Panthers looking to claim another conference win

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

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panthers club Cavemen on homecoming

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

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindley agreed.

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

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

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

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Cavemen foe for homecoming clash for Panthers

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Momentum swing lifts Panthers to nonconference victory

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

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindley and Yancey hooked up on the next two plays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panthers host former conference foe for nonconference tilt

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Heber Springs senior linebacker Kenan Sneed celebrates after making a fourth-down stop last week at Clinton. Heber Springs will play host to Southside Batesville tonight at Panther Stadium. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Changes from the original schedule will give the Heber Springs Panthers a rare opportunity beginning Friday night — three consecutive home football games.

The Panthers, who will play only nine games this season after Mountain View declared for 8-Man, look for that extra boost from playing at home and rebound from the season-opening loss at Clinton by hosting Southside Batesville in a nonconference game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Heber Springs will finish its nonconference schedule against Jonesboro Westside on Sept. 16. The 2-4A Conference opener and homecoming game against Cave City will be played on Sept. 23.

“The schedule worked out that way when Mountain View dropped out,” Panther coach Todd Wood said. “The players like playing at home. We had a fantastic crowd at Clinton, but playing at home will give them a boost to play at a higher level.”

Southside, which moved to Class 5A at alignment, is a former long-time conference opponent.

Kenny Simpson, who was the program’s first coach before leaving for Searcy High School two years, has returned to take the reigns of the program. The running game remains the main focus, but the Southerners will utilize the pass.

“Southside added a few wrinkles with RPOs (Run or Pass Options) and play-action passes,” Wood said. “The running game still is the staple. We must stop the run and forced them into doing things that they don’t want to do.”

Isaac Gregory of the Southerners had a breakout game in last week’s 28-0 win at Bald Knob by catching 18 passes for 202 yards and scoring three touchdowns.

“When a defense gears up to stop the run, it can open up the pass,” Wood said. “That always benefits a receiver. It will give us another phase of the game to work on. We have to stop the run, but we must be ready to stop the pass, too.”

Southside’s defense will play a similar scheme, as Bald Knob operates out of a spread offense like the Panthers.

“We expect a 3-man front with two linebackers walking up occasionally to a five-man front,” Wood said. “The safeties will play up close. It’s a defense that is aggressive against the run. Southside executes at a high level and plays with discipline.”

Heber Springs relied on its defense to stay close against Clinton in the 30-14 loss. Linebackers Kenan Sneed had 10 tackles, but he received support from Chris Edwards, who also had 10 tackles. Edwards was a starting cornerback last season.

“We had multiple players who played well on defense,” Wood said. “Two other guys that pleased me with their play were safety Chris Roberts and Zachary Parker at cornerback. Clinton passed to its big receivers multiple times, and he (Parker) made the plays. (Linebacker) Weston Warden also had a fantastic game.”

Four other defensive players also caught the coach’s attention with their performances.

“Jacob McMullin played well at inside linebacker,” Wood said. “Corbin Jones played both ways (offensive and defensive lines) and made a big difference. Luke Elliott came through, and Jordan Tidwell made an impact. I liked see that many players involved with the defense.”

Work on the offense became one of the dominant areas at practice throughout the week. Heber Springs had 225 yards of total offense (121 rushing yards, 104 passing yards).

Wood said few personnel changes are planned, but more emphasis will be on the running game.

“We need more guys to get active with the offense,” Wood said. “We need to put in a receiver like Bauer Pruitt more, who can catch the ball and also is a good blocker. We need Chris Edwards more involved, along with Chandler Webber.”

One of the concerns in the passing game was dropped balls, but Wood expects that will be an improvement against the Southerners.

“We had around nine drops in the Clinton game,” Wood said. “Other passes were not thrown well. We are working to correct that. We need to stop the turnovers and have longer drives than three downs and a punt.”

Wood said the offensive line, which has one returning starter, played admirely, and he expects steady improvement.

“After talking with (offensive line) coach Richard Clevenger, freshman Cade James had the highest grade among the linemen,” Wood said. “We had some breakdowns, but I was pleased with our pass blocking. Our run blocking did well most of the time, except for not sustaining our blocks long enough.”

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Panthers open season with loss at Clinton

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Heber Springs’ Jacob McMullin, top, and Joenah Cordell, bottom, sack Clinton quarterback Jobe Chalk in the first half Friday night in Clinton. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

CLINTON – Missed opportunities forced the Heber Springs Panthers to play catch-up from the start of Friday’s football season opener against longtime rival Clinton at Jim Tumlinson Field.

The Yellowjackets built a 16-0 with 4:08 left in the first half before pulling away during the second half and won their seventh consecutive The Battle of the Little Red Trophy, 30-14.

Heber Springs reduced Clinton’s lead in half on Zach Parker’s fumble recovery at the Yellowjacket 19 late in the second quarter. The Panthers scored four plays later and with a successful 2-point conversion, trailed 16-8 at halftime.

Clinton scored twice during the third quarter, both after Heber Springs’ turnovers. The Panthers’ final touchdown came early during the fourth quarter.

“The first quarter was a battle between our defense and Clinton’s offense,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “It also was our inability of doing a better job of coaching, and that’s on me. I take full responsibility of what happened on offense. We will take care of all of that.”

Wood complemented the defense for hanging in there and keeping the team in the game. The Heber Springs defense, who spent 28 of 48 minutes on the field, gave up 241 yards rushing, but almost half of that came on two long Yellowjacket runs.

“I can’t say enough good things about our defense,” Wood said. “They did some great things on the field. We got the ball multiple stops on fourth down (2-of-5) and created a couple of turnovers. I can’t ask anything more from them. They will continue to grow and get better.”

Sophomore Jacob McMullin of the Panthers was credited with 1 1/2 quarterback sacks. Junior Joenah Cordell had a half sack.

Clinton’s Landon Rose did most of the damage on the ground with 109 yards on six attempts and scored two touchdowns. Brody Emberton ran five times for 70 yards and scored one touchdown. Emberton also caught a 74-yard touchdown pass.

Yellowjacket quarterback Jobe Chalk completed 8-of-12 passes for 96 yards.

Heber Springs gained 225 yards of total offense (121 rushing yards, 104 passing yards).

Heber Springs quarterback Xander Lindley led the Panthers with 51 yards rushing, followed by Parker Brown, who had 44 yards on nine carries and scored one touchdown. Logan Rutledge caught four passes for 46 yards and one touchdown.

Heber Springs converted 4-of-16 third-down situations and no conversions on seven fourth-down plays.

“We need to support our defense and keep the ball longer,” Wood said. “The defense spent too much time on the field. One of the issues of the offense was not maintaining possession in those situations.”

The opening kickoff was delayed 45 minutes because of a lightning delay. Clinton received the kickoff and drove 45 yards to the Heber Springs 24. On fourth-and-2, the Panthers held when Kenan Sneed tackled Spencer Bannister for a 2-yard loss.

The Yellowjackets took the lead with 11:19 left in the first half on a fourth-down play. Out of the Wildcat formation, Brody Emberton ran 12 yards for the game’s first score. Bryston Venable ran for the 2-point conversion and the 8-0 lead.

Clinton later regained possession on another fourth-down stop and began its next scoring drive at the Yellowjacket 25-yard line. Three plays later, Jobe Chalk passed to Emberton, who caught the ball near midfield and completed a 74-yard touchdown play with 4:08 remaining in the first half. Venable ran for a 2-point conversion.

Clinton had another fourth down stop at the Heber Springs 28. However, to plays later, the Panther defense forced Clinton’s first turnover on the next play when Parker’s fumble recovery at the 19 with 1:32 to go until halftime.

Lindley rushed for seven yards on first down and passed eight yards to Dalton Yancey two plays later for a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Logan Rutledge then snagged a touchdown pass from Lindley on the next play with 27 seconds left. Lindley passed to Yancey for the 2-point conversion as Heber Springs trailed 16-8 at halftime.

Momentum shifted back to Clinton on Dawson Maynard’s interception of a Lindley pass at the Yellowjacket 38-yard line and returned it 18 yards. Rose’s 34-yard touchdown run increased Clinton’s advantage to 24-8 with 3:47 left in the third quarter. Rose also ran for the 2-point conversion.

“We had a big momentum drive for the touchdown after the touchdown,” Wood said. “We needed to take the second-half kickoff, drive for a tying score and get back in the game. We didn’t and turned the ball over.”

Clinton put the game away late in the third quarter after a fourth-down stop. Rose broke loose on a 61-yard drive to finish a four-play, 80-yard drive with 19 seconds left in the third quarter. The try for a 2-point conversion was unsuccessful as the Yellowjackets led 30-8 going into the fourth quarter.

Chris Edwards returned a short kickoff 11 yards to give the Panthers good field position at the Clinton 47. Rutledge caught a 26-yard pass from Lindley to put the Panthers, and two plays later, Brown scored on an 18-yard run with 10:43 left in the game. The 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Heber Springs will seek to bounce back against Southside Batesville at Panther Stadium on Friday.

“The loss to Clinton is a tough game to take,” Wood said. “We must move forward and prepare for Southside.”

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Heber Springs heads to Clinton to open ’22 season

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By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special-team play also count affect the outcome.

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

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

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

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

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Panthers to scrimmage at Beebe

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

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panthers begin offseason work

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

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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