What a difference one year makes for head coach Todd Wood and the Heber Springs Panther football team.
After surviving the trials of COVID-19 and a 2-9 record during the 2020 season, Wood and the Panthers completed their first spring practice and head into the 2021 season with high hopes.
“We worked out three times a week, and Tuesdays and Thursdays were learning days,” Wood said. “The players remembered what they learned last year, and we tried to build on that. We fine-tuned what we learned. One of our goals was to put players in the right position on offense and defense going into fall practice.”
Wood said the year of experience helped he and his staff to learn more about players’ skill level.
“I made the defensive calls during previous years and needed time to learn in calling the plays for the offense,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be, but farther ahead for next season. The best part is is we have a better idea where each player should be on offense and defense.”
One of the team’s questions going into next season will be developing a new starting quarterback. Matthew Cook, who has graduated, moved into that role beginning with the third game last season.
Sophomore Xander Lindley, junior Wyatt Winchester and senior John McBroome took most of the snaps during spring drills.
“McBroom (who started the first two games last season) is back,” Wood said. “He has been working on improving his footwork and increased his speed, so he can escape out of the pocket and throw on the run. We are working with him to read defenses and where to throw the ball.”
Winchester worked at quarterback last year, but he had limited game action.
“He (Winchester) has the strongest arm of the three players,” Wood said. “He needs to work on his footwork and being more of a mobile quarterback, plus read defenses better.”
Lindley, who was on last year’s junior high school team, has limited experience.
“He has a good arm, very mobile, reads defenses well and throws to the right receiver,” Wood said. “He will get a strong look because of his mobility. We hope to have a starter in place by our preseason scrimmage (at Beebe on Aug. 17).”
Jackson West is the leading candidate to start at running back.
“He was the backup last year,” Wood said. “We like him at receiver with his height and good hands. Parker Brown also has good hands, along with a lot of speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Parker also is a possibility at running back, along with Gideon Tate.”
The Panthers also have experience back at receiver with Gus Hannah, Easton Cusick and West. Brown, Austin Winchester and Dalton Yancey also are candidates.
“Gus will be one of our quicker receivers and a primary target,” Wood said. “Easton has worked hard during the offseason to build his body up and increase his speed. Gus and Easton will be our mainstays. Austin had a good spring and is a big target for the underneath passes. I feel good about our receivers.”
Chris Edwards, a projected starter at cornerback, could see action at receiver.
Three starters return on the offensive line — tackle Thad Bray, center Zach Thomas and guard Peyton Owens. Tripp Young is a projected starter at the other guard with the other tackle spot undetermined.
“We were able to get into the weight room and steadily increased our maximum lifts during the spring,” Wood said. “The players gained weight, and we should be OK on the line.”
Wood said Lucas Langster, who is projected as a starter on the defensive line, and Corbin Jones could play on the offensive line.
Wood liked the defense’s progress and hopes few players will have to go both ways.
“I’m happy with the defense, particularly in the secondary,” he said. “We will have two new linebackers. We will do more fine-tuning going into fall practice.”
Wood said the goal is to have as few players as possible playing on offense and defense fulltime.
“We may go with players who you didn’t see on the field much last year,” he said. “Chris Benton is a big boy and give us more size at nose guard.
Blaze Emerson and Jones also will play with Langster at defensive end. We plan also to rotate guys like Bray, Owens and Young to help with depth.”
Kenan Sneed, last year’s leading tackler, returns at linebacker. Thomas is expected to play at inside linebacker. Hayden Johnson, Hayden Davis, Dakota Farmer, Tate and West are candidates at outside linebacker.
Edwards is the projected starter at one cornerback with the starter undetermined at the other cornerback spot. Gage Buford and Colton Turley are the expected starters at the safeties.
“I liked what I’ve seen in the secondary,” Wood said.
Heber Springs will compete at the Greenbrier 7-on-7 tournament on June 10. The Panthers will be participating in a 7-on-7 event at Carlisle and possibly one more tournament, plus two team camps.
Good pitching kept the Heber Springs Panthers close, but missed opportunities led to a 5-4 non-conference baseball loss in eight innings to Southside Batesville (4-11) at the Heber Springs Sports Complex Thursday.
Heber Springs (3-5 in 4-4A Conference, 4-10 overall) will try and bounce back against conference foe Clarksville (4-4 in conference, 7-7 overall) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at home. The Panthers trail third place Clarksville and fourth place Pottsville (3-4 in conference, 5-7 overall) by one game in the loss column.
Starter Corbin Jones allowed five hits, four runs (two runs earned), struck out four and walked two in seven inning. Cole Payton, the losing pitcher in relief, pitched the eighth inning. Payton limited the Southerners to one hit, yielded one earned run and struck out one batter.
“Corbin pitched a great game, and Cole pitched well,” Heber Springs coach Monterio May said. “Corbin mixed his pitches well and stayed ahead of the batters. We didn’t finish the game as a team. We wanted to win and keep the momentum from Tuesday’s game at Pottsville going into Friday’s game with Clarksville.”
May said one of the game’s determining factors was the Panthers not capitalizing on Southside’s mistakes.
“It’s the little plays over the course of a game that make the difference,” he said. “I remember about three or four times it happened. We are not capitalizing on little mistakes that teams make. We played a good game and swung the bats decent.”
Heber Springs took the lead during the bottom of the second inning. Gage Buford hit a single and later scored from third base on John McBroom’s RBI base hit.
Southside scored three runs on three hits and a Heber Springs fielding error in the top of the third inning for a 3-1 lead. The Southerners held the lead until the sixth inning.
J. T Spears singled and was replaced by courtesy runner Conner Riddle. McBroom followed with a base hit and Jones was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Riddle scored on Zachary Parker’s single and reduced Southside’s lead to 3-2.
Easton Cusick, who was a courtesy runner for McBroom, was tagged out on the same sequence at the plate.
The Panthers tied the game when Xander Lindley, a courtesy runner for Jones, scored from third base on a passed ball. Heber Springs took the 4-3 lead when Parker scored on Kenan Sneed’s sacrifice fly to the outfield.
Southside tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh. The Southerners scored the winning run on a Heber Springs fielding error in the eighth.
May said Garrett Hudspeth and Spears have their rest and will be available to pitch against Clarksville on Friday.
“Our pitching is set and both are ready to go,” May said. “We want to go as high in the conference standings as we can and get a good seed for the playoffs. We are starting to play our best baseball and want to be in the top four for the conference tournament.”
Southside 003 000 11–5 3 3 Heber Springs 010 003 00–4 8 4 Southside Batesville hitters — Bo Trucks 2 singles, 1 RBI; Tyson Trucks single, 1 RBI; Blayne Bufford single, 2 stolen bases; Kaelan Duncan single, 1 stolen base; Carson McGhee single, 1 stolen base; Landen Haas 1 stolen base; Kyle Long 1 stolen base. Southside pitchers — Kaelan Duncan 5 hits 1 run, 1 strikeout in 5 innings; Bryson Duncan 2 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 walk in .1 inning; Blayne Bufford (W) 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk in 2.2 innings. Heber Springs hitters — Matthew Cook single, double, 1 stolen base; John McBroome 2 singles, 1 RBI; Kenan Sneed single, 1 RBI; Zachary Parker single, 1 RBI; Cole Payton single; Gage Buford single; Garrett Hudspeth 1 stolen base. Heber Springs pitchers –Corbin Jones 5 hits, 4 runs, 2 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks in 7 innings; Cole Payton (L 0-1) 1 hit, 1 earned run, 1 strikeout in 1 inning.
Monteri0 May will never forget his first win as head baseball coach at Heber Springs High School.
Garrett Hudspeth pitched the final two innings and hit a bloop single to drive home the winning run in the bottom of the eighth as the Panthers defeated Pottsville 8-7 in a 4-4A Conference game at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.
Hudspeth struck out five batters with one walk in relief of starter J.T. Spears.
Heber Springs picked up its first win in three games. The Panthers lost to conference foe Morrilton in the season opener and to Clinton in non-conference play.
Heber Springs loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Kenan Sneed hit a groundball against a drawn-in infield and Matthew Cook, who started the inning with a single, was thrown out at the plate for the second out.
Hudspeth hit a blooper behind second base that Pottsville shortstop Matthew Moore failed to catch as Xander Lindley scored from third base.
“We will take it anyway we can,” May said. “I told the players before the game we were going to fight every pitch, win every inning and let the outcome play out. I’m proud of how these guys completed with dedication every day. It paid off in this game.”
Heber Springs struggled at the plate during Thursday’s game at Clinton, and May challenged his team to reverse that trend.
“We want to swing through every pitch and try and stay away from check swings,” May said. “We wanted to put the ball in play. We struck out too much against Clinton and wanted to reduce that.”
Spears allowed seven hits and seven runs (one earned run) and struck out six batters in six innings.
“J.T. first met me in January and told said he had been working on pitching for the last year,” May said. “He said that he was going to be one of our best pitchers. He showed that in this game. I told him if he could throw strikes, he could become a good pitcher. We didn’t play great defense behind him, but he kept battling.”
May hoped to get five or six innings from Spears and then give the ball to Hudspeth.
“I told Garrett earlier in the day he will close out the game and be the leader that his teammates think he is,” May said.
Pottsville built a 4-1 lead by scoring one run in the top of the first inning and three runs in the second.
Heber Springs responded with three runs in its half of the second inning. The Panthers loaded the bases with one out as Cook scored from third base on an error. Spears then came home on an infield out. Lindley scored on Sneed’s RBI single to left field.
Pottsville increased its lead to 5-3 in the third inning.
Heber Springs led for the first time by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fourth. Conner Riddle scored on a bases-loaded walk to Cole Payton. Cook hit a 2-run single, scoring Sneed and Hudspeth, as the Panthers led, 6-5. Payton later came home on an error.
Pottsville tied the game at 7-7 in the fifth.
“This was a good win,” May said. “The field was wet and more rain was starting to come down. We hope to build on this and keep rolling along.”
Heber Springs (1-1 conference, 1-2 overall) is scheduled to play at Clarksville on Tuesday and return home to host Dardanelle on Friday in conference games.
Pottsville 131 020 00–7 7 5 Heber Springs 030 400 01–8 9 4 Pottsville hitters — Aiden Owens single, double 1 RBI; Zach Gray single, double; Cade Linker double, 2 RBIs; Easton Stevens single 1 stolen base. Pottsville pitchers — Matthew Moore 5 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 5 walks in 4.2 innings; Jacob McCurry 2 hits, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk in 1 inning; Caden Caruthers 2 hits, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk in 1.2 inning. Heber Springs hitters — Matthew Cook 2 singles, 2 RBIs, 1 stolen base; Garrett Hudspeth single, 1 RBI; Kenan Sneed single, 1 RBI; Conner Riddle single, 1 RBI; John McBroome single; Gage Buford single; J.T. Spears single; Xander Lindley single; Cole Payton 1 RBI. Heber Springs pitchers — J.T. Spears 7 hits, 7 runs, 1 earned run, 6 strikeouts in 6 innings; Garrett Hudspeth (W, 1-0) 0 hits, 0 runs, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk in 2 innings.
Heber Springs breezed into the fifth inning with a 6-1 lead and apparently on the way to give first year head coach Monterio May a win in his debut, but Morrilton rallied to tie the game at 6-6 by scoring five unearned runs in the fifth inning and took the lead in the sixth and defeated the Panthers 8-6 in the 4-4A Conference baseball opener at home.
Despite the loss, May said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“We committed two mental errors (in the fifth inning), but we will work on correcting those mistakes,” May said. “We kept competing until the end of the game. We talked in practice about not worrying when we make one mistake. We don’t want it to become two mistakes, but it turned into five. When we face adversity, we need to keep competing and finish the rest of the game strong. We had too many things happen at one time and couldn’t slow the game down. We need to learn to step back and take a deep breath.”
Heber Springs scored runs in the second and third innings. Cole Payton, who walked earlier in the second, scored on Conner Riddle’s infield grounder. The Panthers added one run in the bottom of the third on a bases-loaded walk for a 2-0 lead.
Morrilton scored one run in the top of the fourth, but Heber Springs answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Riddle led off with a single, stole second base and scored on Matthew Cook’s single. The Panthers loaded the bases as John McBroome was safe on a throwing error that got past the first baseman and rolled into right field for three runs and increased the lead to 6-1.
Morrilton took advantage of two Heber Springs errors for three runs in the top of the fifth. Cade Halbrook hit an RBI single and the Devil Dogs tied the game at 6-6 on Maddox Hogan’s base hit.
May said Garrett Hudspeth had a good performance in his first pitching start. Hudspeth allowed six runs (five unearned) on seven hits, struck out four and walked two. Cook relieved Hudspeth in the fifth. Gage Buford relieved Cook in the sixth.
“Garrett pitched well and into the fifth inning and showed he will be one of our team leaders,” May said. “Morrilton players showed relief in their faces when he came out of the game.”
Morrilton took the lead on an infield out in the sixth, followed by Drew Tiner’s RBI single.
Riddle and Kenan Sneed each had two singles for the Panthers.
“Conner was one of our bright spots,” May said. “This was the first time we hit against live pitching. We had a good collective team effort. Garrett made a great defensive play in the sixth when he caught a line drive at shortstop and stepped on second.”
Heber Springs was scheduled to play at Clinton in a nonconference game Thursday. The Panthers will host conference foe Pottsville at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Morrilton 000 152 0–8 13 2 Heber Springs 011 400 0–6 7 5 Morrilton hitters — Cade Halbrook 2 singles, double, 1 RBI, 2 stolen bases; Maddox Hogan 2 singles, 1 RBI; Jackson Dixon 2 singles, 1 stolen base; Drew Tiner single, 1 RBI; Luke Carter single, 1 RBI; Casey Jones single, 1 RBI; Beau McElroy single; Braydan Garrett single; Hunter White single; Maddox Hogan 2 stolen bases; Phillip Drilling 1 stolen base. Morrilton pitchers — Phillip Drilling 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 2 strikeouts, 5 walks in 3 innings; Braydan Garrett 4 hits, 4 runs, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts in 1 inning; Casey Jons (W, 1-0), 1 hit, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk in 3 innings. Heber Springs hitters — Connor Riddle 2 singles, 1 RBI, 1 stolen base; Kenan Sneed 2 singles; Matthew Cook single, 1 RBI; Gage Buford single; Garrett Hudspeth single. Heber Springs pitchers — Garrett Hudspeth 7 hits, 6 runs, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks in 4.2 innings; Mathew Cook (L, 0-1) 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 strikeout in 2/3 of an inning; Gage Buford 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk in 1.2 inning.
TRUMANN – Heber Springs beat the threat of COVID-19 and completed the 2020 football season, but the conclusion didn’t go as planned.
Heber Springs (2-9) finished the year with a 43-14 loss to Trumann at RMC Stadium in the opening round of the Class 4A football playoffs Friday.
“If you had told me nine weeks ago we would play 11 games, I would have said you were crazy,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We were blessed to play 11 games. A lot of players who were inexperienced before the start of the season gained experience, and they will be coming back next year. I’m proud of the players for never giving up at any time during the season.”
Trumann followed a similar script of previous Heber Springs’ opponents by converting turnovers into touchdowns. The Wildcats scored two of their three first-half touchdowns following an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Panthers held a 7-6 advantage in first downs during the first half. But Trumann had 154 yards of offense, 127 coming on the ground, to 89 for Heber Springs. The Wildcats had three quarterback sacks for a minus 18 yards.
Trumann scored touchdowns on its first two possession of the second half.
Overall, Trumann outgained Heber Springs 348-198. The Wildcats compiled 305 of their 348 yards on the ground, but only held the ball five more minutes than the Panthers (26:43-21:17). Trumann finished by sacking HSHS quarterbacks seven times for a minus 45 yards.
“It was the same story from most of the season, when we hang onto the ball, we did well,” Wood said. “When we didn’t, teams took advantage and put us in a hole. That happened again. You can’t do that against a playoff team.”
Senior quarterback Matthew Cook led the Panthers by completing 14-of-24 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Cook rushed nine times for a minus 6 yards, including sacks.
Senior running back Diego Rubio rushed for 65 yards on seven carries. Junior Jackson West ran for 50 yards on five attempts. Senior Nathan McKee caught seven passes for 63 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Parker Brown had 57 all-purpose yards and caught his first high school touchdown pass.
Rian King led Trumann with 109 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns. Milton Lewis ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Gavin Morgan also had 78 yards and scored one touchdown.
King’s interception put Trumann in position for the game’s first touchdown. The Wildcats drove 53 yards on six plays with King scoring on a 2-yard carry with 5:13 left in the first quarter. Efrain Garcia kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Trumann recovered a fumble at the Heber Springs 13 to set up its second touchdown. Two plays later, Lewis ran six yards for a touchdown with 11:56 left in the first half. Garcia kicked the extra point for the 14-0 lead.
Heber Springs answered with an 8-play, 54-yard drive following the kickoff. Cook passed 10 yards to McKee and Rubio broke loose on a 16-yard run to get the drive moving. Later, Rubio’s 11-yard run gave the Panthers a first-and-goal at the Trumann 1.
Two plays later, Cook rolled out and flipped a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 8:31 remaining in the first half. A 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful as Heber Springs trailed, 14-6.
“We felt good after getting it to 14-6,” Wood said. “We had a good offensive drive and gained some momentum. I thought we could piece things together, get a defensive stop and get the ball back. Credit Trumann for coming out and doing some things different than we saw on film.”
Trumann regained a two-score lead before halftime by driving 54 yards on 12 plays. King scored on a 14-yard run with 1:56 to go for a 20-6 lead.
“I challenged the players at halftime to get a defensive start at the beginning of the third quarter,” Wood said. “We needed a defensive stop. Unfortunately, we were not healthy and had other players unable to play. We were just outmatched.”
Trumann began the third quarter on a 5-play, 58-yard drive. King broke free and ran 46 yards for the touchdown with 9:45 left. McClain ran for a 2-point conversion and increased the lead to 28-6.
The Wildcats held on downs and drove 59 yards on 11 plays. King capped the drive by scoring on a 9-yard run with 10:49 left in the game. Garcia kicked the extra point for the 35-6 lead.
Heber Springs’ second touchdown came on a 5-play, 61-yard drive. Cook connected on a 31-yard scoring pass to McKee with 8:44 left. Cook ran for the 2-point conversion as the Panthers trailed, 35-14.
Trumann recovered the attempted onside kickoff and scored two plays later. Morgan had a 46-yard touchdown run with 8:26 remaining. Lewis ran for the 2-point conversion.
Heber Springs (2-9) 0 6 0 8 - 14
Trumann (6-5) 7 13 8 15 - 43
Trumann, Rian King 2-yard run (Efrain Garcia kick), 5:13
Trumann, Milton Lewis 7-yard run (Garcia kick), 11:56
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Parker Brown 3-yard pass (pass failed), 8:31
Trumann, Lewis 14-yard run (kick failed), 1:50THIRD QUARTER
Trumann, King 46-yard run (Connor McClain run), 9:43
Trumann, King 9-yard run (Garcia kick), 10:49
Heber Springs, Cook to Nathan McKee 2-yard pass (Cook run), 8:44 Trumann, Gavin Morgan 46-yard run (Lewis run), 8:26
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 6, Trumann 13
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 5, Trumann 1
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 1, Trumann 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 12, Trumann 14
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 5/10, Trumann 3/7
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/3, Trumann 3/3
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/1, Trumann 4/4
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 21:17, Trumann 26:43
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 2/1, Trumann 1/1
Turnovers: Heber Springs 2, Trumann 1
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Trumann 14
Penalties: Heber Springs 6/30, Trumann 6/52
Rushing: Heber Springs 26/83/3.2, Trumann 44/305/6.9
Passing: Heber Springs 16/27-115-2/1, Trumann 6/7-43-0/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 53/198/3.7, Trumann 51/348/6.8
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Mills 7/45
Punts: Heber Springs 0, Trumann 1/41
Inside 20: Trumann 1
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 7/65, Jackson West 5/50, Nathan McKee 2/(-3), Matthew Cook 9/(-6), John McBroome 3/(-23). Trumann, Rian King 14/109/3, Milton Lewis 13/78/2, Gavin Morgan 7/78/1, Murphy Williams 3/33, Parks McNair 1/13, Connor McClain 1/4, Team 1/(-4), Garner Henderson 1/(-6).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 14/24-105-2/1, John McBroome 2/3-10-0/0. Trumann, Connor McClain 6/7-43-0/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 7/63/1, Diego Rubio 2/8, Gus Hannah 1/25, Jackson West 1/5, Isaac King 1/8, Austin Winchester 1/8, Parker Brown 1/3/1, Chris Roberts 1/2, Easton Cusick 1/(-1). Trumann, Parks McNair 4/22, Gavin Morgan 1/11, Rian King 1/1.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 99, Diego Rubio 65, Jackson West 50, Nathan McKee (-3), John McBroome (-13). Trumann, Rian King 109, Milton Lewis 78, Gavin Morgan 78, Connor McClain 47, Murphy Williams 33, Parks McNair 13, Garner Henderson (-6).
PUNT RETURNS: None
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Parker Brown 3/54, Kenan Sneed 1/0, Austin Winchester 1/0. Trumann, Murphy Williams 1/0.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Trumann, Rian King 1/22
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 73, Nathan McKee 60, Parker Brown 57, Jackson West 55, Gus Hannah 25, Isaac King 8, Austin Winchester 8, Chris Roberts 2, Easton Cusick (-1), Matthew Cook (-6), John McBroome (-23). Trumann, Rian King 132, Gavin Morgan 89, Milton Lewis 78, Parks McNair 35, Murphy Williams 33, Connor McClain 4, Garner Henderson (-6).
SCORING: Heber Springs, Parker Brown 6, Nathan McKee 6, Matthew Cook 2. Trumann, Rian King 18, Milton Lewis 14, Gavin Morgan 6, Efrain Garcia 3 (3/4 XPA), Connor McClain 2.
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Trumann, Connor McClain 1/41/1
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Trumann, Garen Smithson 2/9, Garner Henderson 2/15, Eli Evett 1/10, Connor McClain 1/5, Desmond Langston 1/7
SOUTHSIDE — The Heber Springs Panther defense demonstrated a new step of maturity against Southside Batesville late in the fourth quarter at Stewart Field Friday night.
After a questionable fumble call at the goal-line, the Panthers forced the Southside into a three-and-out and maintained possession during the final 3:37 for a 22-17 road win.
Heber Springs (1-4 2-4A Conference, 2-6 overall) won its first conference game for coach Todd Wood and moved into fifth-place tie with Little Rock Mills and Southside with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“We talked about responding to quick-turnovers all season,” Wood said. “They wanted to go out there and do something about it this time. The players seemed to play with more energy on that series than other series in the game. We had a lot of big plays by a lot of players. Jayden Bremmon made two big plays. Preston Roberson moved back to linebacker and also made a lot of big plays.”
Wood noticed a different attitude among players. Instead of talking about the questionable fumble play, the defense made its biggest stand of the season yet.
“They played like their backs were against the wall and didn’t want to give Southside anything,” he said. “They had something to prove. I told the players after the game that they always were capable of playing that way and finally did it.”
Wood also had praise for the play of his linemen.
“It starts up front and I can’t say enough good things about all of those guys on the offensive line,” he said.
Big plays happened throughout the game, but Wood said one of the most important came on the final play of the third quarter. Heber Springs faced a fourth-and-10 at the Southside 34 when quarterback Matthew Cook connected on a 32-pass completion to Easton Cusick for a first down at the Southerner 7.
“We (coaching staff) noticed Cusick was open when we tried that play earlier in the game,” Wood said. “I told Matthew to watch for Easton. Matthew was throwing against the wind. Easton bobbled the ball a bit, but he brought the ball back to his chest and caught it.”
Cusick described the play.
“As soon as I saw the safety come up, the ball was there right in my hands,” he said. “Matthew passed the ball perfect to me. It was a great fourth-down play.”
Cook, who completed 9-of-12 passes for 159 yards and and rushed for 85 yards, said Wood told him before the play that Cusick might be open.
“He (Cusick) was open and I threw it to him,” Cook said. “We need those fourth-down conversions.”
Two plays later, Diego Rubio scored from the 1.
Southside controlled the first half, outgaining Heber Springs. The Southerners rushed for 131 yards, 81 coming on Brendan Frazier’s touchdown run. The Panthers were held to 53 yards — 10 yards rushing and 43 passing. Southside sacked Cook and John McBroome four times for losses of 28 yards.
Frazier’s scoring run and Skyler Anorve’s extra point kick gave Southside a 7-0 lead with 4:39 left in the first quarter. Frazier finished with 120 yards on 13 carries.
Heber Springs led for the first time in the game when Nathan McKee scored on a 2-yard carry, and Cook passed to Gus Hannah for the 2-point conversion. The Panthers led 8-7 with 11:56 to go in the first half.
Southside regained the lead with 4:14 left until halftime. The Panthers held on downs at the 2, but the Southerners’ Jamie Riggs scooped up a Diego Rubio fumble and scored. Anorve kicked the extra point for the 14-8 lead.
Heber Springs reached the goal line in the closing seconds, but the drive ended on a Cook interception in the end zone.
The second half became a different game. Heber Springs rushed for 106 yards and passed for 114 yards. Southside was held to 64 yards
Thad Bray set up the first touchdown of the third quarter when he blocked a punt. Bremmon recovered the ball at the Southside 20-yard line. Four plays later, Rubio scored on a 1-yard dive with 8:39 left in the third quarter. Jackson West caught a 3-yard pass from Cook for the 2-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 16-14 lead.
The Southerners regained the lead for the final time when Anorve kicked a 33-yard field. Southside led 17-16 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Heber Springs started its 11-play, 79-yard drive for the eventual winning score late in the third quarter. Cusick’s fourth-down catch put the Panthers in scoring position. Rubio scored from two yards out with 11:14 to play. The 2-point conversion try failed as Heber Springs led, 22-17.
McKee’s 55-yard catch of a Cook pass put the Panthers in position to increase the lead. McKee caught three passes in all for 81 yards on the night.
“I made a move to the outside and turned upfield.” McKee said. “Matthew saw I was open and put the ball where I could go and catch it.”
Cook said the play worked like Wood told him while on the sidelines earlier.
“Nathan was open, and I threw the ball to him,” Cook said. “The ball went right in his hands like it is suppose to.”
Heber Springs reached the Southside 7 when McKee apparently scored, but officials ruled he fumbled before crossing the goal line.
Heber Springs held on downs the next series and then maintained possession for the rest of the game.
“It was a good feeling after so much disappointment,” Cook said. “We’ve been through a lot of things this year. It felt great and it was against Southside. It was a relief. I had a big smile for the win with my teammates after the final play.”
Heber Springs will play at Clinton Friday in the fifth annual Battle of the Little Red.
“This was a great victory,” Wood said. “We will start preparing for the Clinton game. We have two more games to to take care of before looking at the playoffs.”
The Panthers will conclude the regular season by hosting Little Rock Mills.
Heber Springs (1-4, 2-6) 0 8 8 6 - 22
Southside Batesville (1-4, 2-6) 7 7 3 0 - 17
Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 81-yard run (Skyler Anorve kick), 4:39
Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 2-yard run (Matthew Cook to Gus Hannah pass), 11:56
Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs 2-yard fumble return (Anorve kick), 4:15
Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 1-yard run (Cook to Jackson West pass), 8:39
Southside Batesville, Anorve 33-yard field goal, 4:22
Heber Springs, Rubio 1-yard run (pass failed), 11:14
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 4, Southside 4
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 6, Southside 2
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 3, Southside 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Southside 6
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 5/10, Southside 1/8
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/2, Southside 0/2
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 5/3, Southside 1/0
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 28:55, Southside 19:05
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Southside 1/1
Turnovers: Heber Springs 3, Southside 2
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 8, Southside 7
Penalties: Heber Springs 7/43, Southside 8/75
Rushing: Heber Springs 43/126/2.9, Southside 30/172/5.7
Passing: Heber Springs 10/14-157-0/1, Southside 4/7-23-0/1
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 57/283/5.0, Bald Knob 37/195/5.1
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Southside 5/29
Punts: Heber Springs 4/107/26.8, Southside 3/61/20.3
Inside 20: Heber Springs 1, Southside 1
Blocked Punts: Heber Springs 1, Southside 0
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 21/85, Diego Rubio 13/26/2, Nathan McKee 5/24/1, Jackson West 1/4, Team 1/(-3), John McBroome 2/(-10). Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 13/120/1, Brycen Sutton 12/39, Jacob Dunne 3/29, Chase Duncan 1/1, Team 1/(-17).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 9/12-159-0/1, John McBroome 1/2- (-2)-0/0. Bald Knob, Chase Duncan 4/7-23-0/0
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 3/81, Jackson West 3/27, Easton Cusick 2/50, Diego Rubio 1/1, Matthew Cook 1/(-2). Southside Batesville, Bo Trucks 2/19, Jacob Dunne 1/4, Isaac Smith 1/0.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 244, Diego Rubio 26, Nathan McKee 24, Jackson West 4, John McBroome (-12). Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 120, Brycen Sutton 39, Jacob Dunne 29, Chase Duncan 24.
PUNT RETURNS: Southside Batesville, Isaac Smith 1/12
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Austin Winchester 2/0
FUMBLE RETURNS: Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs 1/2
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: None
OTHER RETURNS: Jayden Bremmon 1/18
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 105, Matthew Cook 83, Easton Cusick 50, Jackson West 31, Diego Rubio 27, Jayden Bremmon 18. Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 120, Brycen Sutton 39, Jacob Dunne 33, Chase Duncan 24, Bo Trucks 14, Isaac Smith 12, Jamie Riggs 2.
SCORING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 12, Nathan McKee 6, Gus Hannah 2, Jackson West 2. Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 6, Jamie Riggs 6, Skyler Anorve 5 (2/2 XPA, 1/1 FG - Made: 33).
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 3/50/16.6, John McBroome 1/57/1/0. Southside Batesville, Blayne Warden 2/61/30.5/1, Team 1/0/0/1.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Southside Batesville, Vern Deering 2/13, Lincoln Fair 1/9, Ricky Vickers 1/6, Alex Allen 1/1
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Southside Batesville, Jamie Riggs
BLOCKED PUNTS: Heber Springs, Thad Bray
BLOCKED PUNT RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Jayden Bremmmon
INTERCEPTIONS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee. Southside Batesville, Justin Vannattan
A tale of two halves best described Friday’s 2-4A Conference football game between Bald Knob and Heber Springs at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers (0-4 conference, 1-6 overall) led 7-0 at halftime, but the Bulldogs (2-2 conference, 5-3 overall) dominated the second half for a 35-15 win and spoiled Heber Springs’ homecoming.
Bald Knob scored touchdowns after four Heber Springs turnovers and outgained the Panthers, 238-92 in the second half. The Panthers compiled 61 of their 92 yards during the second half on the final possession, which ended with a touchdown.
Heber Springs had six turnovers for the game — four interceptions and two fumbles, including an onside kickoff. The Bulldogs finished with a 341-203 advantage in total offense.
“Bald Knob beat us on the line of scrimmage,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “They knew that they could run the ball against us, which opened up their passing game. We couldn’t move the ball in the second half.”
Bald Knob quarterback Leason Pierce completed 13-of-23 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Pierce was only 2-of-6 passing for 24 yards in the first half.
“The defense played well in the first half,” Wood said. “Bald Knob’s size on the line wore us down in the second half.”
Heber Springs held Bald Knob to 1-of-6 third-down conversions in the first half. The Bulldogs turned the tables in the final two quarters by converting 5-of-7 third-down plays.
The Panthers had 3-of-6 third down conversions in the first half and 3-of-5 in the second half. Heber Springs was 2-of-2 during its final scoring drive. Bald Knob was successful on 2-of-8 fourth down plays, while the Panthers were 0-of-4.
“Our guys were still trying to keep battling,” Wood said. “The big issue were the turnovers and not adjusting to quick changes. We must learn how to fight through that. You can’t win games with that many turnovers.”
Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook completed 13-of-27 passes for 91 yards with four interceptions. Nathan McKee caught seven passes for 38 yards. Diego Rubio had 35 yards rushing on eight carries and scored one touchdown.
“We had a good drive on our first possession of the game,” Wood said. “Cook was playing with a lot of confident, but all of the sudden, he gets pressured by Bald Knob’s defense. Matthew looked at things he didn’t need to be looking at. We got to help him correct that. I need to figure out what we need to do to help him do his job better. The first drive was nice, but we didn’t have much success for the rest of the game.”
Heber Springs drove 51 yards on nine plays following the opening kickoff. Cook connected on a 16-yard pass to Easton Cusick, Rubio ran for 10 yards and McKee caught a 13-yard pass for a first-and-goal at the Bald Knob 8-yard line.
Two plays later, Cook scored on a 2-yard carry with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Gus Hannah kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
Bald Knob’s only first-half scoring threat came on its final possession. The Bulldogs drove from their 31 to the Panther 20-yard line. Bald Knob’s Marcus McGahee missed a 37-yard field goal on the final play as Heber Springs led 7-0 at halftime.
Michael Wingo intercepted a Cook pass and set up Bald Knob’s first touchdown during the third quarter. The Bulldogs needed six plays to go 39 yards with Wingo scoring on a 24-yard run. McGahee kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:23 left.
Bald Knob regained possession on a sack of Cook, who fumbled, and the Bulldogs recovered at the Heber Springs 20-yard line. Pierce completed the short drive by passing 13 yards to Wingo for the touchdown. McGahee added the conversion for the 14-7 lead.
The Bulldogs recovered an onside kickoff and later scored their third touchdown of the third quarter. Dane Lindsey caught a 19-yard pass from Pierce, increasing the lead to 20-7 going into the fourth quarter.
“We knew the onside kick was coming and practiced on it during the week,” Wood said. “You have to be aware where you are on the field and what you need to do in that situation. Bald Knob executed, and we didn’t.”
Bald Knob scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Pierce passed 38 yards to Josh Clark for a score with 10:46 to go. Clark had a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left.
McGahee ran for a 2-point conversion and then kicked an extra point, increasing Bald Knob’s lead to 35-7.
Jackson West capped a 10-play, 59-yard drive for the Panthers scoring on a 3-yard carry with 24 seconds to play. Hannah ran for the 2-point conversion.
Heber Springs will seek to rebound at Southside Batesville on Friday.
“Southside is another good team that has a big line and likes to runs the ball,” Wood said. “We must find a way to keep our defense from playing most of the time on the field and get the offense going. We took a step backwards against Bald Knob. We need to find out what we did wrong and fix it by Friday.”
Bald Knob (4-3, 2-2) 0 0 20 15 - 35
Heber Springs (1-6, 0-4) 7 0 0 8 - 15
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2-yard run (Gus Hannah kick), 8:57
Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 3-yard (Marcus McGahee kick), 5:22
Bald Knob, Leason Pierce to Wingo 13-yard pass (McGahee kick), 3:20
Bald Knob, Pierce to Dane Lindsey 19-yard pass (kick failed), 1:06
Bald Knob, Pierce to Josh Clark 38-yard pass (McGahee run), 10:46
Bald Knob, Clark 6-yard run (McGahee kick), 4:27
Heber Springs, Jackson West 3-yard run (Hannah run), 28.4
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 5, Bald Knob 11
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 8, Bald Knob 5
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 0, Bald Knob 1
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Bald Knob 17
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 6/11, Bald Knob 6/13
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 0/4, Bald Knob 1/6
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/2, Bald Knob 4/5
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 18:21, Bald Knob 29:39
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Bald Knob 0/0
Turnovers: Heber Springs 6, Bald Knob 0
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Bald Knob 27
Penalties: Heber Springs 4/53, Bald Knob 5/34
Rushing: Heber Springs 24/67/2.8, Bald Knob 43/185/4.3
Passing: Heber Springs 17/31-136-0/4, Bald Knob 13/23-156-3/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 41/203/5.0, Bald Knob 66/341/5.2
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 1/8, Bald Knob 2/7
Punts: Heber Springs 2/43/21.5, Bald Knob 0/0
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, CAC 0
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 8/35, Jackson West 6/16/1, Matthew Cook 8/11/1, Easton Cusick 2/5. Bald Knob, Bradyn Cline 14/90, Josh Clark 10/62/1, Leason Pierce 8/25, Michael Wingo 6/14/1, Marcus McGahee 4/14, Team 1/(-6).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 13/27-91-0/4, John McBroome 4/4-45-0/0. Bald Knob, Leason Pierce 13/23-156-3/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 7/42, Easton Cusick 2/32, Austin Winchester 2/26, Dakota Farmer 2/19, Diego Rubio 2/5, Gus Hannah 1/11, Jackson West 1/1. Bald Knob, Dane Lindsey 5/36/1, Michael Wingo 3/17/1, Matthew Smith 2/32/1, Josh Clark 1/38/1, Gage Dismuke 1/24, Elijah Bradley 1/9.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 102, John McBroome 45, Diego Rubio 35, Jackson West 16, Easton Cusick 5. Bald Knob, Leason Pierce 181, Bradyn Cline 90, Josh Clark 62, Michael Wingo 14, Marcus McGahee 14, Team (-6).
PUNT RETURNS: None
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 2/45, Diego Rubio 1/17. Bald Knob, Dane Lindsey 1/7, Hayden McAnelly 1/0.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Bald Knob, Travis Kersey 1/15
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 2/24, Matthew Smith 1/21
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 87, Diego Rubio 57, Easton Cusick 37, Austin Winchester 26, Dakota Farmer 19, Jackson West 17, Matthew Cook 11, Gus Hannah 11. Bald Knob, Josh Clarke 100, Bradyn Cline 90, Michael Wingo 55, Matthew Smith 53, Dane Lindsey 43, Leason Pierce 25, Gage Dismuke 24, Marcus McGahee 14, Elijah Bradley 9.
SCORING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 6, Jackson West 6, Gus Hannah 3 (1/1 XPA). Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 12, Josh Clark 12, Dane Lindsey 6, Marcus McGahee 5 (4/5 XPA, 0/1 FGA. Missed 37).
DEFENSEPUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2/43/21.5
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Heber Springs, Preston Roberson/Matthew Cook 1/8. Bald Knob, Travis Kersey 2/7
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Bald Knob, Travis Kersey, Marcus McGahee
INTERCEPTIONS: Bald Knob, Michael Wingo 2, Matthew Smith 1, Josh Clark 1
For the second week in a row, Heber Springs trailed at the half, 45-0, and ended up falling, 45-6.
This time it was at top-ranked and defending 3A state champion Harding Academy Friday night.
Like in week 1, turnovers cost the Panthers early leading to a short field for the opponent. Heber Springs (0-2) fumbled twice and had pass attempts intercepted as Harding Academy (2-0) had eight first-half possessions with seven of those inside the Panther 50 and six inside the Panther the Panther 38.
“Same story second week in a row,” first-year Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “(When) you play a good team, you can’t give opportunities to a good team because they are going to take benefit from it.
“So that’s the second week in a row you give the ball over real quick in the game, you can’t do that against teams that are going to take full advantage of it immediately.”
The Panthers turned the ball over on their first three possessions and trailed 21-0 with 3:17 left in the first quarter.
“We are going to have to start learning how to secure the ball a little bit better and start getting our offense to move the ball down the field a little bit,” Wood said of the turnovers. “But we’ll work on it.”
The Panthers had their best drive of the first half on their next possession moving from their own 20 to the Wildcat 26 before the drive stalled on fourth down with 34 seconds left in the opening quarter. An 18-yard run by Matthew Cook, a 7-yard run on fourth down by Hunter Kent and an 18-yard pass play as John McBroome connected with Easton Cusick highlighted the Heber Springs drive.
“I have said this multiple times we didn’t have spring ball,” Wood said. “We didn’t have summer ball so these first three weeks are our spring ball and we are still trying to figure out our identity.
“We are still trying to figure out who is going to play where,”
The last time a Panther football team has been shutout was on Oct. 18, 2013, in a 35-0 setback at Newport — a streak of 73 consecutive games with at least a touchdown, and that streak was extended in the second half on the Panthers first possession.
With a continuous running clock because of the Arkansas Activities Association Sportsmanship Rule, Heber Springs forced the Wildcats to a three-and-out on defense before taking over at the Wildcat 46 with 9:01 to play in the third quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Conner Riddle led the Panthers on a 10-play drive that senior running back Diego Rubio capped off with a 1-yard run with 2:32 left in the quarter. The 2-point attempt failed. Sophomore running back Kenan Sneed carried twice for 14 yards on the drive while sophomore transfer receiver Isaac King had three receptions for 29 yards.
“We’ve got some things to correct,” Wood said. “We’ve got some guys that are going to have to step up to play some positions that they need to be ready to play. We are getting ready to make some changes.”
Heber Springs, which has lost eight consecutive regular season nonconference contests, hosts Dover and former interim Panther coach Will Cox Friday night at Panther Stadium in the final nonconference contest for the Panthers.
“I told them we are playing for week 4,” Wood said, “that’s what gets us into November and December, and so that’s what we are trying to do is get into week 4 make sure everything’s place and all the little mistakes are taken care of so in week 4 we are ready to play some real football. “
Heber Springs (0-2) 0 0 6 0 - 6
Harding Academy (2-0) 21 24 0 0 - 45
Harding Academy - Andrew Miller 25-yard run (Kyle Ferrie kick), 8:37
Harding Academy - Miller 5-yard run (Ferrie kick), 6:06
Harding Academy - Caden Sipe to Ty Dugger 5-yard pass (Ferrie kick), 3:17
Harding Academy - Sipe to Landon Koch 28-yard pass (Ferrie kick), 10:47
Harding Academy - Sipe to Miller 33-yard pass (Ferrie kick), 9:41
Harding Academy - Ferrie 44-yard field goal, 5:53
Harding Academy - Miller 4-yard run (Ferrie kick), 4:16
Heber Springs - Diego Rubio 1-yard run (pass field), 2:32
TEAM STATS First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 4, Harding Academy 8
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 3, Harding Academy 7
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 1, Harding Academy 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 8, Harding Academy 15
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/3, Harding Academy 1/2
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/3, Harding Academy 1/2
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 1/1, Harding Academy 3/3
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 26:29, Harding Academy 21:31
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 5/2, Harding Academy 2/0
Turnovers: Heber Springs 4, Harding Academy 0
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Harding Academy 28
Penalties: Heber Springs 4/25, Harding Academy 1/5
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 56/189/3.4, Harding Academy 44/259/5.9
Rushing: Heber Springs 28/98/3.5, Harding Academy 25/115/4.6
Passing: Heber Springs 15/28-91-0/2, Harding Academy 10/19-154-3/0
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Harding Academy 0/0
Punts: Heber Springs 3/61/20.3, Harding Academy 2/57/28.5
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, Harding Academy 1
INDIVIDUAL STATS OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 8/32/4, Matthew Cook 5/31/6.2, Hunter Kent 3/14/4.7, Kenan Sneed 2/14, Jackson West 4/12/3, Conner Riddle 3/2/.6, Easton Cusick 2/0, Team 1/(-7). Harding Academy, Andrew Miller 11/90/8.2, Caden Sipe 3/26/8.6, Seth Campbell 6/11, Colson Sipe 0/8, Aaron Chism 2/6, Carter Neal 1/2, Team 1/(-28).
RUSHING RUNS OF 20+: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio (1). Harding Academy, Andrew Miller (1).
RUSHING RUNS OF 10+: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook (1), Kenan Sneed (1). Harding Academy, Andrew Miller (3), Caden Sipe (1).
PASSING: Heber Springs, John McBroome 9/18-44-0/2, Conner Riddle 6/8-47-0/0, Matthew Cook 0/2-0-0/0. Harding Academy, Caden Sipe 6/11-116-3/0, Carter Neal 4/8-38-0/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Isaac King 6/47, Easton Cusick 6/34, Hunter Kent 2/11, Matthew Cook 1/(-1). Harding Academy, Jackson Fox 3/27, Landon Koch 2/40, Ryan McGaha 2/30, Ty Dugger 2/14, Andrew Miller 1/33.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Conner Riddle 49, John McBroome 44, Diego Rubio 32, Matthew Cook 31, Hunter Kent 14, Kenan Sneed 14, Jackson West 12, Easton Cusick 0, Team (-7). Harding Academy, Caden Sipe 142, Andrew Miller 90, Carter Neal 40, Seth Campbell 11, Colson Sipe 8, Aaron Chism 6, Team (-28).
PUNT RETURNS: None.
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 2/24. Harding Academy, Jackson Fox 1/16.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Harding Academy, Kade Smith 1/17, Aaron Chism 1/2.
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 49, Isaac King 47, Easton Cusick 34, Diego Rubio 32, Matthew Cook 30, Kenan Sneed 14, Jackson West 12, Conner Riddle 2. Harding Academy, Aaron Miller 123, Jackson Fox 43, Landon Koch 40, Ryan McGaha 30, Caden Sipe 26, Kade Smith 17, Ty Dugger 14, Seth Campbell 11, Colson Sipe 8, Aaron Chism 8, Carter Neal 2.
SCORING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 6. Harding Academy, Andrew Miller 24, Kyle Ferrie 9 (1-1 44 FG, 6-6 XP/XPA), Landon Koch 6, Ty Dugger 6.
DEFENSEINTERCEPTIONS: Harding Academy, Aaron Chism, Kade Smith.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Harding Academy, Eli Wallace, Cooper Welch.
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2/33/16.5, Wyatt Winchester 1/28. Harding Academy, Kyle Ferrie 2/57/28.5/1
Fans may need a game program to keep up with the Heber Springs Panthers against Class 3A defending champion Harding Academy at First Security Stadium in Searcy at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Panthers (0-1) will look to rebound from last week’s 45-6 loss to Newport. Harding Academy (1-0) began the season with a 44-20 win at Mena.
“We have a lot of things to correct,” Heber Springs head coach Todd Wood said. “We will make changes, so we can become a better team. Most of our mistakes can be corrected. We worked on doing that in practice.”
The Panthers were held to 121 yards and look for more production. Wood said personnel changes on offense and defense may occur, but the final decision on starting lineups may not be decided until Friday.
Wood didn’t talk about specific changes, but he said junior John McBroome and senior Matthew Cook worked at quarterback, along with sophomore Conner Riddle.
Cook started at receiver against Newport and switched to quarterback. He led the Panthers’ running game with 48 yards. McBroome and Cook combined to complete 10-of-22 passes for 53 yards.
Wood didn’t talk about specific players and accepted the blame. He vowed to do a better job of calling plays against Harding Academy.
“I was not pleased with my play calling against Newport,” Wood said. “On offense, the play of the line is important. We had too many missed assignments. The receivers sometimes didn’t run the right routes. We need to change a lot of the things we do and worked on correcting mistakes in practice.”
Wood said players spent more time this week working on tackling and he expects a better performance against the Wildcats.
“Our tackling must improve,” he said. “We need better leverage in coverage of the receivers and stopping the running game.”
Wood said the goal is to make the right changes and put the players in position to have success.
“We will put the players in the right positions to help us win the game,” Wood said.
Harding Academy will put a 16-game win streak on the line.
Senior quarterback Caden Sipe, who passesd for 364 yards and six touchdowns last season against the Panthers, returns to lead the offense. Sipe completed 27-of-38 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns against Mena. He also is a run threat and rushed for 104 yards in the Wildcats’ opener.
Ty Dugger, considered one of the state’s top receivers, caught 10 passes for 148 yards and two scores in the opener. Dugger caught 11 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s game at Panther Stadium.
“It will be a similar challenge as against Newport, playing a team that has been executing the same offense for a period of years,” Wood said. “Harding Academy is a very disciplined team on offense and defense. Harding will be very physical like Newport, but it will not have the speed of Newport.”
Sipe caught the attention of Wood quickly.
“The quarterback is very impressive as a passer and runner,” Wood said. “He makes good decisions.”
Wood said Harding Academy’s defense will be a different challenge for the Panthers.
“Harding will play more zone, but it will play man-to-man,” he said. “They will show us a variety of coverages.”
Heber Springs will play the underdog role for the second straight week, but Wood said improvement in one area can help the Panthers to succeed.
“We need better execution,” he said. “If we can do that, we will have a chance to do well.”
ADMISSION: For those wanting to attend the game in Searcy, they must pick up a voucher at the Heber Springs school district. Those without vouchers will not be admitted.
RADIO/VIDEO STREAMING: 101.9 The Lake. Billy Morgan will handle play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing the color commentary. Pregame begins at 6:45 with kickoff at 7 p.m.
Heber Springs vs. Harding Academy
Harding Academy leads 32-14
LAST MEETING: 2019 in Heber Springs, Harding Academy won 50-49
LAST WEEK: Heber Springs lost to Newport, 45-6; Harding Academy defeated Mena, 44-20.
TONIGHT: Friday night’s match-up at in Searcy will be the 47th in the series between Heber Springs and Harding Academy. The two teams first met in 1951. Heber Springs won that contest 33-6. The Panthers won the first two meetings before the Wildcats won three straight.
OLD CONFERENCE FOES: The Panthers and Wildcats played continuously from 1951 until 1969. The two teams were part of the 2B conference from 1951-1968 and part of the 2A-South in 1969.
STATE CHAMPIONS: Harding Academy has won seven state titles 1976, 1977, 1983, 2002, 2012, 2015 and 2019. The two teams did not meet when the Wildcats won the title in 1976, 1977 and 2002. In 1983, Harding Academy defeated Heber Springs, 19-14. In 2012, Heber Springs led 6-0, but the game was canceled due to weather in the first quarter. In 2015, the Widlcats won 40-12 and the Wildcats also won last season, 50-49.
HIATUS: From 1995 through 2006, the two teams only meet twice, both games won by Harding Academy in 1998 and 1999. Since the series resumed in 2010, the two teams have played nine completed games with Harding Academy winning four of those.
SHUTOUTS: The Panthers have won three games by shutouts, while the Wildcats have shutout Heber Springs, 13 times. The last shutout in the series came in 1993, a 28-0 win by the Wildcats.
TOUCHDOWN OR LESS: 12 games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year. There have been no overtime games in the series.
MOST POINTS: The most points scored by the Panthers in series was 49 in 2011 and 2019 while Harding Academy scored 50 last season for the most points the Wildcats have scored against the Panthers.
NONCONFERENCE WOES: Heber Springs has lost seven consecutive regular-season nonconference games. The Panthers last regular season nonconference win came on Sept. 15, 2017, at Panther Stadium against Harding Academy, 35-14. Since 2015, Heber Springs is 2-14 in regular-season nonconference games.
INJURED: Nathan McKee is questionable for tonight's game against Harding Academy while Preston Roberson is out.
By PHILIP SEATON
First-half turnovers quickly put the Heber Springs Panthers in a bind during Friday’s football season opener against Newport at Panther Stadium.
Newport turned two interceptions and two fumble recoveries into touchdowns, drove for three more scores and defeated the Panthers 45-6, spoiling the coaching debut of new head coach Todd Wood.
The Greyhounds, who held a 321-121 advantage in total offense, built a 19-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Newport increased its advantage to 45-0 by halftime.
“Newport is a very good team with a lot of speed and size,” Wood said. “That is the kind of a team I want o play early in the season because it will help prepare us for conference play.”
Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and lost possession on the game’s second play on an interception, giving Newport a first down at the Panther 20. Tharon Davis scored on a 2-yard carry, putting the Greyhounds ahead 6-0 with 10:04 left in the opening quarter.
Newport didn’t wait long to regain possession and extend the lead. Newport recovered a fumble at the Panther 10 and Chris Reynolds caught a touchdown pass from Dejai Marshall with 9:02 left in the quarter.
The Greyhounds didn’t let up. After a short punt, Newport drove 65 yards on six plays with Davis scoring on a 6-yard run for an 19-0 lead with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter. Mark Chavez kicked the extra point.
“You don’t want to give a lot of gifts to a team like Newport early in the game,” Wood said. “They scored after two turnovers and then scored again before the end of the quarter. We looked at the scoreboard and saw we trailed 19-0.”
Newport added four touchdowns during the second quarter with two scores set up by turnovers.
Jamarriel Balentine finished a 5-play, 31-yard drive following a short punt by scoring on a 2-yard run with 11:12 left in the first half. Marshall ran for a 2-point conversion, increasing Newport’s lead to 27-0.
Turnovers set up the Greyhounds’ next two touchdowns. Davis broke free and rushed 41 yards for a touchdown. Marshall connected on a 10-yard scoring pass to Reynold with 9:13 left in the first half.
Marshall threw his third touchdown pass of the opening half, a 39-yard strike to Tristan Griffen, late in the second quarter for the 45-0 halftime lead.
Davis finished the night with 114 yards rushing and three touchdown on nine carries for Newport, all coming in the first half.
“Newport played good defense,” Wood said. “We must recognize what they are doing and find a way to overcome it. The game snowballed on us and it’s hard to dig out of a hole like we had in the first half.”
Heber Springs began the second half by forcing a Newport punt and drove 76 yards on eight plays for its touchdown. Matthew Cook, who moved to quarterback, dashed into the clear and ran 62 yards for a first-and-goal at the Greyhound 1-yard line. Newport pushed the Panthers back to a fourth-and-goal at the 4 when Cook connected with Hunter Kent on a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone.
“We did better in the second half and moved the ball at times, but Newport was playing backups,” Wood said. “We need to fix everything for next week’s game and move forward.”
Wood said the players, especially the underclassmen, learned during the second half and that will benefit the team in the future.
“We have only eight seniors on a 38-player roster and our inexperience shows,” he said. “Some of the young guys learned new things and by the time we get to conference play. Those players will be more seasoned and that will help us out in the long run”
Heber Springs will play Harding Academy at First Security Stadium in Searcy starting at 7 p.m. Friday.
Newport (2-0) 19 26 0 0 - 45
Heber Springs (0-1) 0 0 6 0 - 6
Newport - Tharon Davis 2-yard run (kick failed), 10:04
Newport - Dejai Marshall to Chris Reynolds 10-yard pass (kick failed), 9:02
Newport - Davis 6-yard run (Mark Chavez kick), 3:26
Newport - Jamarriel Balentine 2-yard run (Marshall run), 11:12
Newport - Davis 41-yard run (run failed), 10:42
Newport - Marshall to Isiah Kendall 10-yard pass (kick failed), 9:13
Newport - Marshall to Tristan Griffen 39-yard pass (run failed), 1:14
Heber Springs - Matthew Cook to Hunter Kent 1-yard pass (pass failed), 4:36
First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 4, Newport 6
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 2, Newport 8
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 0, Newport 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 6, Newport 14
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 3/11, Newport 3/6
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/5, Newport 3/6
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/5, Newport 0/0
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 23:24, Newport 24:36
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 2/2, Newport 1/1
Turnovers: Heber Springs 4, Newport 1
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Newport 25
Penalties: Heber Springs 2/10, Newport 3/25
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 48/121/2.5, Newport 41/321/7.8
Rushing: Heber Springs 26/68/2.6, Newport 26/185/7.1
Passing: Heber Springs 10/22-53-1/2, Newport 12/15-136-3/0
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Newport 4/22
Punts: Heber Springs 3/63/21, Newport 3/108/36
Inside 20: Heber Springs 0, Newport 1
OFFENSERUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 9/48/5.3, Diego Rubio 10/36/3.6, Gus Hannah 1/8, Nathan McKee 1/2, Hunter Kent 1/(-4), John McBroome 4/(-22)/(-5.5). Newport, Tharon Davis 9/114/12.7, Keyron Childress 2/49, Jamarriel Balentine 9/43/4.8, Devin Braxton 1/6, Team 1/(-3), Cayden Johnson 3/(-12)/(-4), Dejai Marshall 1/(-12).
RUSHING RUNS OF 50+: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook (1). Newport, Keyron Childress (1).
RUSHING RUNS OF 40+: Newport, Tharon Davis (1).
RUSHING RUNS OF 20+: Newport, Tharon Davis (2).
RUSHING RUNS OF 10+: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio (1). Newport, Jamarriel Balentine (2), Tharon Davis (1).
PASSING: Heber Springs, John McBroome 7/14-43-0/2, Matthew Cook 3/8-10-1/0. Newport, Dejai Marshall 12/12-136-3/0, Isiah Kendall 0/3-0-0/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 3/6, Austin Winchester 2/10, Diego Rubio 2/5, Nathan McKee 1/17, Gus Hannah 1/8, Kenan Sneed 1/7. Newport, Isiah Kendall 3/41, Tristan Griffen 3/37, Chris Reynolds 3/32, Jadarius Reed 1/11, Tharon Davis 1/10, Cayden Johnson 1/5.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 58, Diego Rubio 36, John McBroome 21, Gus Hannah 8, Nathan McKee 2, Hunter Kent (-4). Newport, Dejai Marshall 124, Tharon Davis 114, Keyron Childress 49, Jamarriel Balentine 43, Devin Braxton 6, Team (-3), Cayden Johnson (-12),
PUNT RETURNS: None.
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 3/42, Matthew Cook 3/15. Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/2.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/5, Kiland Ellis 1/0.
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 106, Diego Rubio 83, Nathan McKee 19, Gus Hannah 16, Austin Winchester 10, Kenan Sneed 7, Hunter Kent 2, John McBroome (-22). Newport, Tharon Davis 124, Keyron Childress 49, Jamarriel Balentine 43, Chris Reynolds 42, Isiah Kendall 41, Tristan Griffen 37, Jadarius Reed 11, Devin Braxton 6, Team (-3), Cayden Johnson (-7), Dejai Marshall (-12).
SCORING: Heber Springs, Hunter Kent 6. Newport, Tharon Davis 18, Jamarriel Balentine 6, Chris Reynolds 6, Isiah Kendall 6, Tristan Griffen 6, Dajai Marshall 2, Mark Chavez 1 (1-4 PAT kicks).
DEFENSEINTERCEPTIONS: Newport, Chris Reynolds 1/5, Kiland Ellis 1/0.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Kenan Sneed 1. Newport, Tristan Griffen 1, Jaden Godair 1.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Newport, Aabel Robinson 2/11, Jaden Godair 1/6, Tyler Johnson 1/5.
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20: Heber Springs, John McBroome 2/39/19.5/0, Matthew Cook 1/24/24/0. Newport, Dejai Marshall 3/108/36/1
(Stats compiled by Philip Seaton)