PEARCY, Ar. — If there was ever a sure bet, it’s that Benton will be ranked No. 1 in Class 6A next week.
Benton (8-1, 6-0) secured the top seed in 6A West Friday night in front of a packed house as the Panthers escaped with a 42-41 win over top-ranked Lake Hamilton (8-1, 5-1). Last week Benton slipped past defending 6A state champion Greenwood, 41-40.
Lake Hamilton scored with 1:14 left on a touchdown by senior fullback Tevin Hughes. Coach Tommy Gilleran wasted no time in deciding to go for two extra points and the win. Circumstances appeared favorable for the Wolves after Benton jumped offsides.
The two-pointer failed when Benton lineman Walker Davis threw off Lake Hamilton’s timing by grabbing quarterback Grant Bearden by the foot. Bearden got the hand off to Hughes, but he stumbled and was tackled to set off a wild celebration by the Panthers and their following.
Wolves’ defense didn’t slow Benton down
“I probably should have called a different play,” said a dejected Gilleran. “Offensively, Benton is really good, and we’ve got to get a lot better defensively. We might have stopped them twice the whole game. If we’re going to win a state championship, our defense has got to play a lot better in big games like this.
“We got Greenwood at their place next week, and nothing is promised. Greenwood runs and throws the ball just like Benton. We’ve also got to get a lot better in the kicking game. Everybody keeps onside kicking on us, and they keep getting the ball so we’ve got to change. We’ve got to put kids up front that are not afraid to catch the ball.”
The Wolves won the opening coin-flip, and wanted the football. The strategy worked better for Benton, which successfully executed an onside kick. Less than three minutes into the game Panther receiver caught at 32-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Stran Smith. Lake Hamilton would never lead in the game.
A 19-yard touchdown run by senior Cameron Harris, who then scored two extra points, made it 14-0 with 8:47 left in the first quarter.
Teams combine for over 1,000 yards
Lake Hamilton, which rushed for 460 yards, got on the scoreboard three minutes later on a 3-yard run by junior Justin Crutchmer. Unfortunately for the Wolves, Benton’s Smith and his teammates continued to pile up big plays in a hurry. Smith accounted for 418 of the Panthers’ 504 yards.
Smith led Benton’s ground game with 92 yards on 10 carries. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Harris caught five of Smith’s aerials for 112 yards. Pearson had eight receptions for 110 yards.
“We felt we could throw the ball on them at anytime,” said Benton coach. “What we didn’t know was if our defense could slow down their running game. I really didn’t like our chances there at the end, but we stopped them. Lake Hamilton has a great football team, but they’ve got a tough test next week at Greenwood.”
Crutchmer was spectacular for the Wolves with 231 yards and two TDs on 24 carries. Hughes finished with 158 yards on 23 totes. Bearden completed 4 of 10 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. He also scored on a 1-yard plunge.