With two of the top 6-A squads in the state going at it Friday night at War Memorial Stadium, the No. 2 Little Rock Parkview Patriots hosted the No. 3 Benton Panthers in 6-A West Conference action. The two teams will more than likely switch rankings after the Panthers downed the Patriots 30-20 on the road, improving Benton to 4-2 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the West (the Panthers have now won 12 consecutive 6-A West conference games).

Parkview was an undefeated 3-0, but hadn’t played the previous two weeks due to COVID-19 quarantine precautions and now stands at 3-1, 0-1 in the  6-A West.

“Huge win for us. Real proud of the effort of our guys,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said. “We didn’t play our best game. The first half was up and down, the second half we made some adjustments mainly with effort, energy, focus, and came out with a big-time win against a really good team.”

Benton junior running back Casey Johnson had another big game on the ground, rushing 29 times for 138 yards and a touchdown, while also catching a TD pass of 13 yards. Johnson, who wears No. 9, had to switch jerseys in the second half. He may want to keep No. 32 now after running for almost 100 yards in the second half alone.

“His jersey ripped down the seam and was about to come off of him, so right there in the third quarter we switched his jersey,” Harris explained.

“We knew we were going to need Casey to get some tough yards against them. They did a really good job of trying to take (Saline County leading receiver) Cameron Harris away from us with the man concept. We needed to be able to run the football. Casey did a good job. The offensive line gave us creases. It was tough sledding all night. Casey got some tough yards. I didn’t think he ran the ball real well early. We talked to him at halftime, he got a little refocused and ran the ball tough the second half.”

It was tough going for both teams to start the game as Benton turned it over on downs its first series and the Benton defense forced Parkview to punt. Johnson fumbled it away the very first play of Benton’s next drive, but the Patriots would return the favor in a big way. After a 9-yard run by Parkview running back James Jointer, the Patriots fumbled it away and Panther junior linebacker Beau Wright scooped and scored on a 64-yard fumble return for the early 7-0 Benton lead midway through the first quarter.

But, the Patriots knocked the rust off after that. Parkview used a 14-play, 82-yard drive capped by senior Arkansas Razorbacks commit Landon Rogers’ 1-yard TD run to tie things up, and after a Panther three-and-out, Rogers capped a 9-play, 92-yard drive with another 1-yard TD plunge for the 13-7 Patriot lead after a missed point-after with 8:36 left in the half.

But, the Panthers would get a long drive of their own, going 13 plays for 69 yards, highlighted by senior Jordan Parham’s 17-yard reception, and capped by senior Garrett Brown’s 13-yard screen pass TD to Johnson to tie things up at 13-apiece after senior Bryan Araujo’s missed extra point.

Araujo would make up for it later. After the Panthers forced the Pats to punt on the next possession, Araujo booted a 31-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer to put Benton up 16-13.

Benton wouldn’t relinquish that lead as the defense stepped up after Parkview’s two long first-half drives. The next three Patriot possessions, including the first two of the second half, would go for just 5 yards total.

“They did some things different than we had seen on film,” Harris said of the Patriots. “They started motioning and shifting, gaining some numbers on us, so we tried to make a couple of adjustments on the sideline and didn’t quite get it. Then at halftime we had time to regroup and talk about it, and the guys did a great job of adjusting to the motion and shifts, and were able to get them off the field. They’ve (Parkview) got a lot of firepower. Running back, quarterback, they run the ball really well. We just did a really good job. Proud of our defensive effort again.”

The Panther D put the Panther O in great position to start the second half, forcing a punt to give Benton the ball at the 50-yard line. Brown hit Harris for a 15-yard gain, Johnson ran for another 15 and Brown hit a wide-open Parham down the left sideline for a 25-yard TD and 23-13 Benton lead.

Parham, who finished with four catches for 72 yards and a TD, was a good example of the Panthers profiting from the Patriots paying so much attention to Harris.

“Coach (Justin) Ray, Coach (Drew) Harris, Coach (Randy) Shaw, they work really well together,” Harris said. “Coach (Jason) Gentry with the offensive line. We did a good job of finding shot plays and we hit a couple. We missed a couple. We should have probably scored at least one more touchdown but we overthrew a few balls. Garrett wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been, but they put a lot of pressure on him. He threw a few balls high and out of reach, but we made some plays when we needed to.”

After a punt by Parkview and a missed field goal by Benton, the Patriots would get back on the board. After a big 53-yard Rogers to Jalon Smith pass, Jointer would go almost untouched up the gut for a 23-yard TD to make it a 23-20 game with 11:56 left in the game.

But, the Benton defense held strong and the Panthers would cap a 14-play, 74-yard drive, taking 5:15 off the clock late, with Johnson’s 11-yard TD run with 1:47 left. Benton had a holding penalty on the run, but with no timeouts left, Parkview Coach Brad Bolding opted to give the Panthers the TD and two-score lead. Rogers and the Patriots would turn the ball over on downs its last series.

“That last drive was big-time to be able to lean on that offensive line, lean on Casey to use a lot of clock and score right there at the end,” Harris said.

Brown finished 15 of 27 for 176 yards and two TDs, with junior receiver Andre Lane catching four for 52. Harris finished with three receptions for 19 yards and senior Trevor Standridge had three for 20.

The Panthers return home Friday, hosting the Mountain Home Bombers (3-3, 1-2).  Mountain Home defeated Van Buren on Friday night, 49-37.

“We’re excited to be 3-0 at the top of the conference,” Harris said. “Next week we’re at home against Mountain Home so we need to get a big win there at home. Real proud of where we’re at right now. We started a little bit slow, kind of like last year, but we feel like we’re getting better each week.”

(Each Saturday’s Benton Panther game recap is provided by Tony Lenahan, Sports Editor of The Saline Courier)