Friday night in Van Buren, the Benton Panthers and Van Buren Pointers combined for 1,278 yards of total offense and 113 points. The Panthers prevailed late, scoring the game winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining, for a 60-53 win.  Casey Johnson took a short pass from Garrett Brown and raced 47 yards for the game-winning score.

The Panthers had already sewed up the 6-A West number 3 seed in the upcoming State Playoffs and will host Marion.  The Arkansas Activities Activities Association has released the bracket and it can be seen by clicking this link.  The AAA will release e-ticket information on Monday and it will be posted to all Benton Panther football social media sites when it is released.

“I got some more gray hairs after that one,” Benton Coach Brad Harris said, who picked up his 40th win as Head Coach of the Panthers, one game behind the legendary Tom Hardin on the all-time wins list. “The big thing is we responded to adversity and we hadn’t done that the last two weeks against Greenwood and Lake Hamilton. I’m just real proud of the guys offensively for putting up numbers and continuing to play hard. I’m just excited we got over the hump against the best 3-7 team in the state. They’re really dangerous offensively. They struggle on defense, but they made a game out of it.”

Johnson’s game-winner capped an excellent offensive performance. Johnson finished with 28 carries for 245 yards and three TDs, also catching two passes for 55 yards and the game-winner for 300 total yards.

“We’ve been needing that out of Casey on the ground,” Harris said. “We’ve struggled establishing the run game the last couple of weeks. It’s been a combination of running backs, linemen, receivers not doing their job blocking real well, but (Friday) it kind of clicked for us. Casey saw the field a lot better and was able to get downfield. Just real proud of his effort. We’re going to need him to be big in the playoffs.”

Benton senior record-breaking quarterback Brown also had a big game, throwing for 453 yards and four TDs on 30 of 46 passing to aid in the offensive explosion.  In the previous nine games, the most passing yards allowed in a game by the Pointer defense was 247.

“He had another Garrett Brown game for us,” Harris said. “He’s done a really good job for us all year. Really proud of him for the way he’s played the last few weeks, even in a couple losses. He’s thrown the ball around pretty good. We’re pretty tough on him and our expectations are high, but I know a lot of coaches would love to have them on their side, and we’re glad we’ve got him. Hopefully he can help lead us through the playoffs over the next couple of weeks and get him back to War Memorial for one more shot to win one.”

Next up for the Panthers (6-4, 5-2) will be a date with the Marion Patriots (2-7, 2-4) in the first round of the 6-A State Playoffs.  The Panthers will host the Patriots at Everett Field. Benton has made it to the 6-A title game for two years in a row.

“It looks like we’re going to have Marion at our place,” Harris said. “I don’t know a lot about them. I do know they have a three-year starter at quarterback. Anytime you have a guy like that, just like we have Garrett Brown, you’re excited about. I know they always have some athletes, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Pointers (3-7, 1-6), which gained 576 yards to Benton’s 698, were also excellent on offense as this game was defense optional it seemed. Van Buren struck first to go up 8-0 after senior quarterback Gary Phillips threw a 56-yard touchdown to Jaiden Henry on the Pointers first drive with the 2-point conversion successful.

After the Panther D forced a turnover on downs, Johnson took the rock 85 yards to pay dirt on Benton’s first play of its second drive to get within 8-7 after kicker Bryan Araujo’s point-after with 6:54 to go in the first quarter.

After a forced punt, the Panthers took the lead, 10-8, after Araujo capped a 13-play, 49-yard drive with a 24-yard field goal with 1:57 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers would hold that lead, including a 25-22 halftime advantage, until a Van Buren 29-yard field goal tied it at 32-32 midway through the third quarter. A 27-yard TD pass from Brown to senior receiver Trevor Standridge gave Benton a 29-32 lead. Panther senior cornerback Chris Bronson forced a Pointer fumble that lineman Justin Walker returned 33 yards into Pointer territory. The offense turned the gift into points on a 17 yard Johnson touchdown run for a 46-32 Benton lead with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter.

Van Buren responded with a 79-yard Phillips to Jaiden Henry TD reception, but Benton responded right back when Brown hit junior receiver Cameron Harris for a 44-yard TD to make it 53-39 Panthers with 6:13 left.

It seemed Benton had it in the bag, but Van Buren wasn’t finished. A couple of 15-yard defensive penalties against the Panthers aided the Pointers on a 10-play, 90-yard touchdown drive with a Phillips to sophomore Chi Henry 6-yard TD pass with 3:23 left to go .  Following the score, Van Buren recovered an onside kick and needed just one play to tie it when Phillips hit Jaiden Henry for a 43-yard TD for a 53-53 tie with 3:11 left to go.

It looked as if the Panthers scored on its second play of the next possession when Brown hit Johnson for a 53-yard TD, but a holding penalty nixed the score. But, four plays later, Brown hooked up for Johnson for the eventual game-winner. Benton’s prevent defense with 31 seconds left proved enough to stop the offensive onslaught and seal the victory.

Benton junior receiver Andre Lane, who was second only to teammate Cameron Harris in receptions in Saline County, finished with 12 catches for 142 yards and his first receiving TD of the season, an 11-yard catch to put the Panthers up 18-8 with 5:43 left in the first half.

Standridge had six receptions for 122 yards and a TD, with Harris adding seven for 78 and a TD.

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