Benton and Jacksonville met for the 33rd time on Friday night in the opening round of the Class 6-A playoffs. It was the first-ever playoff game between the two schools and the Panthers wasted little time in rolling to a 42-0 win over the Titans. The win improves Benton to 7-4 on the season and sets up a Quarterfinal Round matchup at West Memphis against the Blue Devils (9-1, #2 seed from the 6-A East) next Friday at 7:00.
The Panthers dominated the first half, putting up 379 yards of total offense while the defense limited Jacksonville to just three first downs, to build a 35-0 halftime lead.
Jacksonville received the opening kickoff and went three-and-out. On fourth down, the Titans elected to punt, but chose to bring in their field goal kicker, Josh Huber. A field goal attempt that doesn’t cross the end line with the goal post is the equivalent of a punt and that was the unique strategy the Titans employed throughout the game on all seven of their punts.
Following the field goal/punt, Benton quarterback Gavin Wells got the scoring started with a 7-yard touchdown run at the 7:55 mark of the first quarter. Breck Rambo converted his first of six extra points for a 7-0 Benton lead.
The Panthers next drive took nine plays to cover 83 yards with Zak Wallace scoring on a 4-yard run.
Wallace scored again on the Panthers’ next possession on a 5-yard run to complete a 10-play, 71-yard drive and a 21-0 Benton lead.
The Panthers stretched the lead to 28-0 with 5:37 remaining in the first half when senior D.J. Sturgis, playing his second game at wide receiver, made a spectacular 17-yard catch of a Wells pass in the back of the end zone. Sturgis went high to catch the football, dragging a toe inbounds before falling out of bounds.
Beau Brewer scored the fifth touchdown for Benton in the first half on a 6-yard run with 2:30 left.
Benton wasted little time adding to the lead in the third quarter when speedy senior Tristan Hutchinson took the opening kickoff of the second half and raced down the center of the field for an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The kick return touchdown was Hutchinson’s second of the season (the first being an 86-yard return in week two at Parkview).
With the clock running in the second half due to the Arkansas Activities Association mercy rule, Panther coach Brad Harris and his staff were able to get a lot of reserves some significant playoff experience.
Statistically, Benton dominated Jacksonville, outgaining the Titans 455 to 162 in total offense. Wells was an efficient 13 of 16 passing for 195 yards and backup quarterback Zack Parker completed 5 of 6 passes for 26 yards. Eight different Panthers caught passes: DJ Sturgis (4-71), Zak Wallace (4-59), D’Anthony Harper (3-46), Clayton Maertens (2-19), Devin Griffin (2-minus 1), Weston Davis (1-17), Braden Murdock (1-7) and Antonio Fuller (1-3). On the ground, Wallace led Benton with 13 carries for 86 yards. Brewer (6-50), Wells (8-41), Fuller (9-33), Harper (2-17) and Griffin (1-7) also contributed to the Panthers rushing attack.
Defensively, Benton forced two Titan turnovers and recorded four sacks (Kyvin Carroll – 2, Brewer, and Brock Morris).
The win was Benton’s 41st over the past five years, equaling the 1959-63 teams coached by Tom Hardin and the 1988-92 teams coached by Dwight Fite.