(Game story courtesy of Tony Lenahan, Sports Editor of The Saline Courier)

After the Benton Panthers defeated the Greenwood Bulldogs last season in Benton (45-38) for their first-ever win over the Bulldogs, it wasn’t meant to be for the Panthers Friday at Smith-Robinson Stadium in Greenwood. The Bulldogs snapped the Panthers 13-game 6-A West Conference win streak and extended their own 37-game win streak at home with a 42-28 victory over Benton.

The Bulldogs (8-0, 4-0) claimed vengeance over the Panthers, gaining 499 total yards on Benton, while the Panthers (5-3, 4-1) had 430 yards of total offense. But, the Benton defense didn’t really have an answer for the Bulldogs fast-paced, potent offense and Benton’s lack of execution offensively cost the Panthers in the loss.

“They play at a different level at home,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said of the Bulldogs. “They get after you on offense, defense, special teams, and we just didn’t execute like we needed to offensively. When you do that against a good team, what happens (Friday), happens. They were the better team. I’d love to be able to play them again later in the year, but we need to clean up some things.”

“They caused a lot of those problems the way they play defense, but I feel like we missed on some opportunities and didn’t play as well as we needed to. They have a lot to do with that. Offensively, they did what they wanted to when they wanted to. We gave them an unfriendly box and we couldn’t make the plays, missed too many tackles and didn’t match their intensity level. That’s why they’re undefeated right now.”

Panther killer Hunter Wilkinson ran for 180 yards and four touchdowns in the win, while Greenwood quarterback LD Richmond threw for 231 yards and two TDs, and also ran for 105 yards on 13 carries. It was the quarterback run game the Panthers weren’t expecting.

“That’s one thing they hadn’t shown was any kind of quarterback running game,” Harris said. “The quarterback is a plus-one in the running game and they kind of held it in their back pocket and used it (Friday). They gave us something we weren’t ready for, brought an extra hat on us and converted on on a lot of quarterback run game. He ran the football well, as well as throwing it.”

The Panthers received the kickoff in the loss but were forced to punt after a three-and-out. Richmond hit his first four passes and Wilkinson capped the 11-play, 70-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge for the early 7-0 lead with 8:58 to go in the first quarter.

Benton was forced to punt again, but the Panther defense forced a Greenwood punt as well. It took just four plays for Benton to get on the board and tie things up when senior quarterback Garrett Brown hit junior receiver Cameron Harris for a 29-yard TD and a 7-7 score with 5:35 left in the first quarter.

But, the Bulldogs would score on their next possession as Wilkinson capped another 11-play drive with a 4-yard TD run for the 14-7 lead with 3:19 left in the first quarter. Greenwood made it 21-7, after a Benton punt with a 13-play, 67-yard drive when Richmond found senior receiver Peyton Carter for a 14-yard TD with 10:04 left in the half.

The Panthers fought back, though. Benton’s offense gave the defense some rest when junior running back Casey Johnson capped a 16-play, 73-yard drive that lasted 6:40 with a 1-yard TD to make it a 21-14 Bulldogs lead with 3:24 left in the half. Johnson, who rushed 28 times for 122 yards and two TDs for the game, had 51 yards on the drive.

But, it didn’t take the Bulldogs long to respond. After two first downs, Wilkinson broke through the Benton defense for a 48-yard TD run for the 28-14 lead with 2:20 remaining, which held until halftime.

“He’s real tough,” Coach Harris said of Wilkinson. “He’s a three-year player and it shows. When he gets in open field he can make you pay. We missed too many tackles on him early. He makes it tough on you because he’s always running hard and he did a really good job. They’re hard-nosed guys. They play the game like it’s supposed to be played and we have to learn to step our game up to that level.”

The Bulldogs received the opening kick in the second half and didn’t disappoint their home fans. Wilkinson capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive with a 1-yard TD to make it 35-14 with 8:48 left in the third.

Benton scored quickly the very next possession, helped by a 47-yard reception by Harris, on Johnson’s 1-yard TD, but a missed extra point made it a 35-20 game with eight minutes left in the third.

After a turnover on down by both squads, Greenwood got back on the board when Richmond hit Caden Brown for a 26-yard TD for the 42-20 lead, which stood going into the fourth.

The Panthers scored late when Brown found Harris for a 6-yard TD with 12 seconds left, with Harris running in the 2-point conversion for the 14-point final.

Brown finished 25 of 47 for 291 yards and two TDs vs. one interception. Junior Andre Lane caught nine passes for 103 yards. Harris had seven receptions for 112 yards and two TDs, with senior Trevor Standridge adding eight catches for 79 yards.

Benton returns home Friday to face an undefeated Lake Hamilton Wolves team, which routed the Van Buren Pointers 44-7 on Friday.  Friday’s game at Everett Field will be Senior Night for a group of Panthers that have played in back-to-back State Championship games during their sophomore and junior seasons.

“The back end of our schedule is loaded with these two teams,” Coach Harris said of Greenwood and the Wolves. “Lake Hamilton is a good team and we know we’re going to have to play well. We go from a team that’s spread-oriented to the run-oriented Wing-T. We’re going to have to be ready for a different style of play.

“We’re going to have to regroup mentally offensively and cut out the mistakes. We missed some wide-open receivers and had some penalties that negated big plays for us. We’ve got to do better than that. We have to get that corrected in practice this week.”