By Jim Gardner

Neither the rain nor the Lake Hamilton Wolves could stop the Benton Panthers from earning their 12th consecutive 6-A South Conference win Friday night. The Panthers defeated the Wolves 31-9. The win, coupled with the results from other games in the 6-A South conference, secures the Panthers a first-round bye in this year’s Class 6-A State Playoffs and guarantees Benton will open the playoffs with a home game.

The Panthers received the opening kickoff and took just 1:29 to go 80 yards in 7 plays. Colten Nix made a spectacular leaping catch of a Cason Maertens pass in the back of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown. Matt Warrick booted the first of his first extra points to give Benton an early 7-0 lead.

The Wolves responded on their first possession, reaching the Panther 27-yard line before settling for a 44-yard field goal from Ethan Johnson to cut the Benton lead to 7-3.

The Panthers would again go 80 yards on their ensuing possession in 10 plays. Maertens again completed a touchdown pass, this time 29 yards to Drew Dyer to extend the Panther lead to 14-3.

Lake Hamilton reached Panther territory again early in the second quarter and settled for another Johnson field goal attempt. But the Panthers foiled it when Chandler Clift busted through the Wolves line and blocked the kick.
Warrick would advance the Benton lead to 17-3 before halftime courtesy of a 32-yard field goal.

The lone score of the third quarter came at the 3:26 mark when Maertens scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make it 24-3.

The Panthers would salt the game away on a sparkling 73-yard touchdown pass from Maertens to Brandon Hunter.

Lake Hamilton would score their only touchdown of the game with 4:37 left in the game when bruising fullback Eli Jackson scored on a 5-yard run. The Wolves botched the PAT try to set the final score at 31-9.

For the third straight game, the Panther offense surpassed the 500 yard mark in total offense with over 300 of those yards coming through the air. Maertens , in his third game of the season following recovery from a knee injury, completed 24 of 29 passes for 331 yards. Nix (7 catches, 82 yards) and Dyer (7 catches, 72 yards) led the Panther receiving corps.

Hunter again passed the 100-yard rushing mark with 123 yards on 15 carries. Hunter is now just 105 yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

Defensively, Mel Hegwood led the Panthers with 8 tackles. Beau Brewer. , Dylan Murphy and Will White added 7 tackles. Braylon Alcorn recorded a sack for the Benton defense. The Panther defense has now racked up 37 sacks in eight games this season.

The Panthers are now 7-1 on the season and 5-0 in the 6-A South. Benton will travel to Memorial Stadium in El Dorado next Friday to face the Wildcats (4-4, 2-3). El Dorado will come into the game on the heels of a three game losing streak, including Friday night’s 34-27 to Pine Bluff.