(Tony Lenahan covers the Benton Panthers for the Saline Courier and provides weekly game stories that also appear in the Saturday morning edition of the newspaper).
The Benton Panthers jumped on the Little Rock Southwest Gryphons and senior quarterback Garrett Brown broke Benton’s career passing yards record Friday at Gryphon Stadium in Little Rock. Leading 28-0 after one quarter, the Panthers won their first game of the year with a 44-6 victory over the Gryphons to get to an even 1-1 on the season.
“It was a good win for us,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “It’s what we needed to do. We had a good night. We really played aggressive early. The last two weeks of practice have been good to us. We got better, practiced a little harder and learned a lot from that first game. We were really relentless early on, offensively and defensively. It helped to get out to a fast start.”
Needing 188 yards to get past former Panther Cason Maertens’ career mark of 5,533 yards, Brown did that early in the second quarter when he found sophomore running back Donovan Pearson for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 34-0 over the Gryphons with 10:28 left in the first half.
Brown finished 12 of 22 for 235 yards and four TDs, all in the first half, to finish out his night. He needs just three more touchdowns and 16 more completions to tie Maertens for the all-time mark.
“He did a good job,” Harris said of his senior QB. “He was much more confident out there and I thought our receivers did a much better job running routes and catching the ball. He threw some balls in the window and had some really good balls. He did a really good job. I’m real proud of him and hope he continues to set some more records.”
Brown, who tied the career pass attempts record in the Salt Bowl two weeks ago at 637, broke that record on the first offensive play of the game with an incomplete pass. But, it didn’t take long for Brown and the Panthers to regroup. On a third-and-10, Brown hit senior receiver Trevor Standridge for an 11-yard gain, and later on a fourth-and-4, Brown hit junior receiver Cameron Harris for a 42-yard TD to put the Panthers up 7-0 after sophomore Lucas Wilbur’s extra point with 10 minutes to go in the first quarter.
Benton recovered an onside kick and went back to work. Brown hit Harris for a 9-yard gain, and on a third-and-1, junior running back Casey Johnson ran 14 yards for the first down to the Gryphon 23. Three plays later, Brown hit senior receiver Tristan Hawkins on a misdirection 19-yard TD to put the Panthers up 14-0 with just under eight minutes to go in the first.
After a turnover on downs by Southwest (0-3), Johnson capped a 10-play, 48-yard drive with a 10-yard TD run for the 21-0 lead at the 2:23 mark. A three-and-out ensued for the Gryphons and it took just one play for Benton to get back on the board. Brown threw a beautiful bomb to Harris, who caught it on his fingertips down the middle of the field, for a 66-yard TD and 28-0 lead with 1:01 left in the first, which stood for the first stanza score.
“That was big-time for us,” Coach Harris said of the catch. “We’ve been missing those even in practice. It fell right on the fingertips and Cam did a great job of running the post over the middle. Garrett laid it out for him and Cam used all 6-6 wingspan to go get that one with those big long arms. He ran through it and did a good job of outrunning everybody to the end zone.”
Benton went into halftime up 37-0, with the help of Wilbur’s 32-yard field goal with 5:27 left. The Panthers outgained the Gryphons 342-71 in total offense in the first half. The clock ran the rest of the way as Benton invoked the sportsmanship rule with their over 35-point lead at the half.
The Benton defense forced Southwest to punt to start the second half, and with Brown’s night done, sophomore quarterback Jack Woolbright led the Panthers on a 14-play, 68-yard drive capped by a 10-yard TD pass to senior receiver Tim Kellam to make it a 44-0 game to start the fourth quarter.
But, Benton couldn’t preserve the shutout as Gryphon senior quarterback Hunter Belton found junior receiver Kendrick McCardell down the sideline for a 53-yard bomb. The extra point was wide to set the final score at 44-6.
Benton outgained Southwest 415-134 in total offense, with Johnson going for 65 yards and a TD on 10 carries in the first half. Harris finished with three catches for 117 yards and two TDs, with senior Donovan McGee catching two for 52 yards. McGee’s 43-yard reception helped set up Wilbur’s field goal late in the first half.
“They’re athletic,” Harris said of the Gryphons. “They’ve got some guys that can go. They mixed it up on us. I’m really proud of our defense for playing fast in the first half. We wanted that shutout. They got a big one on us in the end, but that’s alright, though. I was really proud of the way the guys tackled. We had a lot of guys around the ball and that’s what we want to do.”
Pearson rushed six times for 43 yards and caught three passes for 44 yards and a TD. Woolbright finished 7 of 9 for 64 yards and a TD in mop-up duty.
“We really like Donovan Pearson,” Harris said. “He’s a really good player. He ran the ball really tough for us in the first half spelling Casey and in the second half. He did a really good job. Jack did a good job coming in to get some good minutes in the second half. That was big for him.”
The Panthers return home next week to take on the Catholic Rockets at Panther Stadium. Tickets will be pre-sold at the Big Red Store on Military Road in Benton beginning on Thursday.
“We’ve got Little Rock Catholic next week and it’s good to be at home,” Harris said. “Hopefully we can go on a little bit of a roll right here. We’re better than we started off last year already. Figuring out how to win early. Catholic’s going to be a good team. They’re well-coached and are going to play hard. They’re always really competitive.”