Thursday night was the 2020 home opener for Benton Junior High football and it was a great night for the Panthers with a sweep of Conway White. The Freshman Panthers (1-1) walloped the Wampus Cats 42-21 while the 8th Grade Panthers (2-0) won 36-6.
Peyton McNeely electrified the Freshman Panther offense with touchdown runs on Benton’s first play of the game (51 yards) and first play of the second half (56 yards). Christopher Barnard added touchdown runs of 62 yards and 56 yards. The big play Benton run game rolled up 310 yards on just 20 carries.
Leading 16-0 on the strength of McNeely and Barnard touchdown runs, the Panthers recovered a kickoff when Triston Ray recovered for Benton. 8 plays later, McNeely connected with Colby Howard on a 7-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 22-0 lead with 2:26 left in the first half.
Conway got on the board on the final play of the first half to trim the score to 22-7 on a 30-yard pass.
But McNeely’s 56-yard run following the kick off to open the second half coupled with McNeely’s toss to Howard on the conversion gave Benton a comfortable 30-7 lead.
Conway’s next possession ended in a turnover when Ray picked off a Wampus Cat pass at the Benton 11-yard line.
Conway reached the end zone on the second play of the fourth quarter, but Benton answered. Following Barnard’s return of the kick off to the Conway 36-yard line, it took the Panthers just three plays to reach the end zone again when McNeely connected again with Howard on a 31-yard pass.
Howard intercepted a Conway pass on the next Wampus Cat drive to set up Barnard’s 56-yard touchdown run for the final score of the night for Benton.
Conway scored on the final offensive snap of the game on a 31-yard pass to set the final score at 42-21.
Barnard (7-137) and McNeely (4-114) led the big-play Panther ground game. Kyron Wells (5-37), Alvin Allen (4-16) and Jake Burks (1-12) also contributed to Benton’s rushing attack. McNeely completed 4 for 5 passes for 39 yards with Howard catching 3 passes for 42 yards.
Defensively for the Panthers, Allen led with six tackles, including two tackles for loss. McNeely and Demarcus Moore added five tackles each while Jake Herbner added four tackles.
The 8th Grade Panthers got off to a blazing start as Elias Payne returned the opening kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. Late in the first quarter, Payne came up big again stuffing a Conway fourth-and-goal attempt at the one-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Payne scored again with an 86-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers up 12-0. J. Thomas Pepper recovered the ensuing onside kick for Benton. Following a Panther fumble, Conway attempted to punt on fourth down, but Benton’s O’Marcus King sacked the punter. One play later, Maddox Davis threw a quick pass that Julius Stinson took 34 yards for the touchdown. With 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Davis connected with Sam Shelton on an 8-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 28-0 halftime lead.
The Panthers padded their lead late in the third quarter on a 9-yard run by James Smith. Davis passed to Shelton for the two-point conversion and a 36-0 Benton lead.
Conway got a fourth quarter score to set the final at 36-6.
The 8th grade Panthers have dominated in two wins to open the season, including last week’s 54-20 victory at Pulaski Academy.
Both Benton Junior High teams, now 1-0 in Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play, return to action at home next Thursday as they welcome the Cabot North Panthers. The 8th grade game will kick off at 5:30 with the Freshman game to follow.