“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them” (Andy Bernard).
If you are a fan of Benton Panther football, then these are the good old days. For the fifth time in six seasons, the Panthers practiced on this Thanksgiving morning, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast buffet and fellowship with their teammates, family and coaches, and put the final touches on their preparation for tomorrow’s Class 6A state semifinal game against West Memphis.
The first time in my memory that the Panthers played on Black Friday was in 1989. Dwight Fite’s Panthers won the 4A South Conference championship with a thrilling 21-14 win in double overtime at El Dorado giving Benton home-field advantage in the state playoffs. After knocking off Little Rock Central and Little Rock Mills, the Panther hosted Springdale on Black Friday. C.W. Lewis Stadium was packed, a standing-room only crowd cheering on the Panthers.
Over the last six seasons, practicing on Thanksgiving Day and playing on Black Friday has become a habit.
For the first time since 2014, the state semifinal game will happen right here at home, in Benton, against the West Memphis Blue Devils. Last year on Black Friday, the Panthers made the trek east on I-40 and came away with a 30-17 win over a then undefeated West Memphis team.
This year, the Blue Devils are making the long drive to Benton.
And what should the Blue Devils see when they step on the field?
How about a packed house cheering loudly and proudly for the hometown Panthers!
Twenty-five Benton Panther seniors will take the field at the Benton Athletic Complex, aka The Palace on the Parkway, for the final time tomorrow night.
And what should those seniors and their Panther teammates see when they charge through the smoke-filled inflatable Panther tunnel onto the turf?
A packed Palace on the Parkway!
This Panther team has an opportunity to write itself into the history books with a win over West Memphis. Currently, the Panthers have won 69 games this decade A win would surpass the 1960-1969 decade for most wins ever by Benton. A would send the Panthers to back-to-back state championship games for the first time in school history. And a state championship win would give the Panthers 10 wins, marking the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history.
Since opening in 2013, the Panthers have hosted seven home playoff games in the Palace and have never lost. Never. 7-0. Unbeaten.
Combine history and the home-field advantage and the edge goes to the Panthers.
Since 2013, I have been blessed to be a part of the Benton broadcast team. Whether on KEWI, 106.7 The Ride, Fidelity Local 6, or the current Benton Football Network live stream on YouTube, the growth of our broadcast audience has been amazing. In fact, last week, the live stream broadcast received over 4,500 unique views to see the Panthers defeat Jonesboro 18-7.
On behalf of the broadcast crew, the Panther players and coaches, our hope is that tomorrow night’s broadcast is our smallest audience of the season because all Panther fans will Pack the Palace.
What the 2019 Benton Panthers need, better yet, what they deserve is your presence at the stadium tomorrow night. The Panthers need your energy, your support, your passion. They’ve given us theirs, battling back from a grueling 0-3 start to the season to win eight consecutive games. Their hard work, resilience and persistence have brought incredible joy during this conference championship season.
But they want more.
They want a state championship and tomorrow night at home against West Memphis is the next step on that quest.
And they want you to come early, be loud, and Pack the Palace.