(The following game story was written by Tony Lenahan, Sports Editor of the Saline Courier)

It wasn’t pretty, but the Benton Panthers left Siloam Springs 2-0 in the 6-A West Conference, holding on to a 28-26 win over the Siloam Springs Panthers on Friday night. It’s Benton’s second straight win after starting 0-3 to start the season.

“It’s big for us to come back weeks four and five and find a way to hang on and win,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “We’re not putting anybody away, but we’ve found a way to win the last two weeks, and that’s the most important thing. We’re going to keep growing as a team, hopefully, and get better offensively and continue to work defensively. The most important thing is we’re 2-0 in conference right now.”

Up 21-13 at the half, Benton (2-3, 2-0) and Siloam Springs (2-3, 1-1) played a scoreless third quarter, but it looked as if Benton would take control early in the fourth, using a 12-play, 91-yard drive capped by senior running back D’Anthony Harper’s 11-yard touchdown run to put Benton up 28-13 with 11:14 left to go. Harper, who didn’t see the field in the first half due to a hand injury, toughed it out in the second half running for 33 yards to the Siloam 6 to set up his TD.

The Benton defense had a heck of a stop on Siloam’s ensuing series as Benton senior Austin Drewry picked off his fourth pass of the season. But, the Panthers were backed up to their own 3-yard line due to multiple unsportsmanlike penalties after the pick, and junior quarterback Garrett Brown threw a pick of his own as Siloam junior linebacker Camden Collins snagged Brown’s pass and returned it 12 yards for a TD to bring Siloam within 28-20 with 7:08 left to go.

Benton was forced to punt on their next possession and Siloam went back to work with a 9-play, 63-yard drive, highlighted by senior quarterback Taylor Pool hitting Tanner Broyles for a 27-yard gain on a fourth-and-9, and capped by Pool’s 1-yard TD plunge to make it a 28-26 game with 2:24 to go. But, Siloam failed on their 2-point conversion to keep it a 2-point Benton lead.  Austin Drewry, Cade Clark and Dylan Burnham were not fooled by Siloam’s attempt to convert on a Tim Tebow-like jump pass to the tight end.

Nonetheless, though, the Benton defense looked really good at times, but big plays continue to come back to bite the Panthers.

“Big plays are getting us,” Harris said. “I’m proud of some of the guys that played tough. I thought the D-Line played well again. I thought Jaden Woolbright had a really good game. Bryce Golleher had a better game, Trae Maxwell, our interior box play. We’ve got to get better on the edge with our outside backers and safeties and corner play. We’re making a few plays, but then we’re also having some mental busts and giving some big plays up.”

Siloam would get another chance late as Benton had to punt, giving Siloam 31 seconds to get the win. Making it to the Benton 39-yard line, Benton senior linebacker Jaden Woolbright, who picked off a pass in the first half, sacked Pool at midfield with no time left to seal the win.

It was all Benton early as the Panthers scored TDs on their first two series with Brown hitting senior receiver Braden Murdock for a 10-yard TD to cap a 9-play, 70-yard drive, and Benton capped an 8-play, 49-yard drive with a Brown to senior Jaden Nash 16-yard TD for the 14-0 lead with 5:07 left in the first quarter.

But, after the quick start, the Panthers looked a little out of sync offensively the rest of the first half.

Brown was picked off for the first time in the game after the Benton defense forced a punt, and Siloam took advantage of the turnover, needing just three plays to go 49 yards with Pool scampering in for an 8-yard TD to make it 14-7 with 2:34 left in the first.

“We went up 14-0 and it was really kind of easy the first two series,” Harris said. “I think we got a little overconfident and I feel like the turning point in the game is when we throw the interception. They go back down and score and make it a 14-7 game. I think from that point on Siloam kind of got the momentum and we couldn’t put them away. We couldn’t find a way to finish them.”

Again the Panthers couldn’t get anything going offensively and were forced to punt. Siloam responded with a 6-play, 85-yard drive capped by Collins barging in from 4 yards out to make it 14-13 Benton after a missed extra point with 9:35 left until the half.

Both defenses dug in for the rest of the quarter as three turnover on downs and a punt followed until Benton got things going late in the half. Brown hit senior Peyton Hudgins for a 21-yard gain before he found sophomore running back Casey Johnson in the flat for a 28-yard TD and a 21-13 halftime lead.

Brown finished 18 of 35 for 206 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. Johnson, who did the bulk of the running in the first half, went for 99 yards on 20 carries, while Harper finished with 70 yards and a TD on 12 carries, all in the second half.

“We tried to use both of them,” Harris said of his running backs. “D’Anthony chipped that bone in his hand and we weren’t sure how he would handle playing. We tried to hold off as long as we could, but we ended up going with him in the second half with some fresh legs. He did a good job of hanging on to the football considering he had one hand to hold on to it. It’s a good thing we’ve got two backs with different running styles. Hopefully that keeps going.

“The offensive line blocked well early, but we got beat at the point of attack a lot as the game went on. (Siloam) is really good. You have to give it to them. They’re a much-improved team from last year. They’re big and physical in the box and they do a really good job with what they’ve got.”

Hudgins led the receiving corps with eight catches for 61 yards, Nash had four for 44 and a TD, and senior Braxton Slaughter finished with three for 46. Sophomore Andre Lane, who was ejected and will not play in next week’s game, had two catches for 12 yards, with Murdock one for 10 and a TD.

“On the interception by Drewry, for whatever reason he (Lane) came off the sideline,” Harris said. “I guess he thought their guy was trying to fight with Drewry and goes in and tried to pull him out. He’ll end up having to sit four quarters next week.”

For Siloam, Pool finished 16 of 37 for 260 yards, running 12 times for 54 yards and two TDs. Senior receiver Oren Stafford had six catches for 148 yards.

Benton will return home on Friday to face the Hall Warriors (2-3, 0-2), which fell 42-12 to Lake Hamilton last night, at Panther Stadium in the Benton Athletic Complex.

“Hopefully we can get some stuff right in practice this week and play a clean game against Hall,” Harris said. “I’m not assuming anything, but hopefully we can go 3-0 in conference. We’re not going to look past them at all.”