Heber Panthers defeated Gentry in 38-6 victory
Gentry already faced a near four-hour bus ride home on Friday night. It likely seemed even longer after Heber Springs pummeled the Pioneers, taking a 35-0 halftime lead on its way to a 38-6 mercy-rule victory at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers (1-1) limited Gentry (1-2) to only two first downs in the first half while the Heber offense scored on six of its first seven possessions, concluding with a 12-minute third quarter drive that ended in a 28-yard field goal by Dillion Moore.
Heber Coach Steve Janski was pleased with his team’s effort in all phases. “The defense really stepped up and played with a lot of intensity. Coach [David] Farr, Coach [B.J.] Greene, Coach [Mark] Brigance, Coach [Marc] Moody … those guys have done a great job with our defense.
“Then, offensively Michael Kramer threw the ball real well, our offensive line was blocking. I really thought we executed well. We cut the penalties down. I am very proud of this team and the way they came out in the second half. It was a much needed shot in the arm getting ready to go to Lonoke and starting conference,” added Janski.
Heber fumbled away its first possession of the game but scored on its next six attempts, starting with a nine-play, 92-yard scoring strike that began with a 13-yard swing pass from Kramer to running back Gunner Nelson.
Following a 16-yard catch by Ligon, running back Chandler Marquardt broke free up the gut for 14 yards and Kramer kept for nine more as the Panthers approached the red zone. Facing a third and 6, Kramer found Ligon again, this time for 10 yards and a first down.
On the Panthers next snap, Kramer fired a quick pass to receiver Brooks Morgan, who dodged a defender at the 15, then Morgan tight-roped the sideline before leaping from the 4-yard line with the ball outstretched over the pylon to complete a spectacular 23-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the Panthers’ lead at 6-0 with 5:32 remaining in the first quarter.
The Panthers forced a three and out then got right back to work, this time covering 82 yards in 11 plays. Quickly facing a third and 4, Heber picked up a first down when Kramer connected with Ligon over the middle for a 26-yard catch and run.
Ligon, who finished with seven receptions for 148 yards and five carries for 26 more yards, added two catches for a total of 24 yards off quick passes from Kramer as the Panthers moved inside the red zone. After Marquardt ripped off a 12-yard run over left side, Kramer kept untouched around right end for a 7-yard touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Kramer rolled left and hit Morgan for 14-0 lead with 11:23 remaining in the second quarter.
Heber pushed Gentry backwards on its next drive as middle linebacker Wade Gilbrech and company swarmed Pioneer quarterback Jared Cousins for a 6-yard loss.
After two false start penalties and a shanked punt, the Panthers were back in business with good field position and took advantage on first down when Kramer lofted a pass deep down the left sideline where Ligon made a leaping grab over Cousins for a 41-yard touchdown. Moore added the PAT for a 21-0 lead with 9:40 left in the second quarter.
Gentry managed to move the chains twice while reaching Heber territory on its next offensive attempt but Gilbrech and defensive end Zach Rasmussen combined for a sack on third and 9. Ligon broke up Cousins’ deep pass down the left sideline as the Panthers took over on downs at the 37-yard line.
The Panthers marched 63 yards in eight snaps for a touchdown. After Nelson carried a sweep around left end for 23 yards, the Gentry defense stiffened, eventually forcing a fourth and 7.
But, that’s when Kramer rolled left and hit receiver Micah Dew, who broke a tackle near the Panther sideline on his way to a 21-yard catch and run for a first down at the Pioneer 16.
Nelson added an 11-yard run, which set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Ligon, who cut inside his block on the edge and twisted across the goal-line to complete the score. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Heber’s lead at 27-0 with 4:11 left until halftime.
Heber linebacker Josh Hudson tripped up Cousins for a 5-yard loss as the Panthers continued to demoralize the Pioneers. On fourth and 15, Rasmussen partially blocked a punt, setting up good field position at the Gentry 35.
The Panthers only needed two plays to find pay dirt as Kramer hit Ligon streaking down right seam for 31 yards on first down, then Marquardt rumbled into the end zone from four yards out. Nelson broke through a scrum up the middle for two more points on the conversion, giving Heber a 35-0 lead.
Playing under a steady rain, Heber began the second half with a 14-play drive primarily behind the running of sophomore Chandler Jones, who showed the ability to make tacklers miss with his shifty running style as the Panthers chewed up the clock in the third quarter.
“That’s what you use your non-conference game for,” said Janski. “Now you know you have Chandler Marquardt, you know you have Gunner Nelson and now you add Chandler Jones to the running back list so we have some guys in the mix and I am happy for him,” said Janski, who also spoke of Jones’ unselfish attitude while moving from running back to backup quarterback during the preseason.
With backup quarterback Austin McVay and most of the second unit in the game, Jones rushed nine times for 49 yards before the Panthers’ drive stalled out at the Gentry 13, where Moore booted a 28-yard field goal as time expired in the third quarter.
Trailing 38-0, Cousins scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter against Heber’s second team defense, setting the final at 38-6.
The Panthers racked up 182 yards on the ground, led by Nelson (53), Jones (49) and Marquardt (33). Heber added 224 yards through the air as Kramer finished 13-of-16 for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Hudson paced the Panthers’ defense with four tackles, including three unassisted and two for a loss, while Gilbrech made three stops, including two sacks.
Heber (1-1) opens 2-4A conference play at Lonoke (2-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.