By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
SEARCY – The Heber Springs Panthers must wait for another year to participate in the Class 4A state football playoffs.
Riverview converted a third-quarter interception into the game’s only points and defeated the Panthers 7-0 in the season finale at Raider Stadium on Friday.
The win was the first ever for the Raiders against Heber Springs (1-5 in 2-4A Conference, 2-7 overall), which won the first six games of the series between the two teams.
Riverview’s Robert Lee III intercepted a Xander Lindley pass midway through the third quarter. The Raiders, aided by a personal foul and unsportsmanlike penalties against Heber Springs, capitalized by driving 51 yards on six plays for a touchdown.
On a fourth-and-goal play, Koby Teeter scored on a 5-yard run with 5:55 left in the third quarter. Jonny Montalvan kicked the extra point.
“Like I told the team after the game, it has been a rough two weeks,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood, referring to the loss of two more offensive starters on offense. “About 70 percent of our offensive production was not on the field. It forced us to play a lot of freshmen.”
Receivers Easton Cusick and Dalton Yancey joined running back Parker Brown on the injured list.
“We learned Yancey had a season-ending injury early in the week,” Wood said. “Easton injured his ankle last week and then came down with the flu. Only one of our receivers who was a starter from the beginning of the season was able to play. We had to look at other ways to make things happen on offense.”
Heber Springs outgained Riverview in total offense for the game — 186 yards to 160 yards. The Panthers rushed for 81 yards and passed for 105 yards. Riverview had 151 yards of its total offense on the ground.
Nick Franklin rushed 20 times for 78 yards to lead Raiders. Teeter had 35 yards on 11 carries and scored one touchdown. Charles Thompson ran seven times for 16 yards.
Freshman Bryce Siegrist, who replaced starter Lindley at quarterback in the second half, completed 4-of-8 passes for 51 yards. Siegrist had 28 yards rushing on nine attempts.
Lindley rushed 20 times for 64 yards and completed 4-of-15 passes for 54 yards with one interception. Sophomore Logan Rutridge caught two passes for 44 yards.
“Siegrist went into the game and tried to make things happen,” Wood said. “Xander was called to run more times than any other game this season because he gave us the best shot. He (Lindley) did that as long as he could, and we made the change.”
Wood said Siegrist’s performance is a sign of the program’s bright future.
“He had to use his feet sometimes to make things happen,” Wood said. “He showed a little of what he did during the junior high season, keeping plays alive and finding open receivers. That is what you have to do to be a playmaker.”
The other freshmen didn’t go without catching the coach’s eye.
“I give a lot of credit to the guys who had to come in and play,” Wood said. “They did the best that they could. They showed a lot about their character and kept battling until the end of the game.”
Wood said senior Chris Edwards, a starting linebacker all season, accepted more of a role on offense because of the injuries. Edwards caught four passes for 56 yards.
“Chris assumed the role of lead blocker at a position he normally doesn’t play,” Wood said. “He also played on defense and never asked at anytime to come out of the game. He was a warrior.”
The game was scoreless during the first half. Riverview reached the red zone once when it received the opening kickoff and drove to the Heber Springs 14-yard line. The Panthers held on a fourth-down play.
The Raiders committed their only turnover when Heber Springs junior Corbin Jones recovered a fumble during the first quarter.
But the Panthers didn’t go away easily.
Late in the third quarter, Siegrist’s 49-yard punt was downed inside the Riverview 1-yard line. The Panthers held and forced a punt, but Rutledge mishandled the punt on the return as Riverview recovered at the Heber Springs 41-yard line.
The Panthers again held the Raiders and regained possession following a punt at their 12-yard line.
Heber Springs started its final drive by overcoming overcame consecutive holding penalties. Siegrist scrambled for 15 yards on third down and ran four yards on fourth-and-one for the first down.
After a quarterback sack on first down, Siegrist connected on a 30-yard pass to Logan Rutledge to the Heber Springs 49-yard line. The Panthers converted their second fourth-down conversion of the drive on the next play when Edwards caught a 16-yard pass from Siegrist for a first down.
Siegrist connected on an 8-yard pass to freshman Emmett Dwyer with 1:10 left in the game. After a Heber Springs timeout, Siegrist tried to threw deep, but Riverview’s Matthew Jones leaped and intercepted at the 9-yard line with 1:04 to play.
“Bryce gave the team a spark on the final drive,” Wood said. “He kept things alive and found players open downfield, like Dwyer, who ran earlier in the day at the state cross country meet (in Hot Springs). He showed up right before gametime and made a big catch late in the game.”
Wood said the team will move forward and start preparing for next season.
“We learned that we have to hit the weightroom harder and get bigger bodies,” he said. “We dressed out 40 players and that is one of the keys to have a better team in the future. We got to keep all of them together.”
Riverview (2-4 in 2-4A Conference, 3-7 overall) earned the No. 4 seed while Bald Knob finished as the five seed from the conference. Harding Academy won the conference title, Stuttgart finished second while Lonoke finished third.
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