation for this game. He looked more comfortable at quarterback.”

Seth Case rushed for 238 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns for the Southerners. Colby Harris and Louis Calhoun ran for 84 and 83 yards and scored one touchdown, respectively. Southside averaged 11 yards per attempt.

Southerner quarterback Chase Duncan completed 2-of-2 passes for 49 yards.

“We didn’t execute well on defense and were out of position on a lot of plays,” Wood said. “We were getting smashed down the field. We can’t let that happen.”

Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and had one first down before a bad snap on the next series of plays led to a punt.

Southside took the initial lead on a three-play, 73-yard series. Harris broke loose on a 64-yard touchdown with 7:55 left in the first quarter. Brandon Lopez kicked the extra point.

The Southerners regained possession when Blayne Warren recovered a Brown fumble at the Southerner 31. Calhoun finished a nine-play, 69-yard drive by scoring on a 3-yard carry with 2:01 to go in the first quarter. Lopez kicked the conversion for the 14-0 lead.

A fourth-down stop near midfield put the Southerners in scoring position for their third touchdown during the first half. Duncan scored on a 6-yard run with 10:08 left in the second quarter. Lopez kicked the conversion for the 21-0 lead.

An Adam Denison’s interception of a Lindley pass at the Southerner 15-yard line set up the next Southside touchdown. Case scored on an 85-yard touchdown run with 4:29 remaining until halftime. Lopez converted the conversion kick for a 28-0 lead.

The fourth Heber Springs turnover during the first half set up Southside’s next score. Case dashed 63 yards for the score with 2:24 left until halftime. Lopez’ kick for the extra point was unsuccessful.

After the kickoff, Heber Springs drove 60 yards on five plays for its touchdown. Cusick caught a 23-yard pass from Lindley to put the Panthers in scoring position. On the next play, Lindley connected on a short throw to Brown for a 29-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half. The Panthers were unsuccessful on the 2-point conversion try and trailed 34-6 at halftime.

“If we don’t turn the ball over so much during the first half, it might have been a different game in the second half,” Wood told the Panthers at halftime. “We moved the ball on our opening series consistently until the bad snap. It put us behind the chains. Those are the kind of things that we can’t let happen.”

Southside struck quickly following the second half kickoff by driving 82 yards on 12 plays. Pierce Duncan scored on a 7-yard keeper with 6:36 left in the third quarter. Lopez kicked the extra point for the 41-6 lead.

A Tyler Jones interception set up Lopez’ 37-yard field goal with 8:19 left in the game.

Heber Springs will conclude the nonconference schedule by hosting Jonesboro Westside (1-1), which had an open date, at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I told the team after the game we played well on defense at Clinton and this week we played better on offense,” Wood said. “We need to learn how to click on both sides of the ball during the same game. We will learn from our mistakes and look to play a complete game against Westside.”

The Panthers will open the 2-4A Conference schedule and celebrate homecoming against Cave City on Sept. 23.

“That is what these games are for,” said Wood when referring to non-conference games. “I challenged them to finish strong against Westside with a great effort on offense and defense, and then see what kind of team we can be.”

Heber Springs heads to Clinton to open ’22 season

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

While most eyes may be on the top running back for each offense, the winner of the battle on the line of scrimmage may determine the winner of Friday’s football game at Jim Tumlinson Field in Clinton.

Heber Springs will open its season against the Yellowjackets at 7 p.m. tonight.

“The players are at the point of being tired of hitting each other in practice and want to play a game,” Panther coach Todd Wood said. “We had two weeks to prepare for Clinton, correct our mistakes from the Beebe scrimmage and put in new plays for this game. We feel comfortable going into the game.

Yellowjacket junior running back Zane Widner and his counterpart from Heber Springs, will receive plenty of attention. Widner highlighted Clinton’s 35-20 win at Cave City last Friday by rushing for 168 yards and scored one touchdown. Widner also caught one pass for 22 yards.

Brown, who rushed for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, will attract plenty of attention from the Clinton defense. Brown also caught 17 passes for 314 yards and five touchdowns.

But the battle on the line of scrimmage will influence the outcome more.

The Panthers have only one returning offensive starting lineman — junior Corbin Jones at left tackle. The other four starters will be limited or no high school game playing experience.

Junior Eli Presnull (5-11, 270), a transfer from Vilonia, will start at center. Sophomore Axley Davis (6-2, 270) and Junior Dustin Stone (6-0, 256) are the expected starters at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Freshman Cade James (6-0, 200) and sophomore Gauge Owens (5-9, 200) will split time at left guard.

“We made adjustments on the offensive line after the scrimmage at Beebe,” Wood said. “We need the offensive line to play well, secure their lanes and have a tight circle around our quarterback. We got to get our running game going, along with the passing game.”

The Yellowjackets scored five touchdowns on its seven possessions against Cave City. The Yellowjackets, who remain in the Wing-T, rushed for 334 yards and passed for 89 yards and one touchdown.

“Clinton is discipline at every position and knows how to play,” Wood said. “I was impressed with their offense that took advantage of what Cave City gave them. Clinton moved the ball when it mattered. I thought they made great adjustments at halftime for the second half.”

While Widner had the big stats, Wood said he was impressed with quarterback Jobe Chalk (4-of-6 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown), running back Spencer Bannister (7-46 rushing for one touchdown) and receiver Brody Emberton caught three passes for 67 yards and scored one touchdown.

“They are very good players,” Wood said. “I was impressed with their quarterback. He has a good arm and plays behind a very good offensive line. No. 7 (Bannister) impressed me. He ran hard in the open field and has good speed.”

Wood believes the Panthers can match Clinton’s firepower. Junior Xander Lindley returns at quarterback with three-year starter Easton Cusick leading the receivers. Junior Dalton Yancey started last season. Sophomore Logan Rutledge, and seniors Chris Edwards, Bauer Pruitt and Chandler Webber will provide options.

“Easton knows the ins and outs at receiver,” Wood said. “(Sophomore) Weston Warden will be a threat with (junior) Gideon Tate and (senior) Kenan Sneed.”

Wood liked the play by his defense at the scrimmage and expects steady improvement during the season.

“We had a lot of players getting to the ball carrier against Beebe and had few missed assignments,” he said. “Overall, we feel good about our starters and backups. We need to create turnovers, and the players went through drills during practices to do that better.”

Special-team play also count affect the outcome.

“I feel good about our kicking game,” Wood said. “Tate’s leg is getting stronger. We need more consistency kicking off into the end zone. But Clinton also has a good kicker.”

Finally, the Panthers have looked forward to this game since last year’s loss to the Yellowjackets at Panther Stadium. Wood challenged his team to stop the streak in the battle for the Battle of the Little Red Trophy.

Heber Springs has a long rivalry against Clinton through the years. The Yellowjackets have won their first six games for the trophy, as the Panthers seek to end that streak.

“I stressed the importance of the game and stopping the streak following the scrimmage,” he said. “We want to bring the trophy home. I know it has been in back of players’ minds. We want to be the team that stops the streak.”

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Panthers to scrimmage at Beebe

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Heber Springs linemen go through a drill during a recent practice. Heber Springs will play at Beebe on Tuesday in a scrimmage contest. PHILIP SEATON FILE PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Execution in all phrases will be the No. 1 objective for the Heber Springs Panthers during Tuesday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit football game at Bro Erwin Stadium in Beebe.

The junior high squads are scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and scrimmage for approximately one hour, followed by the high school teams at 6:15 p.m.

“We had a good summer overall,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “One of the good points so far is the players are in their third season of what we want to do on offense and defense. The players came in with a lot of knowledge and how we want to do everything. We’ve been going at a good pace. I like what I’ve seen, and we made gains from last year.”

The teams will open the scrimmage by running two 10-play sequences on offense and 10 plays on defense. Kickoffs will be live while when a team attempts an extra point or a field goal, the defense will not rush. The scrimmage will conclude with two 20-minute halves with a running clock.

“We want players to line up in the right place and know their role,” Wood said when asked about expectations for the scrimmage. “Defensively, we are looking for correct alignment and good pass coverage. We want players to be in the right place and get to the ball quickly every play.”

The offensive line is one of the most inexperience areas of the team, but Wood said he has been encouraged with its performance during fall camp.

“They are performing well right now with guys getting more comfortable at their positions,” he said. “I like the players’ work ethic.”

One of the team’s strengths will be experience at quarterback. Junior Xander Lindley started for four games before an injury ended his season. Senior Easton Cusick, who moved from receiver, took the helm of the offense and finished the season.

“I’ve been pleased with the progress of the quarterbacks,” Wood said. “Xander came back ready and know what he needs to do. Easton (who will start at receiver) is taking more snaps, and he will be ready to go, if needed.”

Senior linebacker Kenan Sneed, who led the Panthers in tackles for the past two seasons, returns on defense. Wood said work continues to putting players at the right positions before the season opener at Clinton on Sept. 2.

“We have made a couple of changes on defense, and it has made us better,” Wood said. “Players may not be playing the same position during the scrimmage when we play at Clinton.”

Two transfers during the summer may give a boost to the offensive and defensive lines.

Sophomore Jordan Tidwell played defensive end and receiver at Cabot. Eli Presnutt, a sophomore who attended Heber Springs schools two years ago, returns after playing at Vilonia last season.

“Jordan will help us at defensive end,” Wood said. “He has the physical traits to be a good player. Eli (6-0, 270 pounds), will help us on the offensive and defensive lines. They are coming from two good football programs.”

Wood and his staff plan to watch the Riverview at Clinton benefit game on Thursday and the Yellowjackets’ season opener at Cave City on Aug. 26. He said preparation for Clinton will start on Wednesday.

“That will give us a better idea what to expect from Clinton and an ideal about Cave City and Riverview (conference opponents),” Wood said. “We will watch Tuesday’s film, correct mistakes and than turn our focus to Clinton.”

Panthers schedule includes summer camps, new opponents in the fall

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Heber Springs kicker Gideon Tate attempts an extra point off the hold of Easton Cusick at Little Rock Mills last season. Tate, Cusick and the rest of the Panthers have busy summer schedule planned before Fall camp opens in August. PHILIP SEATON FILE PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP McCARTY

The 2022 football schedule consists of familiar teams for the Heber Springs Panthers and again will be a nine-game regular season.

Heber Springs will open the nonconference season at Clinton on Sept. 2, followed by former conference foe Southside Batesville, who moved to Class 5A, and a first-ever meeting with Jonesboro Westside.

Reclassification kept Heber Springs in the 2-4A Conference with Lonoke, Stuttgart and Bald Knob, plus previous league foes Riverview and Cave City.

Harding Academy, a longtime nonconference opponent, moved up from Class 3A. Mountain View was assigned to the conference, but later school officials decided to play 8-man football.

“We still have Stuttgart, Lonoke and Bald Knob in the conference, with new teams like Harding Academy, Cave City and Riverview,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “It’s a good conference and if we can put all the pieces together, we will be competitive with all of them. I’m excited about the new conference.”

Wood said the nonconference schedule came together quickly.

“We went with Clinton for the first game because of the rivalry,” he said. “Clinton always is a big game and a good way to start the year. Southside is another rivalry and in the area. Then, we looked and schedule a game against Westside. There are three good opponents.”

Wood debated about scheduling a 10th game against a nonconference opponent after Mountain View opted out of the conference before staying with nine games. The Panthers will begin conference play by hosting Cave City on Sept. 23 for homecoming before playing the following week at Bald Knob.

The open date will come before a three-game stretch against the projected conference contenders — at Lonoke (Oct. 14), Stuttgart (Oct. 21) and at Harding Academy (Oct. 28).

“We decided not to fill the Mountain View date,” Wood said. “It will give us an open date before playing Lonoke, Stuttgart and Harding.”

A busy summer awaits the players, who will participate in three 7-on-7 events, plus three team camps.

The Panthers played at the Greenbrier 7-on-7 Tournament in early June and hosted Melbourne in 7-on-7 on June 13 and will again on July 18. Heber Springs will participate in team camps at Central Arkansas Christian on Tuesday and July 13 and at Mayflower on July 19.

Fall practice will start on Aug. 1, with the benefit game scheduled at Beebe on Aug. 16.

“This is my third year and everything is in place for an opportunity at success,” Wood said. “A talented group of last year’s junior high school players will be joining our returning players.”

Wood said one of the keys to the season is the development of the offensive and defensive lines.

“We will go as far as our linemen take us,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of them, but we have young guys who are learning. We have talented skilled players, but we need to develop a good line on both sides of the ball.”

HIGH SCHOOL
Aug. 16 x-Beebe 6 p.m. Away
Sept. 2 Clinton 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 9 Southside Batesville 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 16 Jonesboro Westside 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 23 y-Cave City 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 30 Bald Knob 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 14 Lonoke 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 21 Stuttgart 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 28 Harding Academy 7 p.m. Away
Nov. 4 Riverview 7 p.m. Home
x-Benefit game
y-Homecoming game

JUNIOR HIGH
Aug. 16 x-Beebe 5 p.m. Away
Aug. 25 Southside Batesville 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 1 Clinton 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 8 Jonesboro Westside 7 p.m. Away
Sept. 22 Cave City 7 p.m. Home
Sept. 29 Bald Knob 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 13 Lonoke 7 p.m. Home
Oct. 20 Stuttgart 7 p.m. Away
Oct. 27 Harding Academy 7 p.m. Home
Nov. 3 Riverview 7 p.m. Away
x-Benefit game

SEVENTH GRADE
Aug. 25 Southside Batesville 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 1 Clinton 5:30 p.m. Home
Sept. 8 Jonesboro Westside 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 22 Cave City 5:30 p.m. Away
Sept. 29 Bald Knob 5:30 p.m. Away
Oct. 13 Lonoke 5:30 p.m. Home
Oct. 20 Stuttgart 5:30 p.m. Away
Oct. 27 Harding Academy 5:30 p.m. Home
Nov. 3 Riverview 5:30 p.m. Away