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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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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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 tie Badgers in preseason scrimmage

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Heber Springs junior Parker Brown fights for some tough rushing yards at Beebe. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

BEEBE – It’s off and running to the regular season for the Heber Springs Panthers.

Heber Springs coach Todd Wood spoke of the positives and areas that need improvement following Tuesday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit football scrimmage at Bro Erwin Field.

Neither team scored during the opening sequence of the scrimmage when two teams played two sets of 10 plays each. Each team scored one touchdown during the 40-minute timed session.

“We just needed to get the scrimmage under our belt,” Wood said. “I wanted to test our offensive line against a bigger line. Beebe is a strong line and its six-man front made it difficult to run the ball. I’m proud of the way we responded to everything.”

The Panthers had 50 yards of offense and scored one touchdown during the timed portion of the scrimmage.

Beebe scored on its first possession, needing three plays to go 58 yards. After an illegal motion penalty against the Badgers, Oquoieah Earl’s 42-yard catch of a Zach Grant pass set up the scoring play. Grant, who was selected to the Class 5A all-state team last season, passed 21 yards to Earl for the touchdown with 13:49 left in the first half. The kick for the conversion was successful.

A short Beebe punt put Heber Springs in scoring position late during the first half for its touchdown. The Panthers started at their 48-yard line with a short run by Parker Brown, plus a personal foul penalty against the Badgers, for a first down at the Beebe 39-yard line.

Brown sneaked out of the backfield on the next play and caught a short pass from Xander Lindley and outran the Badger secondary to the end zone on the final play of the first half. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point for the 7-7 tie.

Rebuilding the offensive line has been one of the main objective since the end of the last season. Junior Corbin Jones, who started nine games in 2021, is the only returning player with experience.

“The scrimmage showed us things that we need to work on,” Wood said. “The linemen learned a lot and gained experience against a physical and fast defense. I saw a lot of positives, and we will learn from our mistakes. We are working and preparing for the first game at Clinton (Friday, Sept. 2).”

After Tate missed a field-goal attempt from 47 yards out, Beebe started at its 20-yard line early during the second half. Chandler Webber made one of the best defensive plays during the scrimmage by intercepting Grant’s pass at the Panther 45-yard line. Webber returned it 37 yards for a first down at the Beebe 18-yard line.

The Badgers sacked Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley on the next play. Two plays later, the Panthers decided to attempt a field goal to break the tie. Tate’s attempt from 37 yards out was unsuccessful.

“Chandler had a big interception and made a good play and return,” Wood said. “Beebe tested us deep with its two good receivers. They burned us earlier in the scrimmage and tried it again. Webber played the ball and made the play.”

Wood said he still believes in Tate’s ability to kick field goals, and the two misses are not a concern.

“We still have faith in Gideon, who has a great leg,” Wood said. “He will be OK.”

Beebe had a final opportunity of breaking the tie by gaining possession at the Badger 20-yard line with 2:48 left. The Panthers held and stopped Beebe inside the Heber Springs 20-yard line on the final play.

“We had a couple of guys out of position at times during the scrimmage,” Wood said. “We had guys on defense in the right place most of the time. We were executing well on the defensive line and that’s a positive. I liked seeing not just seeing two to three guys making the play, but seven to eight players. That is what we want from the defense, swarming to the ball.”

Wood said it’s full steam ahead for the Panthers in preparation for Clinton on Sept. 2.

“We can get into a regular routine with the start of classes,” he said. “Everything will become more like clockwork. We have almost two weeks to get ready for Clinton. The extra time will give us an opportunity to concentrate on improving.”

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

Panthers begin offseason work

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Heber Springs junior defensive lineman Corbin Jones tangles with a Harding Academy lineman in nonconference action last season. The Wildcats will be a conference beginning this season. PHILIP SEATON FILE PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

An injury will force reshuffling of the backfield for the Heber Springs Panthers football team.

Sophomore Liam Buffalo, who was projected to become the starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice, recently suffered a knee injury while playing baseball and underwent surgery Friday. Buffalo, who participated for the junior high school football, basketball and track and field, plus he was a starter on the high school baseball team last year. is expected to miss the 2022 football season.

Buffalo led the Panther Cubs to a 13-5 record during the past two football seasons. He completed 82-of147 passes for 1,160 yards and 15 touchdowns with only one interception last season. He rushed 101 times for 931 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

“We are disappointed in losing Liam,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said when asked about the team’s reaction. “Liam was looking forward to moving up to high school. He has a bright a future ahead and good things are coming.”

Junior Xander Lindley, last year’s starter before breaking his collarbone against Bald Knob, will assume the quarterback duties fulltime. Lindley had moved to wide receiver during spring practice.

Senior Easton Cusick, a two-year starter at receiver, will be Lindley’s backup. Cusick replaced Lindley when he was injured during the second series of the Bald Knob game.

In 2021, Lindley completed 35-of-62 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed 58 times for 180 yards and scored two touchdowns. Cusick connected on 51-of-104 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns.

“If there is a good part to this, we still have two guys coming back with experience,” Wood said. “I talked with Xander and told him that it was going back on his shoulders again.”

Lindley had his best game of last season against Central Arkansas Christian when he completed 11-of-13 passes for 113 yards and ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

“Xander was getting to his peak before the injury,” Wood said. “He had a great game against CAC. He and Parker Brown were becoming a dual threat in the backfield. This situation is an opportunity for Xander to rise up and do well.”

Wood said Lindley may play occasionally at receiver and in the defensive secondary.

Meanwhile, building an efficient offensive and defensive lines also will be focal points going into the new season. The Panthers return one experienced offensive lineman (Corbin Jones), but Wood liked the progress going into summer workouts.

“Corbin started last year as a sophomore and will be our left tackle,” Wood said. We have two players who were on last year’s junior high school team — Axley Davis (6-2, 270 pounds) and Gauge Owens (5-9, 200 pounds), who are battling for starting roles.”

Tripp Young (6-1, 260 pounds), who will be a senior, was on the team last year, and Wood expects Young to make an impact on the offensive and defensive lines.

“The coaching staff is excited about him (Young) coming back,” Wood said. “We expect good things from him as one of our guards. He also will be a strong player on the defensive line. We don’t have much depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Our main focus during the spring was getting the offensive and defensive lines ready.”

On a brighter side, most of last year’s skilled position players return.

“I’ve been pleased with the performance of the returning players,” Wood said. “They jumped right in there because they already knew what to do. We are ahead of last year on both sides of the ball. The returning players have positive attitudes and provided leadership, both from seniors and some of our younger players.”

Brown led the Panthers in rushing (113-834 yards, 11 touchdowns) and receiving (17-314 yards, five TDs). He also became the first player in school history with a 200-yard rushing and receiving games during the same season. Brown also rushed for 100 yards or more in four games. Brown excelled in the return game by returning 10 kickoffs for 195 yards and four punts for 65 yards.

Junior Dalton Yancey emerged as one of the team’s primary targets during the second half of last season by catching 15 passes for 122 yards.

“We have players with experience at receiver,” Wood said.

Warden rushed 48 times for 247 yards and scored two touchdowns for the junior high team last season. He caught 30 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Weston played running back for the junior high team last season, but he has worked at receiver,” Wood said. “Weston has speed and good hands.”

Gideon Tate, who made 17-of-18 points after touchdowns last season, returns at placekicker and ranks among the best in the state.

“I like the onside kickoff, but challenged Tate if he can kick it into the end zone consistently, we will do that more,” Wood said. “He is a good kicker.”

Linebacker Kenan Sneed will lead the defensive charge for the third straight season. Sneed led the Panthers with 115 tackles, including 17 for losses last season — it was the second straight season for Sneed to record more than 100 tackles. He had two quarterback sacks. Sneed also turned in one of the top plays of the season, a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown to switch the momentum in the win at Bald Knob.

Chris Edwards will move from cornerback to outside linebacker. Edwards ranked second among tacklers with a total of 66 stops, including seven for losses. He also had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown against Dover.

“It’s good to have your leading tackler back coming back,” Wood said. “We will try and put guys around him, like Jacob McMullin, to build a stronger defense. Jacob is coming up from the junior high team and will be a solid inside linebacker. He will be in a good situation playing next to Kenan.”

Edwards and Zack Parker are the projected starters at outside linebackers. Parker started at safety for most of last season.

“Chris Roberts played safety and outside linebacker last year,” Wood said. “(Sophomore) Kaden Terrell has speed and plays aggressively. Warden played at cornerback in junior high. We are trying to put the right pieces in the right places.”

Wood said candidates are available to step in and play at safety.

“Colton Turley didn’t play last year, but he came back and can become a solid safety,” Wood said. “We have a lot of guys to look at.”

Panthers’ season ends in Pulaski County

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Heber Springs junior Chris Edwards fights for yards after catching an Easton Cusick pass Friday at Little Rock Mills. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

LITTLE ROCK — A quick start turned sour for the Heber Springs Panthers in Friday’s season finale at Comet Stadium.

After the Panthers took a 7-0 lead, the Comets scored 32 unanswered points and coasted to a 48-20 win in a 2-4A Conference football game.

Mills (3-4 in 2-4A Conference, 6-4 overall) broke a four-game losing streak and earned the conference’s final playoff berth. The Comets, who will be a No. 5 seed, will play at Joe T. Robinson (9-1 overall) in the Class 4A first round on Friday.

Heber Springs (2-5 in 2-4A Conference, 3-6 overall) finished the season in sixth place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Panthers, who also were sixth in 2020, kept its playoff streak alive last year when it received an invitation to the postseason because of Covid-19.

“We started the game well, and that was what we wanted to do,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We had two other good first half drives, but two plays went against us. We didn’t finish the season the way we wanted.”

Sophomore Parker Brown, who had 283 all-purpose yards, rushed for a season high 162 yards on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Easton Cusick completed 7-of-14 passes for 70 yards. Chris Edwards led the receivers by catching three passes for 54 yards.

“We changed to our wildcat package and can do several things with it,” Wood said. “Mills didn’t respond well until putting more players near the line of scrimmage. That says a lot about Parker when the players on the other team tried to stop him and had a hard time doing it. It was one of those nights.”

Mills fullback Boyce Mitchell proved too much for the Panther defense. Mitchell rushed 12 times for 191 yards and scored two touchdowns, averaging 15.9 yards per attempt. Quarterback Achilles Ringo completed 9-of-22 passes for 122 yards, and he ran for one touchdown. Jabrae Shaw had 14 carries for 88 yards and scored one touchdown. Shaw caught three passes for 49 yards.

The Comets, who converted 6-of-6 2-point conversions, outgained Heber Springs, 496-238 yards.

“Mills had size, speed and was physical,” Wood said. “We knew No. 34 (Mitchell) would be a load to tackle. We tried to tackle him too high, instead of tackling him at his shoelaces. We didn’t bring him down very well.”

Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and drove 43 yards on six plays to take a 7-0 lead. Brown finished the drive by scoring on a 20-yard run with 9:18 left in the first quarter. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point.

Mills responded with touchdowns on its two first-quarter possessions.

The Comets claimed the lead on an eight-play, 55-yard drive. Daniel Brown Jr. finished with a 13-yard touchdown run with 7:24 to go in the first quarter. Anton Pierce caught a pass from Ringo for the 2-point conversion, giving Mills an 8-7 lead.

After getting a three-and-out, Mills increased its lead on a 10-play, 63-yard drive. Shaw scored on a 4-yard run with 2:01 remaining. Ringo again hooked up with Pierce on a 2-point conversion for a 16-7 lead going into the second quarter.

Mills scored two more touchdowns before halftime. The Comets held the Panthers on downs at the Heber Springs 34. Caleb Sain had a 3-yard scoring run with 10:57, followed by Mitchell’s run for a 2-point conversion. Later, Mitchell rushed seven yards for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with 1:43 left in the first half.

The Panthers trailed 32-7 at halftime.

“We were in position to put the ball in the end zone two more times during the first half, but didn’t do it,” Wood said. “We scored twice and got back in the game during the second half. That was another sign we never quit or give up.”

Heber Springs forced a punt as Brown’s 27-yard return put them in scoring position at the Mills 26. Brown broke away on the next play and scored with 10:11 left in the third quarter. A high snap led to a missed kick for the extra point.

The Panthers threatened to score again, but the Comets held on downs at the Comet 9 late in the third quarter. Mills drove 91 yards on 14 plays with Ringo scoring on a 2-yard keeper with 9:31 left in the game. Ringo passed to Shaw for a 2-point conversion and increased Mills’ lead to 40-13.

But the Panthers didn’t give up and reached the end zone on their next possession. Brown finished the 5-play, 49-yard drive by scoring on a 3-yard run with 6:53 left. Tate kicked the conversion, reducing the Comets’ lead to 40-20.

Mitchell ran 59 yards for the final touchdown with 5:08 left in the game, plus a successful 2-point conversion.

Wood said contributions from the seniors should not be overlooked, despite the season record.

“We had an outstanding group of seniors,” he said. “They have a lot of character and provided great leadership. I couldn’t ask any more from them.”

HEBER SPRINGS AT LITTLE ROCK MILLS
November 5, 2021
Heber Springs (3-6, 2-5)       7   0    6   7 - 20
Little Rock Mills (6-4, 3-4)  16  16    0  16 - 48
FIRST QUARTER 
HS - Parker Brown 20-yard run (Gideon Tate kick), 9:18
M - Daniel Brown 14-yard run (Achilles Ringo to Anton Pierce pass), 7:24
M - Jabrae Shaw 4-yard run (Ringo to Pierce pass), 2:07
SECOND QUARTER
M - Caleb Sain 3-yard run (Boyce Mitchell run), 10:57
M - Mitchell 7-yard run (Mitchell run), 1:43
THIRD QUARTER
HS - Brown 26-yard run (kick failed), 10:11
FOURTH QUARTER
M - Ringo 2-yard run (Ringo to Shaw pass), 9:35
HS - Brown 3-yard run (Tate kick), 6:53
M - Mitchell 59-yard run (Tyler Sanders run), 5:08
TEAM STATISTICS 
FIRST DOWNS: HS 12, M 23
RUSHES-YARDS: HS 35-168, M 44-374
PASSING YARDS: HS 70, M 122
COMP-ATT-INT: HS 7-15-0, M 9-22-0
TOTAL OFFENSE: HS 238, M 496
FUMBLES: HS 1, M 0
PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 7/56, M 13/100
PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 1/22, M 1/29
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS 
RUSHING: HS, Parker Brown 21/162, Jackson West 1/9, Gideon Tate 2/2, Easton Cusick 11/(-5). M, Boyce Mitchell 12/191, Jabrae Shaw 14/88, Daniel Brown Jr. 5/43, Caleb Sain 4/22, Carlos Deadmon 1/11, Achilles Ringo 7/11, Anton Pierce 1/8.
PASSING: HS, Cusick 7/14-70-0/0, Brown 0/1-0-0/0. M, Ringo 9/22-122-0/0.
RECEVING: HS, Chris Edwards 3/54, Austin Winchester 1/9, Gus Hannah 1/4, Dalton Yancey 1/4, Brown 1/(-1). M, Pierce 3/67, Shaw 3/49, Deadmon 2/3, Colby Williams 1/3.
KICKOFF RETURNS: HS, Brown 4/95, Hannah 1/20. M, Brown Jr. 2/20.
PUNT RETURNS: HS, Brown 1/27
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: None
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
PUNTS: HS, Brown 1/22. M, Christopher Guevara 1/29

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Wrong side of ‘mercy rule’ for Panthers

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Heber Springs sophomore Gideon Tate picks up a couple of yards on a fourth-quarter rushing attempt. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs held up against Southside Batesville’s physical and aggressive style of football early in the game, but a blocked punt late in the first quarter opened the door as the Southerners spoiled homecoming for the Panthers with a 35-7 win Friday.

The loss dropped Heber Springs (2-3 in 2-4A Conference, 3-4 overall) into a fifth-place tie with Little Rock Mills (2-3 in 2-4A Conference, 6-2 overall). Mills lost to conference-leading Stuttgart (5-0 in 2-4A Conference, 7-1 overall), 63-28.
Clinton (3-2 in 2-4A Conference, 4-4 overall) routed Bald Knob (0-5 in 2-4A Conference, 0-8 overall) and took sole possession of fourth place. Southside (4-1 in 2-4A Conference, 6-2 overall) remained tied for second place with Lonoke (4-1 in 2-4A Conference, 7-1 overall).

Heber Springs held the Southerners to four yards until the blocked punt late in the first quarter. Southside finished with 322 yards — 299 yards rushing and 23 yards passing.

Seth Case and Landen Haas provided the big plays in Southside’s running game. Case had 122 yards on eight carries, while Haas ran seven times for 103 yards.

“Southside is a very good football club,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “They are trained in what they do well and play physical. They beat you down over time, and that is what they have done every game.”

The Panthers had a promising start before making the game’s first mistake.

“Our defense played well in the beginning and moved the ball on offense with short passes,” Wood said. “We played toe-to-toe with them during the first quarter.”

Heber Springs quarterback Easton Cusick completed 17-of-32 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown. Gideon Tate led the Panthers in rushing — four carries for 11 yards. Jackson West led the receivers with five catches for 37 yards, while Austin Winchester had four receptions for 26 yards. Chris Edwards caught three passes for 44 yards and one touchdown.

Heber Springs was held to zero rushing yards for the game as a team.

“Southside’s job was to stop Parker Brown (the team’s leading rusher),” Wood said. “We moved him to different spots and tried to use him as a decoy. I was proud of the way Easton played. He is still learning and made some good throws.”

The Panthers lost the services of sophomore outside linebacker Hayden Johnson to an injury. Johnson, the team’s second-leading tackler, was injured during the second quarter.

Southside’s Alex Allen blocked Cusick’s punt and took possession at the Heber Springs 15-yard line. Three plays later, Nicky Risner scored on a 5-yard run with 11:26 left in the first half. Brandon Lopez kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Cusick’s 51-yard punt pinned the Southerners at its 5-yard line. Southside responded with a 9-play, 95 yard drive as Case ran 46 yards for a touchdown with 7:20 remaining until halftime. Lopez executed the kick for the conversion, increasing the lead to 14-0.

The Southerners struck quickly on their next possession Haas broke free on an 80-yard touchdown run with 4:33 left in the first half. Lopez kicked the extra point.

Southside scored again before halftime by driving 55 yards on seven plays. Blayne Warden caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Haas with two seconds to go. Lopez kicked the extra point for a 28-0 halftime lead.

Southside received the second half kickoff and needed four plays on a 52-yard drive. Bryson Duncan scored on a 2-yard dive with 10:15 to go in the third quarter. Lopez kicked the extra point.

Heber Springs finished the game with an efficient 87-yard drive on nine plays. Tate ran for one first down, while Cusick passed to Austin Winchester for another first-and-10. With the clock running down, Cusick connected on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chris Edwards with 14 seconds to play. Tate kicked the extra point.

“That was a good drive and a good way to end the game,” Wood said. “Austin Winchester and Chandler Webber caught passes. Edwards made a good catch for the touchdown.”

Heber Springs will host Clinton in the sixth Battle of the Little Red on Friday.

“We need to learn from this game and move on,” Wood said. “Clinton is next, and we need to stay focus and build momentum.”

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SOUTHSIDE BATESVILLE AT HEBER SPRINGS
October 15, 2021 
Heber Springs (3-4, 2-3)          0   0   0   7 -   7
Southside Batesville (6-2, 4-1)   0  28   7   0 -  35 
SECOND QUARTER 
SS - Nicky Risner 5-yard run (Brandon Lopez kick), 11:26
SS - Bryson Duncan 46-yard run (Lopez kick), 7:20
SS - Landen Haas 80-yard run (Lopez kick), 4:33
SS - Haas to Blayne Warden 10-yard pass (Lopez kick), :28
THIRD QUARTER
SS - Duncan 2-yard run (Lopez kick), 10:15
FOURTH QUARTER 
HS - Easton Cusick to Chris Edwards 24-yard pass (Gideon Tate kick), :00
TEAM STATISTICS 
FIRST DOWNS: HS 12, SS 12
RUSHES-YARDS: HS 16/0, SS 33/299
PASSING YARDS: HS 149, SS 23
COMP-ATT-INT: HS 17-32-1, SS 2-5-0
TOTAL OFFENSE: HS 149, SS 285
FUMBLES: HS 1, SS 0
PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 6/60, SS 9/100
PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 5/28.8, SS 3/46
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS 
RUSHING: HS, Gideon Tate 4/11, Parker Brown 4/2, Easton Cusick 7/(-2), Team 1/(-11). SS, Seth Case 8/122, Landen Haas 7/103, Nicky Risner 5/32, Bryson Duncan 4/15, Jacob Dunne 3/11, Steven Riggs 2/8, Kaleb West 1/7, Jacob Bunn 1/5, Colby Harris 1/4, Team 1/(-8).
PASSING: HS, Cusick 17/32-149-1/1. SS, Haas 2/5-23-1/0
RECEVING: HS, Jackson West 5/23, Austin Winchester 4/26, Chris Edwards 3/21, Dalton Yancey 3/27, Gus Hannah 1/11, Chandler Webber 1/5. SS, Dunne 1/13, Blayne Warden 1/10.
KICKOFF RETURNS: HS, West 2/38
PUNT RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: SS, Justin Vannattan 1/5 
FUMBLE RETURNS: Team 1/10.
PUNTS: HS, Cusick 4/144/36.0, Team 1/0/1 blk. SS, Warden 3/138/46

PHOTO: Heber Springs Homecoming Pep Rally

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Sophomore maid Megan Bull with her escorts, Dalton Yancey and Gideon Tate. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

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