The Benton Freshman and Little Rock Catholic Freshman came down to the final play on Thursday night at Everett Field. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Brooks Ward scored on a 25-yard run for the Rockets as time expired for a 20-14 Catholic win.
The loss drops Benton to 3-4 overall, 3-2 in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference.
After a scoreless first quarter, Catholic struck first with just 1:16 remaining in the second quarter on a five-yard run by Dominic Keeton to cap an 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive. Will Aaron booted the extra point for a 7-0 Rockets lead.
Chris Barnard fielded Aaron’s ensuing kickoff at the 12-yard line and raced 88 yards for a Panther touchdown. The kickoff return for touchdown was Barnard’s second of the season. Benton quarterback Peyton McNeely passed to receiver Jake Burks for the conversion to give the Panthers an 8-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers stretched the lead to 14-7 in the third quarter. Catholic’s first drive ended when Colby Howard picked off a pass. Nine plays and 65 yards later, McNeely threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Midkiff.
Catholic scored with 5:59 remaining in the game on a one-yard plunge by Ward and Aaron’s PAT tied the game at 14-all.
The teams traded possessions before Benton reached into their bag of tricks late in the game. Again, fortune wasn’t on the side of the Panthers as a double pass was picked off by the Rockets at the Benton 47-yard line with just 14 seconds remaining.
On first down, Catholic completed a 22-yard pass to the Panther 25-yard line, setting up the touchdown run by Ward on the game’s final play.
Barnard shined with 116 yards on 14 carries for the Benton offense. Burks and Alvin Allen led the Panther defense with five tackles each.
After back-to-back games in which the 8th grade Panthers scored on every possession, the Catholic 8th Grade forced Benton’s first punt of the season after a three-and-out to open the game.
However, the Benton defense got the ball right back for the offense, courtesy of a sack on fourth down by Ja’kedrian Alford and Broc Mattox. With Benton set up in great shape at the Firecracker 20-yard line, O’Marcus King sprinted 15 yards followed by a five-yard touchdown run. King ran in the conversion for an 8-0 Panther lead which stood at the end of the first quarter.
Elias Payne pushed the lead to 14-0 with a two-yard run with 4:56 left in the second quarter.
Benton’s Walter Hicks recovered a Firecracker fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Benton cashed in on a nifty five-yard touchdown run by King. Maddox Davis threw to Quentin Godley for the conversion and a 22-0 Panther lead at 4:05 in the second quarter.
Davis and Julius Stinson connected on an 18-yard score with 38 seconds remaining in the first half and Davis then threw to Alford for the conversion and a 30-0 halftime score.
The Panthers invoked the mercy rule/running clock on their opening possession of the second half on a 17-yard run by King and a Davis to Godley pass for a 38-0 lead.
Catholic got on the board on the final play of the third quarter and the conversion left it 38-8.
J. Thomas Pepper raced 42 yards on the second play of the fourth quarter to stretch Benton’s lead to 46-8 following Tyler Dixon’s conversion run.
Maddux Long picked off a Catholic pass in the game’s final minute to salt away the win.
Benton, now 6-0, will be back at Everett Field next Thursday when they host the Bethel Middle School Hornets.
The Freshman were slated to play at Little Rock Central next Thursday is a non-conference game. But earlier on Thursday, Central informed Benton coaches and administrators that they would be unable to play due to Covid concerns. If, and when, a possible replacement game is scheduled, it will be immediately published on bentonpantherfootball.com and on the Saline Courier Sports Twitter feed.