Panthers wrap up spring practice, head into summer

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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.

Updated: Panthers fall to Mills, will play in playoffs

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

UPDATED: After reconsideration, Heber Springs coach Todd Wood announced that his Panther football team have opted-in to participate in the 2020 4A state playoffs.

Heber Springs will now travel to northeast Arkansas on Friday to tangle with Trumann at 7 p.m. Friday in a play-in game. Ticket information will be announced by the school district.

The Wildcats are members of the 4A-3 conference and sport a 5-5 mark on the season. Heber Springs and Trumann have one common opponent, Southside Batesville. Trumann defeated the Southerners, 27-0, at home in week 2, while the Panthers defeated the Southerners, 22-17, on the road in week 8.

The winner of the Trumann/Heber Springs contest will play at Malvern (5-5) in the first-round the the playoffs.

During the playoffs, if a team does not play because of COVID, the other team will advance in the bracket with a “no contest”.

ORIGINAL STORY

The Heber Springs Panthers ended the 2020 football season with a 34-24 loss to 2-4A Conference foe Little Rock Mills at Panther Stadium Friday.

Heber Springs, which will opt out of the playoffs, finished the year at 2-8 overall, 1-6 in conference play.

First-year head coach Todd Wood told the team after the game that he was proud of their effort and how much progress that they made from the start of the season to the end.

“You will come to the field Monday and turn in your equipment,” Wood said. “I’m so proud of all of you, whether you started, played on special teams and were on the scout team in practice.  Thank you seniors for all that you did for the team this year. We will get into the weight room and start getting bigger, faster and stronger for the next season.”

The complete game story will be posted by Monday.

Panthers fall to Comets, head to playoffs

Heber Springs’ Jackson West, Preston Roberson and Nathan McKee celebrate after teammate Chris Edwards recovers an onside kick to start the second half. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

The Entrance of a new quarterback helped Little Rock Mills University Studies to turn the tide during the third  quarter against the Heber Springs Panthers at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Freshman Achilles Ringo completed 8-of-10 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown and led the Comets to a 34-24 win against the Panthers in a 2-4A Conference game. Mills earned a No. 5 seed for the Class 4A football playoffs.

Ringo replaced sophomore starter Q.J. King, who completed 4-of-5 passes for 84 yards and rushed for 44 yards on eight attempts during the first half. King moved to receiver during the second half and caught four passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.

“He (Ringo) is Mills’ all-everything quarterback,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “He has a better arm than the other quarterback (King) and was more accurate. We knew when he came into the game, Mills was going to throw the ball more, take advantage of its speed and try and spread the field. That was the difference in the game.”

Wood said Ringo forced the Heber Springs defense to alter its game plan during the second half.

“Mills put us in a situation of defending the entire field and tackling in open spaces,” Wood said. “That made it difficult on us.”

The running game also was another difference in the game. Heber Springs had 25 yards to 185 yards for Mills. The Panthers reached the red zone six times, scoring a touchdown and kicking a field goal.

Keilon Dais rushed for 94 of his 117 yards during the second half for the Comets. Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook was held to 13 yards rushing, including three quarterback sacks. Mills converted 6-of-11 third-down plays, 5-of-7 in the first half. The Panthers were 2-of-10 on third down. Mills held a 374-309 advantage in total offense.

The loss ended Heber Springs’ bid to qualify for the playoffs.  However, the Panthers will participate because of the Arkansas Activities Association allowing all teams into the playoffs because of COVID-19.

Heber Springs (1-6 conference, 2-8 overall) will play a play-in game at Trumann (3-4 3-4A Conference, 5-5 overall) starting at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to play Malvern in the first round.

Heber Springs controlled the first half thanks to quarterback Matthew Cook’s pin-point passing. Cook completed 15-of-21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns during the first half and 23-of-37 for 211 yards with one interception. Nathan McKee completed 2-of-2 passes for 71 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Gus Hannah in the first half.

McKee was the leading receiver with nine catches for 69 yards, followed by Easton Cusick, who caught five passes for 49 yards. Hannah had four receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson West caught four passes for 28 yards and one touchdown.

Heber Springs received the opening kickoff and drove 62 yards on seven plays to take the initial lead. On the second play of the game, Hannah caught a pass from Cook and ran for a 26-yard gain and a first down at the Mills 20-yard line. Cook rushed for 16 yards for a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.

The Panthers netted a minus four yards on the next three plays, but they decided to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line.

Cook passed to West for the touchdown with 9:51 left in the first quarter. Heber Springs failed on a 2-point conversion and led, 6-0.

Heber Springs scored again before the end of the quarter. After holding on downs at the Mills 29-yard line, the Panthers increased their lead when McKee passed to Hannah with 1:17 remaining. Diego Rubio ran for a 2-point conversion and the 14-0 lead.

Mills reduced the Heber Springs lead in half on a five-play,  52-yard drive. King connected with freshman Kylon Deadman on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 9:48 left in the first half. The Comets’ 2-point conversion attempt failed.

Heber Springs responded with a four-play, 40-yard drive. Cook passed 37 yards to Hannah for the score with 8:12 left in the first half. Hannah kicked the extra point for the 21-6 lead.

Mills scored before halftime on Keilon Davis’ 2-yard run with 4:12 remaining. The 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful as the Panthers led 21-12 at halftime.

“It felt good going into halftime leading by nine points,” Wood said. “We were scoreboard watching because we needed Clinton to lose and win by eight points against Mills. We led by 12 points later and felt good about everything. Unfortunately, we stalled on a couple of drives and then came the turnovers.”

Heber Springs increased its lead to 24-12 on Hannah’s 22-yard field goal with 7:26 left in the third quarter.

A shift of momentum began on the next series when Mills needed eight plays during a 60-yard drive. Ringo finished by scoring on a 3-yard run with 4:27 left in the third quarter. The Comets’ 2-point conversion failed as the Panthers’ lead was reduced to 24-18.

Mills took the lead with 1:14 to go in the third quarter. Davis broke free at the line of scrimmage and scored on a 64-yard run. He also ran for the 2-point conversion, giving Mills a 26-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Comets scored an insurance touchdown with 11:26 left in the game when Ringo passed 33 yards to King. Davis ran for a 2-point conversion.

“The players showed a lot of fight, like that they did in previous games,” Wood said. “Since Aug. 3, I watched the players improve every day in practice and in games. That is a tribute to the players. I could not ask any more from them.”

GAME STATS

SCORING   
Little Rock Mills (3-4, 4-6)   0 12 14  8 - 34
Heber Springs (1-6, 2-8)      14  7  3  0 - 24 
FIRST QUARTER   
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Jackson West 8-yard pass (run failed), 9:51
Heber Springs, Nathan McKee to Gus Hannah 29-yard pass (Diego Rubio run), 1:17
SECOND QUARTER
Mills, Q.J. King to Kylan Deadmon 49-yard pass (run failed), 9:47
Heber Springs, Cook to Hannah 37-yard pass (Hannah kick), 8:12
Mills, Keilon Davis 2-yard (run failed), 4:12
THIRD QUARTER   
Heber Springs, Hannah 22-yard kick, 7:26
Mills, Achilles Ringo 3-yard pass (pass failed), 4:27
Mills, Davis 64-yard run (Davis run), 1:14
FOURTH QUARTER 
Mills, Ringo to King 33-yard pass (Davis run), 11:36

TEAM STATS   
First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 3, Mills 5
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 7, Mills 8
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 3, Mills 0
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 13, Mills 13
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/10, Mills 6/11
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 2/6, Mills 2/4
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 7/3, Mills 3/2
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 23:26, Mills 24:34
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 3/2, Mills 5/3
Turnovers: Heber Springs 3, Mills 3     
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Mills 8
Penalties: Heber Springs 8/59, Mills 14/119
Rushing: Heber Springs 15/25/1.7, Mills 37/185/5
Passing: Heber Springs 25/39-283-3/1, Mills 12/16-189-2/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 54/308/5.7, Mills 53/374/7.1
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Mills 3/24
Punts: Heber Springs 1/36, Mills 0
Inside 20: Heber Springs 1

INDIVIDUAL STATS   
OFFENSE     
RUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 10/18, Diego Rubio 4/11, Nathan McKee 1/(-4). Mills, Keilon Davis 18/117/2, Q.J. King 9/62, Achilles Ringo 3/(-2), Nikolas Watson 2/12, Team 2/(-4), Carlos Deadmon 1/(-2).
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 23/37-211-2/1, Nathan McKee 2/2-71-1/0. Mills, Achilles Ringo 8/10-105-1/0, Q.J. King 4/6-84-1/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 9/69, Easton Cusick 5/49, Gus Hannah 4/120/2, Jackson West 4/28/1, Diego Rubio 2/9, Austin Winchester 1/7. Mills, Keilon Davis 6/66, Q.J. King 4/58/1, Kylan Deadmon 1/49/1, Jalon Davis 1/16.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 229, Nathan McKee 77, Diego Rubio 11. Mills, Q.J. King 142, Keilon Davis 117, Achilles Ringo 103, Nikolas Watson 12.
PUNT RETURNS: Clinton, none
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Jackson West 2/3, Nathan McKee 1/23, Diego Rubio 1/6. Mills, none.
FUMBLE RETURNS: Mills, Wesley Guy 1/8
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Mills, Dylan Parks 1/15
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Gus Hannah 120, Nathan McKee 88, Easton Cusick 49, Jackson West 31, Diego Rubio 26, Matthew Cook 18, Austin Winchester 7. Mills, Keilon Davis 183, Q.J. King 120, Kylan Deadmon 49, Jalon Davis 16, Dylan Parks 15, Nikolas Watson 12, Wesley Guy 8, Achilles Ringo (-2), 
SCORING: Heber Springs, Gus Hannah 16 (1/1 XP/XPA, 1/1 FGA. Made: 22-yards), Jackson West 6, Diego Rubio 2. Mills, Keilon Davis 16, Kylan Deadmon 6, Achilles Ringo 6, Q.J. King 6.
DEFENSE    
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook  1/36/36/1/0.
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Mills, Wesley Guy 1/11, Hunter Lowery 1/8, Nikolas Watson 1/4.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Kenan Sneed, Diego Rubio (onside kick), Chris Edwards (onside kick). Mills, Wesley Guy.
INTERCEPTIONS: Mills, Carlos Deadmon

Panther GameDay: Comets soar into Heber Springs

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs, like other Arkansas high schools, didn’t know in August if Friday night football would happen in 2020.

COVID-19 changed the game, but teams received the go–ahead in early September to start the season.

The Panthers accomplished a goal of completing the regular season by hosting Little Rock Mills in a 2-4A Conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Heber Springs (1-5 conference, 2-7 overall) will seek to rebound from last week’s 32-26 loss at Clinton. Mills (2-4 conference, 3-6 overall) is coming off a 14-6 win against Southside Batesville at home.

“We were looking in the beginning to get three nonconference games in,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “After that, we wanted to make it through the conference season. We are ready to finish the conference season.”

Under normal circumstances, Heber Springs would be fighting for a playoff berth. The Arkansas Activities Association is allowing all teams an option of playing in the postseason because of games statewide being canceled during the season because of COVID-19.

Wood said the plan is to participate in the new postseason format with a win against the Comets. He said if the Panthers lose, the decision to continue playing would be re-evaluated

Schools will have until 8 a.m. Saturday to notify the AAA if they want to opt out of the playoffs. The AAA is expected to announce the complete postseason field by late Saturday.

“It was a tough situation this week for the players, but they understand they need to come back and play well,” Wood said.  “Our focus has been to fix our mistakes from the Clinton game and prepare for Mills. It’s probably the final home game for the seniors. They want to leave something good for their teammates and can do that by playing well against Mills.”

The Panthers can earn a No. 5 seed with a win and if Clinton loses at Lonoke and Southside defeats Bald Knob. If that occurs, it would come down to the point system.

Wood explained to his players not to worry about any playoff game, just focus on defeating Mills.

“Mills will be big and physical with a fast quarterback and speedy running backs,” he said. “We need to get every guy to the ball and make tackles. Mills wants to run the ball first, but they will pass. We are preparing to stop the running game.”
Heber Springs and the Comets have wins against a common opponent — Southside. Mills’ other conference win was against Clinton.

Wood said consistency on offense will be one of the keys for a victory. Nathan McKee, the Panthers’ leading receiver on the season, left with an ankle injury during the third quarter of the Clinton game. Wood said McKee returned to practice Wednesday and expected to play on Friday. McKee has caught 42 catches for 546 yards and three touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Matthew Cook will be one of the players to watch. Cook has completed 107-of-194 passes for 1,265 yards and nine touchdowns. He also is a threat in the running game with 415 yards on 105 carries and scored four touchdowns.

Senior Diego Rubio has rushed for 383 yards on 81 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.

“We hope Nathan will be ready to go on Friday,” Wood said. “It is important that we execute well in all areas on offense. We need to get into a good rhythm and do a good job of holding onto the ball.”

Wood said it’s important for the running game to become more productive against Mills, which plays a four-man front.

“Our running game will be important,” Wood said. “Mills will play a four-man front and the players are strong. We need to execute the little things better and put them in bad situations. We plan to spread out Mills’ defense and take advantage of its weaknesses.

“We want to end the regular season with a win.”

2A-4 CONFERENCE STANDINGS

                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   6 0 78  8 0 323  47 
Central Arkansas Christian  5 1 51  8 1 266 194
Lonoke                      4 2 44  6 3 310 252
Bald Knob                   3 3 32  5 4 226 186  
Little Rock Mills           2 4 19  3 6 178 237  
Clinton                     2 4 12  2 7 197 356 
Heber Springs               1 5  5  2 7 176 304
Southside Batesville        1 5 13  2 7 157 255   
 
 
Friday, October 30
Clinton 32, Heber Springs 26
Bald Knob 35, Central Arkansas Christian 14
Little Rock Mills 14, Southside Batesville 6
Stuttgart 53, Lonoke 14

Friday, November 6
Little Rock Mills at Heber Springs
Clinton at Lonoke
Stuttgart at Central Arkansas Christian
Bald Knob at Southside Batesville
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium
  • Admission: $5
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan will handle the play-by-play while Lance Hamilton with handle the color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:45 p.m. followed by the game.  Listen Live Link

GAME NOTES

THE SERIES: Heber Springs leads the series 2-0.

SERIES HISTORY: Though this is the third time the Panthers have faced Little Rock Mills, Heber Springs did play the two of the schools that consolidated to form Mills University Studies. The Panthers went 0-4 from 1955 through 1959 against Little Rock Fuller, and 0-3-1 against Mabelvale from 1955 through 1958. Heber Springs won last season, 28-14 at Mills, and 47-6 in 2018 at Panther Stadium.

CONFERENCE SEEDING: Stuttgart has clinched at least the No. 2 seed, a win gives the Ricebirds the No. 2 seed. CAC gets the No. 1 seed with a win and the No. 2 seed with a loss. Lonoke and Bald Knob have clinched the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds regardless of tonight’s outcomes. The No. 5 seed goes to Mills with a win tonight in Panther Stadium otherwise the No. 5 seed will go to conference points with either Clinton, Mills or Heber Springs getting the fifth seed. Heber Springs would get the No. 5 seed with a win by at least 8 points and a Clinton loss. Clinton would get the No. 5 seed with a win and a Mills loss. Mills could still get the No. 5 seed with a loss if Clinton losses to Lonoke and the Panthers win by 7 or less. The sixth- through eighth-seeded teams can opt-in into the playoffs (because of Covid) this season, but have to declare their intentions tomorrow to the Arkansas Activities Association.

Heber Springs comes up short against Clinton

Heber Springs’ Easton Cusick celebrates a second-quarter touchdown with teammate Conner Riddle. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

CLINTON — Time ran out on the Heber Springs Panthers to win their first Battle of the Little Red trophy at Jim Tumlison Field  Friday.

Quarterback Matthew Cook’s pass for Diego Rubio was batted away by Clinton defenders Spencer Banister and Harley Tobin at the goal-line as the Panthers lost to the Yellowjackets 32-26 in a 2-4A Conference football game.

Clinton’s Nick Epley scored the winning touchdown on a 52-yard run with 50 seconds left in the game.

Cook started Heber Springs’ final drive with a 14-yard completion to Easton Cusick for a first down at the Clinton 47-yard line., Parker Brown, who was playing his first high school game, caught a 16-yard pass, advancing the ball to the 31. A five-yard penalty against Clinton set up the game’s final play.

Heber Springs’ Matthew Cook. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

“We were able to move down the field on the drive with different guys at receiver,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We had a shot on the final play and that is all you can ask of your team. I told Matthew before the play to throw into the end zone.”

Brown was referring to Nathan McKee, the leading receiver for the Panthers, who was injured during the third quarter and unable to return.

Clinton forced a punt and drove 71 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:33 left in the game. Nick Epley caught a 13-yard pass from Harley Tobin for a first down at the Yellowjacket 45-yard line. Tobin kept the ball for three years before and threw an incomplete pass before Epley’s touchdown run on third-and-seven.

“We knew they could pass or run well,” Wood said. “Clinton has a good quarterback who can run or pass and a lot of speed in the backfield. It was a great call by them with less than a minute left. We were anticipating a pass. You have to make the tackle in that situation and we didn’t do it on that play.”

The teams played nose-to-nose during the first half with Clinton gaining one more yard (163-162) than Heber Springs. The Panthers rushed for 88 yards and passed for 74, while the Yellowjackets had 92 yards rushing and 71 passing.

For the game, Clinton outgained the Panthers 425-354 yards in total offense and held a 23-18 advantage in first downs. Heber Springs rushed for 201 yards and passed for 153. The Yellowjackets had 277 yards on the ground and 148 passing.

Heber Springs’ Diego Rubio looks to get past Clinton’s Cody Davis. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

Heber Springs converted 1-of-10 opportunities on third down and 4-of-6 on fourth down. Clinton was 6-of-10 on third down and 1-of-2 on fourth down.

Cook completed 15-of-32 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown, and rushed 17 times for 167 yards and one touchdown. He accounted for 320 all-purpose yards. Rubio had 28 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns. McKee caught eight passes for 91 yards. Cusick had three catches for 39 yards and one touchdown. Parker Brown caught two passes for 18 yards.

Tobin completed 8-of-15 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown for Clinton. Epley rushed 18 times for 149 yards and one touchdown.

Clinton received the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards on seven plays for the early lead. Jacob Hutto capped the drive by scoring on a 5-yard run with 9:06 in the first quarter. Aldrick Infante kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Heber Springs tied the game on a 10-play, 57-yard drive in the second quarter. Cook’s 30-yard carry put the Panthers in scoring position at the Clinton 15-yard line.

The Panthers needed a fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive. McKee caught a 7-yard pass from Cook for a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Rubio dove into the end zone from one yard out with 8:43 left in the first half. Gus Hannah kicked the extra point for the 7-7 tie.

Clinton regained the advantage on its next possession when Infante kicked a 32-yard field goal with 4:07 to go for a 10-7 lead.

But the Panthers didn’t wait long to respond. Heber Springs drove 62 yards on 10 plays, with Cook connecting on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Cusick. Hannah kicked the extra point for the 14-10 lead with 38 seconds remaining until halftime.

Clinton pulled to within one point on Infante’s 40-yard field game with two seconds left as Heber Springs led 14-13 at halftime.

Heber Springs started the second half at its 48 thanks to McKee’s kickoff return. Cook passed twice to McKee for a first-and-goal at the 4. Two plays later, Rubio scored from the 1, increasing the lead to 20-13. The 2-point conversion was no good.

Clinton pulled to within one point before the end of the third quarter. Tobin capped a six-play, 35-yard drive by scoring on a 1-yard sneak. The Panthers kept their 20-19 lead on Clinton’s bad snap on the try for the extra point.

Heber Springs increased its lead when Thad Bray recovered a Clinton fumble at the Panther 10-yard line. The Yellowjackets held on the next three plays as the Panthers faced a fourth-and-eight at the 12.

A fourth-down conversion helped Heber Springs to increase its lead. The Panthers elected to go for the first down. Cook took the snap, went to his left and broke to the outside. He outran the Yellowjacket defense and scored on an 88-yard run with 7:16 left in the game. After a failed 2-point play, the Panthers led, 26-19.

“We had two choices,” Wood said. “We could keep moving the ball down the field or give it back Clinton on a short field where it probably would score quickly. It was not a tough decision.”

Clinton tied the game when Brody Emberton caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tobin with 3:48 left. Infante kicked the extra point to tie the game at 26-26.

Epley scored the winning touchdown with 50 seconds left, and Clinton held the Panthers out of the end zone on the game’s final series.

Heber Springs (1-5 conference, 2-7 overall) will host Little Rock Mills in the final regular season game on Friday.

“Mills will be big and physical,” Wood said. “The game will show how much character that we have. We have to come back with our heads high and finish the regular season strong.” 

Heber Springs’ Gus Hannah gets the PAT kick off despite the attempt by Clinton’s Nick Epley (3) to block the kick. Matthew Cook (33) was the holder on the attempt. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

GAME STATS

SCORING   
Heber Springs (1-5, 2-7)   0 14  6  6 - 26
Clinton (2-4, 2-7)         7  6  6 13 - 32
FIRST QUARTER   
Clinton, Jacob Hutto 5-yard run (Aldrick Infante kick), 9:06
SECOND QUARTER
Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 1-yard run (Gus Hannah kick), 8:43
Clinton, Infante 32-yard field goal, 4:07
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Easton Cusick 20-yard pass (Hannah kick), :38
Clinton, Infante 40-yard field goal, :02
THIRD QUARTER   
Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 1-yard run (pass failed), 10:24
Clinton, Harley Tobin 1-yard run (run failed), :02
FOURTH QUARTER 
Heber Springs, Cook 88-yard run (run failed), 5:30
Clinton, Tobin to Brody Emberton 21-yard pass (Infante kick), 3:48
Clinton, Nick Epley 52-yard run (kick failed), :50

TEAM STATS   
First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 8, Clinton 14
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 8, Clinton 8
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 2, Clinton 1
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 18, Clinton 23
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/10, Clinton 6/10
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 4/6, Clinton 1/2
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 5/3, Southside 1/0
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 22:02, Clinton 25:58
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 2/1, Clinton 2/2
Turnovers: Heber Springs 1, Clinton 2     
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 6, Clinton 0
Penalties: Heber Springs 4/40, Clinton 4/41
Rushing: Heber Springs 27/201/7.4, Clinton 47/277/5.9
Passing: Heber Springs 15/32-153-1/0, Clinton 8/15-148-1/0
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 59/354/6, Clinton 62/425/6.9 
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Clinton 2/11
Punts: Heber Springs 2/60, Clinton 1/34
Inside 20: None

INDIVIDUAL STATS   
OFFENSE     
RUSHING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 17/167/1, Diego Rubio 9/28/2, Nathan McKee 1/6. Clinton, Nick Epley 18/149/1, Jacob Hutto 15/64/1, Brody Emberton 4/33, Harley Tobin 10/29/1, Cody Davis 1/2.
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 15/32-153-1/0. Clinton, Harley Tobin 8/15-148-1/0.
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 8/91, Easton Cusick 3/39, Parker Brown 2/18, Jackson West 1/3, Diego Rubio 1/2. Clinton, Brody Emberton 3/65/1, Nick Epley 3/43, Jasper Burgess 1/28, Blaine Emberton 1/12.
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 320, Diego Rubio 28, Nathan McKee 6. Clinton, Harley Tobin 182, Nick Epley 149, Jacob Hutto 64, Brody Emberton 33, Cody Davis 2.
PUNT RETURNS: Clinton, Jacob Hutto 1/4
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 2/33, Nathan McKee 1/38, Parker Brown 1/4, Gus Hannah 1/0, Austin Winchester 1/0. Clinton, Cody Davis 2/31, Nick Epley 2/21, Brody Emberton 1/11.
FUMBLE RETURNS: None
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: None
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 167, Nathan McKee 135, Diego Rubio 53, Easton Cusick 39, Parker Brown 22, Jackson West 3. Clinton, Nick Epley 213, Brody Emberton 109, Jacob Hutto 68, Cody Davis 33, Jasper Burgess 28, Blaine Emberton 12.
SCORING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 12, Matthew Cook 6, Easton Cusick 6, Gus Hannah 2 (2/2 XPA). Clinton, Aldrick Infante 8 (2/3 XPA, 2/2 FGA. Made: 32, 40), Nick Epley 6, Jacob Hutto 6, Harley Tobin 6, Brody Emberton 6.
DEFENSE    
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook  2/60/30/0/0. Clinton, Aldrick Infante 1/34/34/0/0
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Clinton, Jasper Burgess 1/8, Josh Witt 1/6
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Heber Springs, Isaac King, Thad Bray. Clinton, Ashton Hoyle.
INTERCEPTIONS: None

Panther GameDay: Battle for the Little Red

Tripp Keeter gets a little help waving the “HS” flag from a strong breeze at Southside Batesville last week. Keeter, a spring graduate of Heber Springs High School, has been traveling to all of the games this season (home and away) to make sure the flag waves proudly for the team. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs and Clinton will play for more than the Battle of the Little Red trophy at Jim Tumlison Field in Clinton on Friday night.

The winner will move up one notch on the Class 4A playoff seeding ladder and remain alive for the No. 4 seed and a bye from the first weekend of postseason play. Remaining teams will start the playoffs in play-in games on either Nov. 12 or Nov. 13.

Heber Springs seeks its first win in the fifth annual Battle of the Little Red. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m.

The Panthers (1-4 2-4A Conference, 2-6 overall) are coming off a 22-17 win at Southside Batesville. Clinton (1-4 conference, 1-7 overall) defeated Bald Knob, also on the road, 21-15.

“The players are aware of the atmosphere surrounding the game,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “They know what must be done and returned to practice this week with more energy after playing a complete game for the first time this season.”

Wood said the Panthers learned from their second-half performance against Bald Knob two weeks ago and took a step forward.

Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook gets a hug from assistant coach Hunter Davis after the Panthers win last week at Southside Batesville. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

“We realized what was not done in the past and played four good quarters against Southside,” he said. “We pulled close during the second half of previous games, but we never could get over the hump. We put ourselves in position to win the game against Southside during the fourth quarter.”

Clinton head coach Chris Dufrene said preparation is no different than previous games with the Panthers, except the game is now a conference game.

“We would want to win whether it was the first game of the season or the ninth week,” Dufrene said. “It means more this year because it is a conference game and will affect playoff seeding.”

But Dufrene said winning the trophy again is important.

“The trophy adds more pressure,” he said. “The game has been a good thing with all of the community involvement. It helps a lot of families in need who live in both communities.”

Clinton continues with its Wing-T offense, led by sophomore quarterback Harley Tobin. Junior Nick Epley, senior Brody Emberton, and juniors Jacob Hutto and Cody Davis are the primary threats in the running game.

The Yellowjackets have put the ball in the air more this season. Seniors Blaine Emberton and Jasper Burgess have been his primary targets.

“We like to spread the ball around more with the passing game,” Dufrene said. “Harley has played great at times and other times like a sophomore. He had a good game against Bald Knob with three touchdown passes.”

Clinton’s defense played well against Bald Knob and had three interceptions. Epley’s interception with two minutes left stopped a potential scoring drive by the Bulldogs.

Wood said Clinton will carry momentum from its win at Bald Knob into Friday’s game.

“The win gave them a big boost,” he said. “Clinton did what it needed to do and won. They ran the ball well and then spread the field with the passing game. The quarterback is versatile, makes good decisions and can run and pass. They also have two good running backs with breakaway speed.”

Heber Springs’ offense went through growing pains earlier this season, but it picked up the pace against Southside.

Senior Matthew Cook, who made the transition from receiver to quarterback, has completed 92-of-162 passes for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Nathan McKee leads the Panthers in receiving with 34 catches for 455 yards and three touchdowns. Two sophomores have emerged as targets in the passing game. Isaac King has caught 17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Easton Cusick has 16 receptions for 210 yards.

Senior Diego Rubio is the leading rusher with 355 yards on 72 attempts and scored six touchdowns.

Wood said play improved drastically on the offensive and defensive lines and one of the determining factors in last week’s win

“We have to take care of the line of scrimmage again and win that battle,” Wood said. “Jayden Bremmon, Thad Bray, Lucas Langster, Trevor Weathers and Chris Smith played well. It helped by moving Preston Roberson back to linebacker, where he is better suited to play. I was pleased with the play of our (offensive and defensive) linemen.”

2-4A STANDINGS

                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   5 0 65  7 0 270  33 
Central Arkansas Christian  5 0 51  8 0 272 159
Lonoke                      4 1 44  6 2 296 199
Bald Knob                   2 3 19  4 4 194 172  
Southside Batesville        1 4 13  2 6 151 241   
Little Rock Mills           1 4 11  2 6 164 231  
Clinton                     1 4  6  1 7 165 330 
Heber Springs               1 4  5  2 6 150 272
 
Friday, October 23
Heber Springs 22, Southside Batesville 17
Central Arkansas Christian 49, Lonoke 34
Clinton 21, Bald Knob 15
Stuttgart 28, Little Rock Mills 0

Friday, October 30
Heber Springs at Clinton
Central Arkansas Christian at Bald Knob
Southside Batesville at Little Rock Mills
Lonoke at Stuttgart
  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. in Clinton
  • Admission: $5
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. Listen live link here.
  • Honorary Captains: For Heber Springs, long-time journalist and Heber Springs graduate Larry “Scoop” McCarty. For Clinton, former player James Washington.

THE SERIES

HEBER SPRINGS VS. CLINTON
“Battle of the Little Red”
Clinton leads the series 40-38-5.
Games played in Heber Springs: Clinton leads, 20-19-1
Games played in Clinton: Clinton leads 20-18-4
Games played on a Neutral Field: Heber Springs leads, 1-0.

FIRST MEETING: Heber Springs’ first season of football was 1913 and it would be 26 years before Clinton fielded its first team. It didn’t take long for the two teams to meet after that with Heber Springs winning the first game played between the two schools on October 13, 1939, in Heber Springs. The Panthers won by a score of 31-0 on that day. The two teams met again less than a month later on Veteran’s Day (November 11) 1939 in Clinton where the Panthers and Yellowjackets played to a 6-6 tie. The teams would go on to play continuously after that with a couple of exceptions. During World War II, neither school fielded a team during the 1943 season while Clinton did not field one during the 1944 season. After the war, Clinton and Heber Springs would meet twice per season in 1945 and 1946 with the Yellowjackets winning all four meetings. Financial constraints in the Heber Springs School District forced the school to not field a football team for the 1947 and 1948 seasons. The two teams meet again during the 1949 season with Clinton winning both games of the home-and-home series. The teams would go on continuously playing until 2007 when the opener scheduled with Clinton — which was played during the 2006 season at the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic at Estes Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway — was changed to allow the Panthers to play Mayflower instead of Clinton in the same Kickoff Classic in 2007. The series resumed in 2008 and continues today.
LONGEST WINNING STREAKS: Clinton has won six straight in the series twice. Once from 1945-1949 and the second time from 2000-2005. Heber Springs won seven straight in the series from 1978-1984.
CONFERENCE FOES: Heber Springs and Clinton were first paired in the same conference in 1974. They would be paired in the same conference from 1974-1990. They would again be paired in the same conference from 1993-2001 and from 2008-2013. The two teams are back in the same conference after Clinton moved up from 3A and replaced Riverview in the conference.
OVERTIME GAMES: There have only been three overtime games in the series and those all occurred during a four-year span from 1986-1989. Clinton won a double overtime home contest in 1986 (20-14) while the Panthers won in overtime the following season in 1987, 19-12, in Heber Springs. In 1989, Clinton defeated Heber Springs, 13-12, at Panther Stadium.
CLOSE GAMES: Twenty-four of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less during the series, not including the five ties.
COACH’S WIFE: Clinton head coach Chris Dufrene’s wife Heather (Bivins) is a 1987 graduate of Heber Springs High School.
TROPHY GAMES: Heber Springs won the trophy for the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic between the two schools in 2006, but since the inception of the “Battle of the Little Red” trophy, Clinton has won all four meetings, 28-20 in 2016 in Clinton, 28-17 in 2017 in Heber Springs, 36-34 in 2018 in Clinton, and 28-27 last season in Heber Springs . Heber Springs will be looking to break a four-game losing streak to Clinton.

Panthers claim conference win at Southside

Heber Springs’ Nathan McKee looks to get past a Southside Batesville’s Jamie Riggs Friday night. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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.

Heber Springs’ Jackson West picks up a few yards. Also picture, Heber Springs (55) Jayden Bremmon and Southside Batesville (47) Ricky Vickers. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

“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.

Heber Springs’ Matthew Cook and coach Todd Wood share an embrace after the win on Friday. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

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’ Preston Roberson assists on tackle Friday night. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

GAME STATS

SCORING   
Heber Springs (1-4, 2-6)         0  8  8  6 - 22
Southside Batesville (1-4, 2-6)  7  7  3  0 - 17
FIRST QUARTER   
Southside Batesville, Brendan Frazier 81-yard run (Skyler Anorve kick), 4:39
SECOND QUARTER
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
THIRD QUARTER   
Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 1-yard run (Cook to Jackson West pass), 8:39
Southside Batesville, Anorve 33-yard field goal, 4:22
FOURTH QUARTER 
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   
OFFENSE     
RUSHING: 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).
DEFENSE    
PUNTS/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

Panther GameDay: Heber Springs heads to Southside Batesville

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs’ approach against 2-4A Conference foe Southside Batesville will not change from the previous its two games.

The Panthers (0-4 conference, 1-6 overall) will focus on winning the battle at the line of scrimmage against  Southside (1-3 conference, 2-5 overall).

Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday at Stewart Field in Southside.

Heber Springs is coming off a 35-15 loss to Bald Knob, while the Southerners lost 21-14 at Central Arkansas Christian.

“We must win the battle up front,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “That will be the biggest key. We need to play well, particularly on the defensive line. The team who can maintain control of the line of scrimmage will win.”

The Panthers hope for a quick start against Southside.

Heber Springs had its best drive following the opening kickoff last week against Bald Knob. The Panthers drove 52 yards on 10 plays and took a 7-0 lead. Turnovers and field position shifted the momentum in the second half. Heber Springs has 24 turnovers in seven games.

Bald Knob had scoring drives of 39 and 20 yards following Panther turnovers and returned an onside kickoff for three of its five touchdowns.
Southside features a one-two running punch in quarterback Duncan Pierce and Brycen Sutton.

Sutton rushed for 121 yards on 23 attempts and scored one touchdown against CAC. Pierce ran for 84 yards on six carries and had one touchdown.
Wood said his team could benefit from playing the third consecutive team with a similar offensive philosophy — running the ball.

“We knew what areas that we needed work,” he said. “Southside will take advantages of your mistakes. It’s a tough offense to prepare for.”

Heber Springs’ offense gained new life when Wood inserted senior Matthew Cook, a starting wide receiver for most of his career, at quarterback in the third game of the season.

Cook has completed 83-of-150 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Nathan McKee leads the Panthers in receiving with 31 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Two sophomores have emerged as targets in the passing game. Isaac King has caught 17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Easton Cusick has 14 receptions for 160 yards.

Senior Diego Rubio is the leading rusher with 329 yards on 59 attempts and scored four touchdowns.

Wood expects the offense to perform at a higher level against the Southerners.

“Matthew (13-of-27 passing for 91 yards with four interceptions) had a tough game against Bald Knob,” he said. “We tried to take the pressure off during practice in preparing for this game. Matthew tried too hard to make things happen. (Junior) Jackson West and (senior) Gus Hannah keep improving at receiver. All we need to do is do what we have been doing, but do it better.”

Southside plays a 3-4 defense with linebacking the strength of the unit. Wood said it’s a scheme that the team has faced in most of its games this season.

“Southside has two good linebackers,” Wood said. “They can stop the run and also cover the pass. All we need to do is improve from what we did last week.”

The defense continues to improve, even though statistics may not reveal that. Heber Springs is allowing 301 yards of offense per game — 146 rushing and 155 passing.

“Preston Roberson became a force after switching from linebacker to the defensive line,” Wood said. “He does a good job of containing runners, has good instincts and makes plays. Jayden Bremmon has been playing well at nose guard and Diego Rubio at linebacker. Kenan Sneed has played steady at linebacker. Gus Hannah moved to cornerback and made several plays against Bald Knob.”

Wood expects continued improvement from the defense.

“We were a little tired in the second half against Bald Knob,” he said. “The defense continues to improve every game. We need to do a better job in sudden-change situations when momentum shifts. We got to make more defensive stops.”

Heber Springs will be without the services of senior center Zach Thomas, who was injured last week against Bald Knob.

2-4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS

                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   4 0 52  6 0 242  33 
Lonoke                      4 0 44  6 1 262 150
Central Arkansas Christian  4 0 38  7 0 223 125
Bald Knob                   2 2 19  4 3 179 151  
Southside Batesville        1 3 13  2 5 134 219   
Little Rock Mills           1 3 11  2 5 164 203  
Heber Springs               0 4  0  1 6 128 255
Clinton                     0 4  0  0 7 144 315 
 
Friday, October 16
Bald Knob 35, Heber Springs 15
Central Arkansas Christian 21, Southside Batesville 14
Lonoke 29, Little Rock Mills 18
Stuttgart 35, Clinton 7

Friday, October 23
Heber Springs at Southside Batesville
Lonoke at Central Arkansas Christian
Clinton at Bald Knob
Little Rock Mills at Stuttgart

NOTES

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Southside Batesville
  • Admission: $5
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. 

THE SERIES: Heber Springs lead 12-2

SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 15th time these two teams have meet on the football field since Southside Batesville started its football program in 2006. Heber Springs won the first 10 meetings in the series before the Southerners claimed a 24-20 victory at home in 2016 before the Panthers would win the next two. Southside Batesville won last season, 48-20, for the its only victory at Panther Stadium in the series.

Fast start, slow finish for Panthers

The 2020 Heber Springs High School Homecoming Queen Hope Evans with her escorts, her father, Ben Evans; crown attendant Lexi Euton and ball attendant Reid Logan. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

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.”

The 2020 Heber Springs Homecoming Court. Queen Hope Evans with attendants Lexi Euton and Reid Logan. Senior maids, Sydney Buffalo and Jenna Gillespie. Junior maids, Vallie Cantrell and Hope Gilchrist. Sophomore maids, Jaylea Hooten and Lily Hendrix. Freshman maids, Cherlyn Acosta and Miah Tharp.

GAME STATS

SCORING   
Bald Knob (4-3, 2-2)      0  0  20  15 - 35
Heber Springs (1-6, 0-4)  7  0   0   8 - 15
FIRST QUARTER   
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 2-yard run (Gus Hannah kick), 8:57
THIRD QUARTER   
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
FOURTH QUARTER 
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   
OFFENSE     
RUSHING: 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).
DEFENSE    
PUNTS/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

Panther Gameday: Heber Springs hosts Bald Knob for homecoming date

Heber Springs’ Matthew Cook fights for yards against CAC last week in North Little Rock. Also pictured, Zach Moore (4) and Parker Noyes (65). PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs will look to put all of the pieces together for an entire game as the Panthers will host Bald Knob for homecoming in a 2-4A Conference football game at 7 p.m. Friday.

Homecoming festivities are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., with the crowning of queen Hope Evans.

After losses to the three teams tied for the conference lead, Heber Springs (0-3 conference, 1-5 overall) will meet Bald Knob (1-2 conference, 4-3 overall), which will try and bounce back from last week’s 45-8 loss at Stuttgart.

The Panthers trailed fourth place Southside Batesville, Little Rock Mills and the Bulldogs by one game in the conference standings.

“The players were disappointed with the loss to Central Arkansas Christian (35-14),” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We trailed by seven points with eight minutes left in the game. After the game, I challenged the players to play at a higher level against Bald Knob.”

Wood said the players had three of their best practices all season during the week and believes it will carry over to Friday’s game.

“We had a better attitude and showed more spirit during practices,” he said. “I was pleased with the effort. I hope that effort will continue.”

Bald Knob features a run-oriented attack. Wood said one of the keys to success for the Heber Springs defense is to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

“Bald Knob is a spread team that likes to run the ball,” Wood said. “We must make sure we have enough guys in the area to contain the run and force them to pass. The quarterback makes good decisions, and the running back is talented. The offensive line is big and strong.”

The Bulldogs play a 3-4 scheme on defense with the team’s strength at linebacker.

“Bald Knob’s defense is versatile,” Wood said. “The two outside linebackers will put pressure on the quarterback. They also react well in stopping the run. The defensive line is big and plays physical.”

Diego Rubio became the first Panther to rush for 100 yards in a game this season against CAC. Rubio had 143 yards on 10 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The passing game was effective as quarterback Matthew Cook completed 19-of-29 passes for 149 yards. Nathan McKee led the receivers with eight catches for 65 yards.

“We keep building every week,” Wood said. “We are adding new plays and building on having more success. Cook stepped in and played well at quarterback and took charge of the offense. Diego is a hard runner and was able to get loose a few times last week.”

Wood said the defense also keeps improving, and he expects a good performance against Bald Knob.

“We know our roles better,” he said when asked about the defense’s improvement. “The key against Bald Knob, like last week, is winning the line of scrimmage.”

Wood said Preston Roberson and Thad Bray have played well on the defensive line, and a new player emerged against CAC.

“Roberson has played steady at end,” Wood said. “Bray plays aggressive and gets into the backfield. Jayden Bremmon had one of his best game against CAC. Bremmon showed the ability to move well and uses his hands to gain leverage.”

Wood also likes the play of the linebackers.

“(Kenan) Sneed has the ability to get to the ball. Jackson West has played well, along with Diego at the inside linebackers. Our secondary is improving.”

Wood hopes homecoming will give the team an emotional boost.

“Homecoming always is a double-edge,” Wood said. “I expect them to come out and play with a full effort.”

2-4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS

                            W L CP  W L PS  PA 
Stuttgart                   3 0 39  5 0 207  26 
Lonoke                      3 0 33  5 1 233 132
Central Arkansas Christian  3 0 31  6 0 202 111
Southside Batesville        1 2 13  2 4 120 198   
Bald Knob                   1 2  6  3 3 144 136  
Little Rock Mills           1 2 11  2 4 146 174  
Heber Springs               0 3  0  1 5 113 220
Clinton                     0 3  0  0 6 137 285 
 
Friday, October 9
Central Arkansas Christian 35, Heber Springs 14
Little Rock Mills 46, Clinton 35
Lonoke 52, Southside Batesville 21
Stuttgart 45, Bald Knob 8

Friday, October 16
Bald Knob at Heber Springs
Central Arkansas Christian at Southside Batesville
Little Rock Mills at Lonoke
Stuttgart at Clinton

NOTES

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m. Panther Stadium
  • Admission: $5
  • Radio/Streaming: Billy Morgan with handle the play-by-play with Lance Hamilton providing color on KSUG 101.9 The Lake. Panther Pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by the game. 

THE SERIES: Bald Knob leads 37-23-2

SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 63rd time these two schools have meet on the football field. Heber Springs and Bald Knob first played during the 1929 season, a 26-2, Panther victory. It would be 11 more seasons before the two teams played again, a 1940 12-0 victory by Heber Springs. Heber Springs would win the first three games in the series before Bald Knob would win 18 out of 20 games played (a 1950 34-13 win by the Panthers broke a five-game losing streak in the series while a 1964 12-7 win broke a 10-game losing streak). The series would be fairly even before Heber Springs won eight straight from 1976 through 1983 before the Bulldogs closed out the 1980s winning six-in-a-row. In the 1990s, the teams would meet seven times with the Panthers getting wins during the 1990 and 1999 seasons. Since the 2005 season, Heber Springs and Bald Knob have played nine times with the Panthers winning seven of those contests, including 34-7 last season.