Heber Springs Coach Steve Janski kept his best cards close to the vest on Monday in a three-team round robin scrimmage with Central Arkansas Christian and Greenbrier at Panther Stadium.
Senior receiver Clint Ligon, who led the team with 31 receptions for 663 yards and 7 touchdowns last year, sat out after having his wisdom teeth removed, while senior running back Ethan Bly, who is projected to average at least 15-20 carries per game, only rushed two times in two quarters of play.
“We knew going into it that Clint wouldn't be available,” said Janski. “He had his wisdom teeth taken out Friday and of course he wanted to go tonight but we held him out. Ethan Bly hurt his knee a little bit and we wanted to be safe so we put him on the sideline. That changes everything but we are always very Vanilla in our scrimmages. We hardly show anything.
“We probably ran four or five plays tonight and that's all we want to do. We want to get the guys hitting somebody else, find out if our conditioning is sound and unload our full-game plan in non conference while we are getting ready for conference,” added Janski.
Heber battled CAC to a near draw with the first units on the field but the Class 4A Mustangs, who dropped down from 5A for the next two-year cycle, pulled away for a 17-6 victory behind the play of its reserves. Class 5A Greenbrier routed CAC 35-7 in the second senior high contest and downed Heber 6-0 in the nightcap. All three games consisted of two 12-minute quarters, which equals a normal half.
The Panthers will likely focus on conditioning during the latter half of this week, while continuing to game plan for Pottsville. “It was a little mixed [feelings] to be honest with you. I haven't said this in a long time but I don't think our conditioning level is where it needs to be just yet. That's okay because we've got over 10 days to get that fixed.
“Our assignments were great,” Janski continued. “I thought both offensively and defensively we were lined up the right way. We only prepared for them in a walk-through on Friday because we have really been focused on Pottsville.”
After a sluggish finish against CAC, Janski said the team picked up its intensity versus Greenbrier. “The intensity was not there in the first game. I challenged them to have better intensity in the second game and I thought they did that. So, I thought it went real well.
“Right now, we need to [focus] on conditioning with some of our big boys. I think our skills guys are in great shape. I thought we tackled well for the most part. We were physical up front but once I watch that film I will be able to see where we really need some work,” added Janski.
Page 2 of 3 - Junior quarterback Michael Kramer completed 1-of-6 passes for 7 yards against CAC with one pass dropped. Kramer connected on 4-of-12 attempts with two interceptions versus Greenbrier. Senior receiver Micah Dew was Kramer's favorite target, recording three catches for a total of 100 yards, including a 64-yard catch and run that set up a first down at the 11.
“I think he (Kramer) was a little shaky because I think he was trying to do too much,” said Janski. “He was trying to go through his progressions [too fast]. With a black jersey on him to avoid contact, not letting him do anything in the running game, it kinda puts you in a bad situation. I don't think we saw tonight what Michael Kramer is capable of. He did make some great throws and Micah Dew had some big-time catches. He has the arm he just has to slow his clock down a little bit. We have a lot to work on but he showed some good things.”
In the first scrimmage against CAC, the Panther defense made a statement by forcing two consecutive three and outs, however, the offense failed to capitalize. After moving the chains for the first time, the Mustangs' third drive came to a sudden halt when defensive end Zach Rasmussen stripped receiver Jack Partlow and Gunner Nelson recovered at the Mustang 35.
With 5:15 remaining in the first quarter, the Panthers began a 9-play, 35-yard scoring drive that featured two fourth down conversions. Tailback Chandler Marquardt ripped off a 10-yard run over left side to spark the Panthers and Nelson added a 7-yard gain on the ground, setting up third and short.
Following an incompletion, CAC stuffed Marquardt, leaving Heber with a fourth and three from the CAC 17. On fourth down, Nelson sped over left tackle for eight yards then Bly added five more over right guard.
CAC held tight until fourth down when the Panthers faked a sweep and handed off inside to Nelson, who burst into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Kramer lobbed to the back, left corner where C.J. Cannon made a remarkable leaping grab over Marquel Nelson. But, Cannon's momentum carried him out of bounds as the conversion failed, leaving Heber in front 6-0 with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter.
The Mustangs, who are picked to finish fourth in the grueling 7-4A conference, responded with a 7-play, 70-yard scoring drive that concluded with a 2-yard touchdown run by bruising running back Logan Stafford. The score was set up by two consecutive completions from quarterback Jack Thomas, who found receiver Dillon Huckaby over the middle for 14 yards and a first down on third and 10.
Thomas then hooked up with receiver Beau Barnes on a flag route for 34 yards, setting up the Mustangs only score against Heber's first team defense. Tied at 6-all, Barnes kicked an extra-point to give CAC a 7-6 edge.
Page 3 of 3 - The Panthers first team offense went three and out on the next possession and both teams turned to reserves for the majority of the second quarter. CAC's Barnes added a 37-yard field goal following a 35-yard completion from backup quarterback Chase Dowell to receiver Stephan Flanagan.
Later, Heber backup cornerback Avi Patel halted the Mustangs inside the red zone with a leaping interception. But, with time winding down, the Mustangs second unit added one more score against Heber's second defense. Dowell and Flanagan hooked up twice for a total of 44 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. Barnes added the PAT, setting the final at 17-6.
Defense dominated for both Greenbrier and Heber in Monday's final scrimmage. Both offenses struggled to move the chains until Kramer found Dew on a skinny post for 27 yards. Receiver Brooks Morgan added nine more yards on a jet sweep and the Panthers inched towards the red zone with strong runs from Marquardt and Nelson. On fourth and 5 from the 20, the Panthers' drive came to a halt with an interception near the goal line.
With 5:57 remaining, Greenbrier, which is picked to finish third in the 5A West, began a 3-play, 75-yard scoring strike to take the lead, highlighted by quarterback Seth Peters' 62-yard touchdown pass.
Heber nearly countered as Kramer hit Dew in stride on third and long for 64 yards, setting up a first down at the Greenbrier 11. But, Greenbrier's defense stiffened again, forcing a third and 15. The Panthers' drive ended with an interception near the front, left pylon as Greenbrier held tight, preserving a 6-0 win.
Heber opens its regular season on Friday, Aug. 31 versus Pottsville at Panther Stadium. Opening kickoff is set for 7 p.m.