(Written by Tony Lenahan and appeared in Saturday’s edition of The Saline Courier).
Benton sophomore quarterback Garrett Brown threw for four touchdowns, senior Zak Wallace ran for two and the Panther defense held the Hall High Warriors to just 77 yards of total offense in a 49-0 Benton victory Friday night at Scott Field in Little Rock.
The Panthers (5-1, 3-0) led 28-0 after one quarter and 49-0 at the break, invoking the sportsmanship rule of being up by 35 points in the second half.
A week after throwing for 246 yards and two TDs on 15-of-19 passing in last week’s win over Siloam Springs on homecoming, Brown finished his night against Hall 17 of 26 for 248 yards and a career-high four TDs vs. one interception on the Warriors’ homecoming. Brown was filling in for senior QB Colen Morrow, who broke his hand in a non-football related injury this past Tuesday.
“I thought Garrett did really well,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “We found out Wednesday that we weren’t going to have Colen because of the injury. Garrett came in last week and did really well against Siloam Springs and he kind of picked up where he left off. He was throwing it around. He had a couple of bad reads, but that’s to be expected. We’ll try to get him really coached up a little bit and get some better reads, but we really like a lot of things Garrett Brown does for us.”
It was Wallace who got the Panthers on the board early on Friday. After Brown hit senior Michael Allison for a 14-yard gain and junior receiver Braxton Slaughter for a 40-yarder, Wallace ran in from 13 yards for the TD and 7-0 lead in the first 30 seconds of the ballgame.
The Panther Demolition Crew, aka the Benton defense, would hold Hall to negative yardage forcing a punt, but the Panther offense turned it over on downs the next possession. But, Panther senior cornerback Devin Griffin picked off a pass, his third interception of the year, and the Benton offense never looked back, scoring on six consecutive possessions to close out the half.
After the interceptions, Wallace capped a two-play drive with a 10-yard jaunt for a TD and a 14-0 lead with just over eight minutes left in the first quarter. Wallace would have just one more carry the rest of the night as he finished with 24 yards and two TDs on four carries.
“Zak had another good night for no more than he played,” Harris said. “We really tried to take the load off of him.”
It was the Garrett Brown show after that. He proceeded to throw a 15-yard TD to junior Gavin Wells to cap a 13-play drive and ended the first quarter with a TD to junior Braxton Slaughter for the 28-0 lead.
Junior running back D’Anthony Harper, who finished with nine carries for 50 yards, would cap an 8-play, 45-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
Senior Panther defensive back Kelby Caffery jumped in front of a Hall pass and returned it 46 yards for a TD, but a block in the back penalty brought it back. But, Brown would hit Allison twice with passes on the next offensive drive, the last going for a 38-yard TD after Allison got behind the Warrior defense.
Brown completed his fourth TD pass to his fourth different receiver when hit senior receiver Garrett Body on a tunnel screen and 9-yard TD to set the final score at 49-0 with 1:50 remaining in the half.
“We tell him he doesn’t have to go win the race by himself,” Harris said of Brown. “All the pieces of the puzzle are all around him. We had him hand it off a little bit, make a couple passes for us. He’s got a really good offensive line in front of him, has got two really good running backs and receivers to throw to.”
Though he did have the four TDs, Brown did prove he was human after overthrowing a pass which was picked off on Benton’s first offensive possession of the second half.
“He didn’t make a good read there,” Harris said. “He got a little sloppy, a little lazy there on us, just like all of them. When you’re up 49-0, the urgency’s not quite there. He made a couple bad throws, overthrew Gavin in the end zone early. Last week, he started 11 for 11. It’s hard to follow that up.”
Allison finished with four catches for 74 yards and a TD, Wells four for 60 and a TD, Slaughter two for 59 and a TD, and Body 2 for 12 and a TD. Senior John Miller also had three receptions for 39 yards and sophomore Eli Davidson had four carries for 23 yards.
Just like the Panther offense didn’t have much trouble moving the ball against Hall, the PDC also did a good job of stopping the Warriors, picking up Benton’s second shutout of the year.
“One thing we talked about this week is we can get a shutout,” Harris said. “A shutout is special no matter who you’re against. When you can hold somebody to 25 yards (in the first half), that’s even more special. I was real proud of the way the guys played. They played really aggressive.
The Panthers now hit the meat of their schedule when they take on the El Dorado Wildcats Friday at Panther Stadium. El Dorado had a scare from Sheridan on last night, but still came away with a 31-17 win to move to 3-3, 2-1.
“It gets a lot of tougher now with the second half of the season,” Harris said. “A good El Dorado team is coming to town and then we go to Greenwood. And then our Achilles heel the last couple of years, we’ve got Lake Hamilton. So we have three tough ones.”
It was this time last year that the Panthers lost three straight.
“Last year we were sitting at 5-1 and we dropped three in a row,” Harris said. “We can’t afford to do that this year. We’re a better team than we were last year, but we’ve got to push through this tough part of the schedule right now.”