The Lake Hamilton Wolves showed why they were undefeated Friday night in Benton when they went against 6-A West foe, the Benton Panthers at Everett Field. The Wolves scored seven touchdowns en route to a 51-34 victory to spoil Benton’s senior night and snap the Panthers two-game win streak against Lake Hamilton.

With the loss, the Panthers fall to 5-4 overall, 4-2 in the West, while the Wolves stay a perfect 8-0, 5-0 in league play going into their season-finale at home against the Greenwood Bulldogs, the only other conference team to beat the Panthers this year. Benton makes the long trek down I-40 West to Van Buren to wrap up the regular season. Benton should have the West No. 3 seed sewn up going into the 6A State Tournament.

On Friday, it was the Wolves three-headed running machine that the Panther defense couldn’t stop. The trio of juniors Owen Miller and Tevin Woodley, and sophomore Kendrick Martin combined to run for 378 yards. Miller ran 26 times for 153 yards and five touchdowns while Woodley also ran for 153 yards on 22 carries. Lake Hamilton totaled 387 yards on the ground in the win.

Lake Hamilton outgained the Panthers 480-364 in total offense  in a game that was close at halftime (24-21) even though Benton couldn’t get an offensive rhythm early on.

“They’re really good, real physical and execute real well,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said of the Wolves. “We didn’t have an answer for anything they did offensively. They outplayed us big time, offensively and defensively.”

The Wolves struck first in this one when Miller capped an 8-play, 65-yard drive, highlighted by a 21-yard run by Woodley, with a 6-yard TD run for an early 7-0 lead with 8:17 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers went three-and-out on its first offensive possession, but the Benton D forced a three-and-out on the Wolves, which was the only possession Lake Hamilton didn’t score in the game until three kneel downs to run out the fourth quarter clock.

Benton tied things up on its next possession capping an 8-play, 73-yard drive when senior quarterback Garrett Brown found senior receiver Jordan Parham down the middle for an 18-yard TD and 7-7 score with 4:03 left in the first. But, the Wolves responded with a long drive of their own, going 14 plays and 55 yards capped by junior quarterback Grant Bearden’s 9-yard TD pass to Destin Rhodes for a 14-7 lead at the 9:07 mark of the second quarter. It was just the Wolves second passing TD of the season as big, play-action passing plays surprised the Panther defense too often.

Benton, though, put together a nice drive to even things up. Benton junior running back Casey Johnson capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD plunge for the 14-14 game midway through the second. The Panthers would try to take advantage of the momentum with an onside kick, but the Wolves recovered with excellent field position at the Benton 48-yard line. Six plays later, Miller scored his second TD of the game on a 3-yard run for the 21-14 Lake Hamilton lead.

That lead was short-lived. Benton junior Andre Lane returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to pay dirt to retie it at 21-all with 3:23 left in the first half. The Wolves responded with a long drive and it looked as if the Panther defense stopped them on third-and-10 at the Benton 34 with 17 seconds left, but a pass interference call in the end zone gave Lake Hamilton the ball in field goal range with less than 10 seconds left. An incomplete pass followed before junior kicker Alex Hurtz nailed a 36-yard field goal for a 24-21 Wolves lead at the half.

It was all Lake Hamilton in the second half, though. While the Panthers first two offensive series resulted in punts, the Wolves kept scoring. Miller ran for 45- and 3-yard TDs on Lake Hamilton’s first two possessions for a 37-21 lead before Benton responded with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Brown to junior Cameron Harris.  Trailing by 10 at 37-27, the Panthers opted for a 2-point try that failed when the Wolves sniffed out a double-pass play leaving the Wolves up by 10 with 2:12 left in the third.

But, the Wolves responded once again, capping a 10-play, 59-yard drive with Miller’s fifth and final TD, a 4-yard run for a 44-27 lead with 9:40 left in the game. Brown was picked off on Benton’s next possession, ultimately sealing it. Each team put up a touchdown late to set the final score, with Woodley scoring on a 7-yard run and Benton senior receiver Tim Kellam catching a 14-yard TD from Brown with just over a minute remaining.

“It doesn’t help when you try to tackle 200-pound running backs around the chest when you’re smaller than them,” Harris said. “We didn’t do a good job of tackling. When we did make a play or two to set them back, we would always give something up. They competed (six) passes on us when they only attempted 28 on the whole year. We had two crucial pass interference calls and we gave up a touchdown pass. You can’t do that with as well as they run it.”

Brown passed 21 of 30 for 280 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Lane had 10 catches for 101 yards and Harris had four for 89 and a TD. Johnson finished with 16 carries for 75 yards and a TD.

Benton’s opponent in the regular season finale, the Van Buren Pointers, fell to Greenwood 50-29 on Friday to fall to 3-6 overall, 1-5 in the 6-A West.

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