Veterans of Benton Football know strange things often happen on the outskirts of Hempwallace when the Panthers play at Lake Hamilton. Thursday’s Junior High action was no different.
The Freshman Wolves upset the Panthers 35-28. A Wolves team that had scored just once in its first two conference games played keep away from the Panthers. The Wolves had 50 snaps to Benton’s 24, outgaining the Panthers 357 to 264.
It started so well for Benton, however. After linebacker Peyton McNeely forced and recovered a fumble on Lake Hamilton’s third play of the game, it took just two plays for quarterback McNeely to scamper 42 yards and an early 6-0 lead.
Lake Hamilton answered with a 5-play, 53-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-6 lead, but Benton regained the lead on the final play of the first quarter on a McNeely 1-yard run.
The Wolves answered to regain the lead at 13-12 on a 63-yard, 5-play touchdown drive, all coming on the ground.
The lead swelled to 21-13 on a 52-yard Lake Hamilton touchdown pass with just 28 seconds left in the first half.
But that was enough time for the Panthers. McNeely completed a 9-yard pass to Jake Burks before connecting with Christopher Barnard on a 46-yard touchdown pass. McNeely threw to Burks for the conversion for a 21-20 Lake Hamilton halftime lead.
The Wolves received the second half kickoff and held the football for the entire third quarter. Three plays into the fourth quarter, the Wolves completed the methodical 16-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 27-20.
Benton seized the momentum and the lead with a 1:13, 55-yard touchdown drive capped by McNeely’s 19-yard jaunt. McNeely’s two-point conversion run gave Benton a 28-27 lead.
However, the Wolves again went on a time-consuming drive, converting two third downs and a fourth down. On third-and-goal from the Benton one-yard line, Easton Hurley snuck in to give Lake Hamilton the lead with eight seconds remaining. The two-point conversion gave the Wolves a 35-28 lead.
A last gasp gadget play by Benton, a double pass, fell incomplete.
The inability of the Panther defense to shut down Lake Hamilton on third and fourth downs was Benton’s undoing. The Wolves converted 10 of 13 third and fourth down plays in the game to secure the victory.
McNeely led Benton offensively with 123 yards rushing on six carries and completed three passes for 93 yards.
Defensively, Jake Herbner had a double-digit tackle night with 11 tackles. Alvin Allen contributed seven tackles while Barnard, Keandre Boson and Jordan Burr chipped in six tackles.
The 8th Grade Panthers had just three snaps in the entire first half, yet led at halftime 24-22. Those three snaps all resulted in touchdowns for Benton. O’Marcus King scored untouched from 42 yards, Maddox Davis raced 63 yards, and King galloped 47 yards.
Benton picked right up where they left off in the second half. After recovering a Wolves onside kick, it again took just one play for the Panthers to reach paydirt. Elias Payne took a swing pass from Davis 47 yards and King punched in the two-point conversion for a 32-22 Benton lead.
Following another Wolves score, it took just one play again for Benton when King took a screen pass 48 yards and ran in the two-point conversion for a 40-28 Panther lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Aidan Laster recovered a Wolves fumble on the opening drive of the 4th quarter. After three snaps gained no yards, on fourth down, Payne took a screen pass 61 yards for another Benton score – the sixth of the game on just nine snaps – and a 46-28 lead that was the final score.
The 8th Grade Panthers are now 4-0 overall, 3-0 in the CAJHC. Next week’s 8th grade game against North Little Rock has been cancelled by the Charging Wildcats. The 8th grade Panthers will be back in action at Conway Blue on October 8. The Freshman (2-2, 2-1) will play North Little Rock at home next Thursday at 6:00.