Fresh off its first conference loss since Week 6 of 2010, Heber Springs was not in a giving mood on Friday night three hours from home at winless Marianna-Lee, which hasn't scored all season.
The Panthers hung five touchdowns in the first quarter alone and their defense held the Trojans to only three yards total all game. While playing every player on its roster with the clock running non-stop for the final 36 minutes, Heber breezed to a 54-0 win, improving to 2-1 in 2-4A conference play.
“I was real excited that all of our kids got to play,” said Heber Coach Steve Janski. “We really showed a lot of enthusiasm and that was fun. The kids were pulling for each other and so many guys that work just as hard as everybody else that may not get to see playing time on Friday night … they got playing time tonight so it will be a great opportunity to go back and evaluate them and watch the film. It was a lot of fun to watch those guys play.”
Heber received the game's opening kickoff, which Chandler Marquardt returned 28 yards behind a middle wedge. On first down, Marquardt ripped off a 20-yard run behind a gaping hole over left side then quarterback Michael Kramer found receiver Brooks Morgan for nine yards.
Running back Gunner Nelson sped around right end for 19 yards, then Nelson found room around left end for a 7-yard touchdown in which he ran over a defender inside the 2-yard line while diving across the plane of the goal-line to complete the 4-play, 55-yard scoring drive. With 10:33 remaining in the first quarter, Nelson carried up the middle off a delayed handoff for two more points on the conversion, giving the Panthers an 8-0 lead.
Heber forced a three and out on Marianna's first possession, pushing them 18 yards back on a mishandled pitch. On fourth and long, the Trojans elected to punt and Clint Ligon made them pay.
Ligon took the punt off a bounce at the Panther 42, where he found a seam over the left side, which opened even wider when Ian Lowe made a bone-crushing block as Ligon raced into the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown return. Dillion Moore added the PAT for a 15-0 lead with 8:04 left in the first quarter.
With heavy rain and wind starting up, Heber pushed the Trojans back seven yards on their second possession, regaining control at the Marianna 48, where they used four plays for another score. On second and 16, Ethan Bly, who played in his first game of the season last week against Stuttgart, got his first carry of the season as the senior found room on a sweep around right end for 19 yards.
Kramer passed to Bly over the middle for eight more yards, which set up a 7-yard touchdown run by
Page 2 of 3 - Marquardt, who dashed untouched over left side. Moore added the PAT, giving the Panthers a 22-0 lead with 5:39 left in the first quarter.
Defensive end Zach Rasmussen blew up the Trojans' next series, first making a tackle for a 7-yard loss, then Rasmussen scooped up a fumble, which he returned 10 yards to the Marianna 20, where Heber scored in five snaps.
Following an incomplete pass, Kramer hit Moore on a slant for nine yards, plus a penalty set up first and goal from the 6-yard line. On third and goal, Nelson carried up the gut for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:01 left in the first quarter. Moore pushed the extra-point attempt wide left, leaving the Panthers' lead at 28-0.
Playing in a heavy downpour, Heber added two more points with a safety as linebacker Will Gilbrech,
Nelson and strong safety Micah Dew swarmed Marianna's punter for a safety.
Heber flipped the safety into more points only moments later when Kramer hit Ligon, who dodged a tackler and sped down the right sideline for a 41-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the Panthers' lead at 36-0 with 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Facing Heber's reserves, Marianna managed a first down on its next offensive series, which came to a quick halt when cornerback Wesley McClain recovered a fumble at the Trojan 46.
Running back Chandler Jones took over from there, breaking a tackle over right side and weaving around blocks down the sideline for 19 yards. After quarterback Austin McVay was dropped for a 5-yard loss, Jones broke free over left side, where he shed a tackler and cutback to the middle of the field for a 23-yard gain.
On first and goal, Jones capped the 4-play, 46-yard scoring drive with a powerful run over right tackle as he bowled over a defender at the goal-line on his way to a 16-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Heber's lead at 42-0 with 5:17 left in the second quarter.
Marianna turned the ball over on downs on its opening possession of the second half as Logan Rolleigh and Brandon Mills blew up a fourth down play at the Trojan 12. On the Panthers' next snap, McVay kept up the middle then cutback around a block over right side for a 12-yard touchdown with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Heber's lead at 48-0.
Heber regained possession when Paul Ballard broke through the line and caused a fumble, which Conner Lindsey recovered as the Panthers continued to manhandle Marianna.
But, for the first time all night, the Trojans came up with a stop four plays later when Heber fumbled the exchange.
After a turnover on downs, Heber punched in one more score as running back Alldonn Skelton powered over left side for nine yards, which set up a 4-yard touchdown run from running back Tyler Gray, who powered between the tackles for the touchdown and a 54-0 lead.
Page 3 of 3 - Heber (3-2, 2-1) hosts Newport (3-3, 1-2) for homecoming on Friday. The Greyhounds played No. 1 ranked Stuttgart its closest game of the season last Friday before falling, 20-13.
Janski said playing Marianna helped the Panthers recuperate from a physical game during Week 5.
“We walked away healthy and we are not beat up. After that Stuttgart game we were beat up a little bit.
I think this game will be a nice little tune-up, get everybody happy and everybody in a good mood and now we've got Newport coming for homecoming and that will be a big one Friday night,” added Janski.