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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Clinton wears down Heber Springs in 2-4A play

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Heber Springs quarterback Easton Cusick looks for an open receiver Friday night against Clinton. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Clinton’s domination of the clock with the running game and forcing four turnovers proved too much for the Heber Springs Panthers to overcome.

The Yellowjackets (4-2 in 2-4A Conference, 5-4 overall) maintained possession for 32 minutes and broke the game open by converting a fumble recovery into a touchdown early during the third quarter and defeated the Panthers (2-4 in 2-4A Conference and 3-5 overall) 34-7 in a 2-4A Conference football game at Panther Stadium Friday.

Clinton won “The Battle of the Little Red” for the sixth consecutive season. The Yellowjackets also won by their largest margin against Heber Springs since the 2005 season (33-6).

Clinton has won six straight games for the third time in the series. Heber Springs’ longest win streak has been seven in a row, which came from 1978 to 1984. The Panthers’ last win in the series, which started in 1939, came in 2015 (35-20).

The Yellowjackets, who clinched a playoff berth and face Lonoke in week 10 for the No. 3 seed, held a 314-207 yards advantage in offense, including 273 yards rushing. Zane Widener led the way with 12 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown.

Parker Brown rushed for 69 yards on six carries to lead the Panthers. Brown caught seven passes for 36 yards. Easton Cusick completed 16-of-33 passes for 99 yards with three interceptions. Brown gained 134 all-purpose yards, while Jackson West had 94 yards.

The turning point occurred early during the third quarter. A missed connection on the handoff resulted into a fumble, which was recovered by Clinton’s Ashton Hoyle at the Panther 27-yard line.

The Yellowjackets scored four plays later and executed a 2-point conversion for a 26-7 lead. Brody Emberton’s interception of a Cusick pass set up another touchdown late in the third quarter.

“The turning point was at the beginning of the second half,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We mishandled a handoff, giving a short field for Clinton to score. It forced us to stepped up the pace and try and score as fast as we could. Then, we had two more turnovers (interceptions). You can’t do that against a good football team like Clinton and win.”

Cody Davis and Nick Epley played big roles for Clinton’s run-dominated offense. Davis ran 15 times for 77 yards and one touchdown, while Epley rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown. Harley Tobin completed 7-of-11 passes for 38 yards, including a touchdown to Emberton.

“Clinton is the kind of an offense that will run the ball and keep the clock running,” Wood said. “When they have that kind of a lead, a team must find ways to get three-and-outs, so you can get your offense back on the field and score points. They deserve credit for keeping the ball under control and moving down the field.”

The Yellowjackets received the opening kickoff and drove 53 yards on six plays for the early lead. Widener’s 23-yard run put the Yellowjackets in scoring position. Tobin capped the drive by scoring from the 1 with 10:02 left in the first quarter. The try for a 2-point conversion failed.

After holding the Panthers on downs at the Clinton 36, the Yellowjackets executed a 13-play drive for the second touchdown. Nine consecutive running plays led to a first-and-goal at the Heber Springs 7.

Four plays later, Tobin connected on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Emberton with 25 seconds remaining in the first half. The 2-point  conversion attempt failed as the Yellowjackets led 12-0 going into the second quarter.

Heber Springs marched 76 yards on eight plays to reduce Clinton’s lead. Cusick handed the ball to Brown, who raced 36 yards for a touchdown with 5:01 to go in the first half. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point and pulled the Panthers within 12-7.

The Yellowjackets responded with an 8-play, 64-yard drive to increase their lead. Epley finished it with a 21-yard scoring run for an 18-7 lead with 1:59 left in the first half. Clinton failed on a try for the 2-point conversion.

After the early second-half turnover, Widener had an 8-yard touchdown run at the end of the 4-play, 27-yard possession. Tobin passed to Epley for the 2-point conversion, increasing the lead to 26-7.

The Yellowjackets reached the end zone again before the end of the third quarter. Davis finished an 10-play, 51-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Epley ran for the 2-point conversion.

The Panthers, who are tied for fifth place with Little Rock Mills in the conference standings, will play at Mills on Friday with the winner becoming the conference’s final playoff representative.

“It’s a do or die situation,” Wood said. “But we are looking forward to the game.”

CLINTON AT HEBER SPRINGS
October 29, 2021 
Clinton (5-4, 4-2)        12   6   16   0 - 34
Heber Springs (3-5, 2-4)   0   7    0   0 -  7
FIRST QUARTER 
C - Harley Tobin 1-yard run (run failed), 10:02
C - Tobin to Brody Emberton 7-yard pass (run failed), :25.6
SECOND QUARTER
HS - Parker Brown 36-yard run (Gideon Tate kick), 5:01
C - Nick Epley 21-yard run (run failed), 1:59
THIRD QUARTER
C - Zane Widener 8-yard run (Tobin to Epley pass), 10:10
C - Cody Davis 3-yard run (Davis run), :44.2
TEAM STATISTICS 
FIRST DOWNS: HS 12, C 16
RUSHES-YARDS: HS 22/108, C 54-276
PASSING YARDS: HS 99, C 38
COMP-ATT-INT: HS 16-33-3, C 7-12-1
TOTAL OFFENSE: HS 207, C 314
FUMBLES: HS 1, C 0
PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 6/35, C 5/36
PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 0, C 2/35
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS 
RUSHING: HS, Parker Brown 6/69, Jackson West 5/28, Gus Hannah 1/7, Easton Cusick 10/(-6). C, Zane Widener 12/119, Cody Davis 15/77, Nick Epley 10/55, Billy Standlee 2/15, Jacob Hutto 4/12, Harley Tobin 5/7, Spencer Bannister 1/5, Jobe Chalk 1/(-3), Team 3/(-6).
PASSING: HS, Cusick 16/33-99-0/3. C, Tobin 7/11-38-1/1, Epley 0/1-0-0/0
RECEVING: HS, Brown 7/36, Austin Winchester 2/23, Dalton Yancey 2/18, West 2/12, Hannah 2/3, Chris Edwards 1/7. C, Brody Emberton 2/13, Widener 2/5, Davis 2/5, Dawson Burgess 1/15.
KICKOFF RETURNS: HS, West 3/44, Hannah 1/9.
PUNT RETURNS: HS, Brown 2/29
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: HS, Zane Lozeau 1/21. C, Emberton 1/17, Davis 1/8, Bannister 1/5.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
PUNTS: C, Widener 2/70

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Senior Spotlight: Gus Hannah

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Senior receiver Gus Hannah made the best of a bad situation by watching and getting a bigger picture from the sidelines for the Heber Springs Panthers.

Hannah, who injured an ankle in the Lonoke game, returned to action against Southside Batesville last week with a different point of view. He hopes the experience leads to a strong finish to the season.

“It gave me an opportunity to pay attention what is going on everywhere on the field,” Hannah said. “It helped me to see what I could do when I was able to play again.”

It’s not been an easy time for Hannah, who started last season and until his injury.

“The injury was a little discouraging because I could not play,” Hannah said. “The ankle had been weak, but feels stronger now. I felt better last week and ran better on it during practice before the Southside game.”

Hannah is one of the players who started his career in the local youth football league. He feels fortunate to be playing for the Panthers in the 100th season of the program.

“Playing in the 100th year is very important,” he said. “It means a lot to the team because players from all generations come to the games and watch us. We are taking the legacy of the former players and running with it.”

The Panthers, who currently are tied for fifth place in the 2-4A Conference, remain alive for a playoff berth going into the final two games. Heber Springs will host Clinton on Friday and finish the regular season at Little Rock Mills on Nov. 5. The top five teams will advance to the playoffs.

“This is the playoff stretch,” Hannah said. “It started with the Central Arkansas Christian game. We know that success starts with how we play in the trenches. That will lead us to success.”

 

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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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Heber Springs senior maid Ava Noble with her escorts, Gus Hannah (7) and Austin Winchester (9). PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

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ALL PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHTED. The owner of the copyright does grant free personal and/or social media use for all photos as long as photo credit (when reasonably possible) is given to this website. Use for any other commercial purpose or other publication (such as other news or blog sites) without permission is prohibited. All photos are taken in a public setting where a reasonable right to privacy does not exist. They are taken for news gathering and informational purposes. If you wish to have photo removed, please get in touch with the publisher of the website through the comments section with the reason for removal request.

PHOTO: Heber Springs Homecoming Pep Rally

IMG_3725_(2)
Senior maid Ava Noble with her escorts, Gus Hannah (7) and Austin Winchester (9). PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

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ALL PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHTED. The owner of the copyright does grant free personal and/or social media use for all photos as long as photo credit (when reasonably possible) is given to this website. Use for any other commercial purpose or other publication (such as other news or blog sites) without permission is prohibited. All photos are taken in a public setting where a reasonable right to privacy does not exist. They are taken for news gathering and informational purposes. If you wish to have photo removed, please get in touch with the publisher of the website through the comments section with the reason for removal request.

PHOTO: Heber Springs Homecoming Pep Rally

IMG_3723_(2)
Senior Maid Ava Noble with her escorts, Gus Hannah (7) and Austin Winchester (9), at the homecoming pep rally on Friday. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

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ALL PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHTED. The owner of the copyright does grant free personal and/or social media use for all photos as long as photo credit (when reasonably possible) is given to this website. Use for any other commercial purpose or other publication (such as other news or blog sites) without permission is prohibited. All photos are taken in a public setting where a reasonable right to privacy does not exist. They are taken for news gathering and informational purposes. If you wish to have photo removed, please get in touch with the publisher of the website through the comments section with the reason for removal request.

Panther GameDay: Panthers hope to corral Mustangs on Senior Night

Heber Springs senior Austin Winchester. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

After playing the two teams predicted during the preseason to finish one-two in the 2-4A Conference, the Heber Springs Panthers hope to start on a winning streak that leads to a state football playoff berth.

Heber Springs (0-2 in the 2-4A, 1-3 overall) will host Central Arkansas Christian (0-2, 1-4) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Panthers opened the conference season with losses to Lonoke and Stuttgart. CAC dropped games to Clinton and Little Rock Mills.

“The players knew what they were up against at Stuttgart,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We played the two teams picked to be at the top of the conference standings. The next five games will decide who goes to the playoffs.”

Senior Tyler Williams will be the focus of the Heber Springs defense. Williams, who played tailback last season, moved to quarterback this season and responsible for 1,185 of the 1,484 yards for the Mustangs.

Williams leads CAC in rushing with 781 yards on 114 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. He has completed 39-of-74 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Williams ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes for 63 yards and one touchdown in last year’s win against the Panthers.

Vance Strange and Isaac Rine are the Mustangs’ primary targets in the passing game. Strange has caught 15 passes for 122 yards and scored one touchdown. Rine has 10 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown.

“He (Williams) runs the ball most of the time, and we are preparing for that,” Wood said. “But we also have to be ready to defend the pass. I expect him to run 35 to 40 times.”

Heber Springs hopes to get sophomore Parker Brown into the open field against CAC. Brown has been one of the Panthers’ best offensive threats with 273 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns. He has caught five passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns.

“CAC primarily plays a 3-5-3 defense and blitz at least two players every play,” Wood said. “They stacked the box against Mills (a 60-16 loss) last week. Being a defensive coordinator in a similar system in the past, I understand some things will open up, and we must take advantage of them.”

The Mustangs have allowed 46 points per game. Wood is confident that other aspects of the Heber Springs offense will benefit and have similar success that it had against Dover (a 44-0 win).

“CAC is going through a similar situation with a lot of young players,” Wood said. “It has played good teams. Our goal is to prevent them from getting too many big plays and have big plays on offense.”

Heber Springs will have two players sidelined by non-Covid illnesses back on the field — offensive lineman-inside linebacker Tristan Thissen and center-defensive lineman Joenah Cordell.

“We were down to 22 players for Stuttgart,” Wood said. “Both players will help us at their positions and provide the team more depth.”

Wood expects better production from quarterback Xander Lindley, who has been playing behind a patched-up offensive line, and receivers Dalton Yancey and Easton Cusick. Receiver Gus Hannah, who injured an ankle against Lonoke, is questionable for the game.

The coach also said some players who had primarily played on defense will see action on offense.

“Kenan Sneed (inside linebacker) and Chris Edwards (cornerback) played at receiver last week,” Wood said. “Jackson West (outside linebacker) will play running back and receiver. Zane Lozeau (cornerback) will play at receiver. We will do whatever it takes to put us in position to win the game.”

Senior players will be recognized before the game for their contributions to the program.

“It will be a big night for the seniors,” Wood said. “It’s not their last home game, but a special night to reflect on what they have done, and the legacy they will leave. They want to get the fans a win at home.”

It’s not due or die, but a win would put the Panthers in good position to challenge for a postseason.

“We have five games left and critical for the playoffs,” Wood said. “We probably will need three wins to get into the playoffs. Our backs are up against the wall. We must come out fighting.”

NOTES

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium (Senior Night festivities start around 6:15)
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. Streaming is available on The Lake’s YouTube page.

THE SERIES: CAC leads the leads the series at 5-4

SERIES HISTORY: The two teams first meet in the 2000 season when the Panthers and Mustangs played nonconference games, both won by CAC. The two teams would not face each other again until CAC was paired with Heber Springs in the 2-4A conference in 2014. In conference play, the Panthers won four out of the first five meetings between the schools (CAC’s win came in 2015 with a 48-12 decision). Since then, the Mustangs have won back-to-back games (a 24-6 game in 2019 and 35-14 last season).

FORMER HOG: Former University of Arkansas and NFL receiver Joe Adams is an assistant coach at Central Arkansas Christian.

 2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS
                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Little Rock Mills           2 0 26  5 0 248 113 
Lonoke                      2 0 26  5 0 161  67
Stuttgart                   2 0 16  4 1 166  93 
Southside Batesville        1 1 13  3 2 159  82                      
Clinton                     1 1 13  2 3 130 151  
Heber Springs               0 2  0  1 3  65 120  
Bald Knob                   0 2  0  0 5  55 153
Central Arkansas Christian  0 2  0  2 3 133 231    

Thursday, September 30
Stuttgart 42, Heber Springs 0
Friday, October 2 
Little Rock Mills 60, Central Arkansas Christian 16
Southside Batesville 35, Clinton 20
Lonoke 14, Bald Knob 0
Friday, October 9
Central Arkansas Christian at Heber Springs
Stuttgart at Bald Knob
Lonoke at Southside Batesville
Little Rock Mills at Clinton

Panthers fall in conference opener to ‘Rabbits

Heber Springs’ Parker Brown and Dalton Yancey celebrate a first-half Panther touchdown. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Lonoke converted two first-half Heber Springs turnovers into touchdowns and pulled away during the second half to claim a 36-14 win in the 2-4A Conference football opener for both teams at Panther Stadium Friday.

Heber Springs (0-1 in conference, 1-2) had four turnovers for the game — three interceptions and a lost fumble. The Jackrabbits (1-0 conference, 4-0) lost two fumbles.

“We need to fix our offense,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “Right now, we are having hard time figuring out how to take care of things up front (offensive line). We will work on that in practice next week. If we don’t fix it, it could be a long season.”

Lonoke wore down the Panther defense by keeping possession for almost 27 of minutes, including 16 of 24 minutes during the second half.

“We got good effort from the players,” Wood said. “I’m proud of the defense hanging in there, and it never quit fighting. They were on the field for the majority of the second half.”

Heber Springs sophomore running back Parker Brown rushed for more than 100 yards for the second time in three games. He ran for 163 yards on 22 carries and scored both touchdowns. Quarterback Xander Lindley, also a sophomore, completed 4-of-13 passes for 56 yards and rushed 18 times for 31 yards

Heber Springs had 14 lost-yardage plays on 59 snaps, but Panthers did record 14 first downs.

Spencer Pepper started at quarterback for the Jackrabbits in place of Bradon Allen, who was sidelined because of an injury. Pepper, who started last year at quarterback, had been used at running back and receiver this season, but he occasionally was inserted as the wildcat quarterback.

Pepper completed 7-of-12 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. He rushed 13 times for 74 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Latrell Burnett and Landon Jones also played a major role in Lonoke’s offense. Burnett had 74 yards rushing on 11 attempts and scored one touchdown. Landon Jones caught four passes for 103 yards and one touchdown.

“We knew he (Pepper) would be the quarterback before the game,” Wood said. “He is more of a scat back, but he could throw deep. Our secondary did a good job overall defending the pass.”

Late in the first quarter, Brown’s 28-yard run gave the Panthers a first down at the Lonoke 32-yard line. The game-changing play came three plays later. Jones intercepted a Lindley pass and returned it 77 yards for a Lonoke touchdown with 5:02 remaining in the first quarter. Tom Boatright kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

The Jackrabbits increased their lead midway through the second quarter after recovering a fumble at the their 35-yard line. Pepper capped a 5-play, 65-yard drive by scoring on a 36-yard run with 8:11 left in the first half. Boatright kicked the extra point for the 14-0 lead.

Lonoke scored its third touchdown on a 7-play, 68-yard drive. Pepper connected on passes to Jones and Chaston Dockery put the Jackrabbits in scoring position. Burnett scored on an 8-yard carry with 3:49 to go in the first half for the 20-0 lead.

Heber Springs responded quickly by driving 57 yards on four plays for its first score. Dalton Yancey’s 18-yard pass reception from Lindley set up Brown’s 32-yard touchdown run with two minutes remaining. A low snap spoiled the conversion as the Panthers trailed 20-6 at halftime.

Lindley rushed for 10 yards and a first down on the Panthers’ opening drive of the second half. Lonoke’s defense held on the next three plays and forced a punt.

Lonoke started the drive at the 20-yard line, but a holding penalty on first down moved the ball to the 10. Two plays later, Pepper passed to Jones at the 15-yard line and completed the 89-yard scoring play with 8:56 left in the third quarter. Boatright kicked the conversion for a 27-6 lead.

Heber Springs reached the end zone for the second time early in the fourth quarter. Brown capped the five-play drive by scoring on an 8-yard run with 11:17 left in the game. Lindley ran for the 2-point conversion, pulling the Panthers with 27-14.

Lonoke recorded a safety after Lindley retrieved a high snap in the end zone with 10:05 to play. Jones returned the free kick 60 yards for a touchdown, but a penalty wiped out the score. Pepper capped a 40-yard drive by scoring on a 3-yard carry with five minutes left. Boatright kicked the extra point.

Heber Springs will have a short week as the Panthers will play at Stuttgart in a game Thursday that will be telecasted statewide on KARZ (Channel 42, Little Rock). The Ricebirds began the conference schedule with a come-from-behind 21–18 win at Southside Batesville.

LONOKE AT HEBER SPRINGS
SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 
Lonoke (3-1, 1-0)              7  13   7   9 - 36
Heber Springs (1-2, 0-1)       0   6   0   8 - 14 
FIRST QUARTER 
L - Landon Jones 77-yard interception return (Tom Boatright kick), 5:02
SECOND QUARTER 
L - Spencer Pepper 35-yard run (Boatright kick), 8:11
L - Latrell Burnett 8-yard run (kick failed), 3:50
HS - Parker Brown 32-yard run (run failed), 2:00
THIRD QUARTER
L - Pepper to Jones 90-yard pass (Boatright kick), 8:56
FOURTH QUARTER
HS - Brown 8-yard run (Xander Lindley run), 11:17
L - Safety, snap into end zone, 10:05
L - Pepper 3-yard run (Boatright kick), 5:00
TEAM STATISTICS 
FIRST DOWNS: HS 14, Lonoke 16
RUSHES-YARDS: HS 44/201, Lonoke 34/217
PASSING YARDS: HS 56, Lonoke 131
COMP-ATT-INT: HS 5/14-3, Lonoke 7/17-0
TOTAL OFFENSE: HS 257, Lonoke 348
FUMBLES: HS 1, Lonoke 2
PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 4/20, Lonoke 7/88
PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 2/40, Lonoke 3/36.7
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS 
RUSHING: HS, Parker Brown 22/163, Xander Lindley 18/31, Gideon Tate 3/19, Team 1/(-12). Lonoke, Spencer Pepper 13/74, Latrell Burnett 11/74, Landon Jones 5/36, Jamarrion Johnson 3/24, Jalon Branscomb 1/15, Team 1/(-6).
PASSING: HS, Lindley 5/14-56-0/2, Easton Cusick 0/1-0-0/1. Lonoke, Pepper 7/17-131-1/0
RECEVING: HS, Gus Hannah 2/27, Dalton Yancey 1/18, Austin Winchester 1/12, Brown 1/(-1). Lonoke, Jones 4/103, Chaston Dockery 3/25, Burnett 1/4.
KICKOFF RETURNS: HS, Brown 3/47, Jackson West 1/18. Lonoke, Jones 1/35
PUNT RETURNS: HS, Brown 1/9
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Lonoke, Jones 1/77, Burnett 1/25, Tom Boatright 1/11.
PUNTS: Heber Springs, Lindley 2/80. Lonoke, Boatright 3/110.

Big night in Dover for Panthers

Heber Springs sophomore Gideon Tate fights for some yardage in the fourth quarter against Dover Friday night as Dover’s Landon Meador (44) prepares to make the tackle. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

DOVER – Heber Springs bounced back in a big way and will take momentum into next week’s 2-4A Conference football opener.

The Panthers (1-1) scored on four-of-six first-half possessions and the defense reached the end zone one in Friday’s 44-0 win against Dover (0-4) at Jack Berry Field.

Heber Springs added another touchdown and recorded a safety during the second half and held the Pirates to 23 yards of offense and four first downs. The Panthers had their first shutout since a 21-0 win at Southside Batesville on Oct. 19, 2018.

Sophomore quarterback Xander Lindley completed 12-of-18 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start. Parker Brown, also a sophomore, caught three passes for 220 yards, all for touchdowns.

“Anytime you can play on the road and get a win  it is good,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “It also is good to finish the nonconference with a win and take momentum into conference play. We had missed assignments, but overall we executed well.”

The Panthers spent all week on the short passing game, and it paid dividends.

“Dover didn’t have a lot of players on that side of the field,” Brown said. “I got good blocks and was able to get to the end zone. The receivers were blocking well.”

Wood said one of the objectives was to get the ball into Brown’s hands in the open field.

Parker is an explosive player,” Wood said. “But we have to get other players involved in the offense. We can’t rely just on him every game.”

Lindley credited the offensive line for giving him time to execute the passing game.

“I felt more comfortable than the first game,” Lindley said. “My linemen did the job. We worked on the short passes over and over all week in practice until we were able to get it right.”

Wood liked the progress of his quarterback.

“Lindley will gain conference every game,” he said. “He is looking more secure, and I expect him to improve every game.”

Despite the big offensive plays, defense had the play that changed the game late in the first quarter. Chris Edwards intercepted a Jon Greathouse pass and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown, when Heber Springs led 7-0.

“I backed up and saw the ball in the air,” Edwards said. “I just followed my teammates and scored the touchdown. I knew it was going to be a pass because of how they lined up before the play. I was afraid they were going to catch me from behind, but my buddies were blocking for me.”

Wood agreed that Edwards’ score was the game’s biggest play on defense.

“We had dropped two touchdown passes on our last offensive series, but the defense gave us a boost,” Wood said. “The interception helped to get us going. The defense played a fantastic game. That’s why it takes a team effort to win. Sometimes you need to score on the other side of the ball.”

Heber Springs needed only two plays before scoring after forcing a Dover punt following the opening kickoff. Lindley threw incomplete on first down before connecting on a short pass to Brown for a 51-yard touchdown with 8:59 left in the first quarter. Gideon Tate kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Edwards’ interception return late in the first quarter sent the Panthers into the second quarter with a 14-0 lead.

Heber Springs again utilized the big play and increased the lead to 21-0. Brown caught a pass at the 30-yard line and completed the 76-yard play for the touchdown with 8:01 left in the first half. Tate kicked for the conversion.

On the ensuing kickoff, Zane Lozeau recovered a fumble, giving the Panthers a first down at the Dover 14. Austin Winchester caught a touchdown pass on the next play. Tate kicked the extra point for the 28-0 lead.

Heber Springs reached the end zone one more time before halftime. The Panthers were backed up to their 7-yard line before Lindley threw a short pass to Brown, who ran through the Dover defense for a touchdown. Chandler Webber kicked the extra point for the 35-0 halftime lead.

Heber Springs started the second half by driving 72 yards on nine play, ending with a Lozeau’s 20-yard scoring run. Tate kicked the extra point.

A high snap over Greathouse’s head in punt formation resulted into a safety with 9:25 to play.

“It felt amazing to put 44 points on the board,” Lindley said. “I have confidence in my teammates. We have a lot of athleticism on this team; I believe we can go a long way this season.”

Wood reminded his team after the game that everything will start over Friday when the Panthers host Lonoke in the conference opener.

“We are zero and zero right now,” he said. “Anytime you can win, it builds confidence. All that matter is how we do in conference play. That will determine if we go to the playoffs.”

HEBER SPRINGS AT DOVER
SEPTEMBER 17, 2021 
Heber Springs (1-1)   14  21   7   2 - 44 
Dover (0-4)            0   0   0   0 -  0 
FIRST QUARTER 
HS - Xander Lindley to Parker Brown 51-yard pass (Gideon Tate kick), 8:59
HS - Chris Edwards 71-yard Interception return (Tate kick), 1:19
SECOND QUARTER 
HS - Lindley to Brown 76-yard pass (Tate kick), 8:01
HS - Lindley to Austin Winchester (Tate kick), 7:47
HS - Lindley to Brown 93-yard pass (Chandler Webber kick), 1:58
THIRD QUARTER
HS - Zane Lozeau 20-yard run (Tate kick), 2:22
FOURTH QUARTER
HS - Dafety, snap out of end zone, 7:34
TEAM STATISTICS 
FIRST DOWNS: HS 10, Dover 4
RUSHES-YARDS: HS 9/45, Dover 30/(-30)
PASSING YARDS: HS 318, Dover 53
COMP-ATT-INT: HS 12-20-0, Dover 4-5-1
FUMBLES: HS 1, Dover 1
PENALITIES-YARDS: HS 9/62, Dover 6/52
PUNTS-AVERAGE: HS 0, Dover 5/27.2 
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS 
RUSHING: HS, Zane Lozeau 1/20, Xander Lindley 4/17, Gideon Tate 3/6, Parker Brown 1/2. Dover, Kenny Ketcherside 7/12, Jon Greathouse 18/5, Brantley Craig 2/(-7), Team 3/(-40) 
PASSING: HS, Xander Lindley 12/18-318-4/0, Easton Cusick 0/2-0-0/0. Dover, Jon Greathouse 4/5-53-0/1
RECEVING: HS, Easton Cusick 5/44, Parker Brown 3/220, Gus Hannah 2/33, Austin Winchester 2/14, Dalton Yancey 1/7. Dover, Brantley Craig 2/33, Jacob Baggett 1/13, Colton Shuffield 1/5.
KICKOFF RETURNS: Dover, Brantley Craig 3/28, Jeremiah Mercer 2/3 
PUNT RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: HS, Chris Edwards 1/71
PUNTS: Dover, Jon Greathouse 5/136