Newport spoiled Heber Springs' homecoming night behind versatile junior slot back Kristen Crite, who scored four touchdowns while leading the Greyhounds past the Panthers 40-24 in a key 2-4A conference showdown Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Crite compiled a total of 181 yards, including three receptions for 52 yards and 12 carries for 129 yards. The junior iced the game with an 89-yard touchdown run with 7:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Heber Coach Steve Janski was disappointed with his team's execution but said they gave maximum effort. “We had eight penalties to their two, which really hurt us. It seemed like every time we had a positive play we had a breakdown with either a hold or alignment [issue]. And, defensively third and long has been our Achilles heel since I have been here. We've got to figure out what to do and how to get that corrected.”
“A lot of things went bad tonight but in the end our kids fought all the way to the last play and as a football coach that is something to be proud of,” added Janski.
Driving near midfield but facing a third and long, Heber's first possession ended when linebacker Colin Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 16 yards to the Panther 47, where the Greyhounds started their first offensive series.
Backed up on third and 13, Newport moved the chains when freshman running back Carl Turner plowed up the middle for 23 yards. Two plays later, Newport sophomore quarterback Gunnar Bullard found receiver Garrett Smith in the end zone off a play-action fake for a 19-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving Newport's lead at 6-0 with 7:46 remaining in the first quarter.
On its second series, Heber picked up a first down on a tough 5-yard run by sophomore running back Chandler Marquardt but a first-down holding penalty set the Panthers behind the chains.
The Panthers moved into enemy territory when senior slot back Clint Ligon carried on a sweep around right end for 20 yards but Newport's defense stiffened, eventually forcing a fourth and 7 from the 46-yard line.
Heber looked to be in its quick punt formation but instead decided to fake. Junior quarterback Michael Kramer's pass intended for senior running back Gunner Nelson fell incomplete as the Panthers missed a potential scoring opportunity with Nelson streaking wide open around left side.
Newport (4-3, 2-2) took advantage of the field position, covering 54 yards in five plays for a score. Facing third and 6, Bullard found Smith, who made a great catch despite tight coverage for 15 yards and a new set of downs.
On the next snap, Newport sophomore receiver Deandre Elson took a reverse around left end for a 13-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the Greyhounds' lead at 12-0 with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
Page 2 of 4 - Heber penetrated Newport territory for a third straight time on its next series as Kramer hooked up with Ligon on a skinny post for 18 yards to the Greyhound 48. But, on third and 12 from midfield, Newport junior defensive back Shufon Alcorn intercepted a pass and returned it 17 yards to the Heber 44.
Newport would only need one play for another score as Bullard passed over the middle for Crite, who dodged a tackler at the 20 and used a sharp cutback to create space as he raced 44 yards for a touchdown. Heber held tight on the two-point conversion, leaving the Greyhounds' lead at 18-0 with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Panthers battled back with a methodical 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive that ended with three points. Facing a third and 9, Kramer connected with Ligon on a post pattern for 55 yards to the Newport 11.
Two consecutive penalties hurt the Panthers, who wound up settling for a 24-yard field goal by sophomore Dillion Moore, whose kick bounced off the upright and through as Heber trimmed its deficit to 18-3 with 8:31 left until halftime.
The Panthers forced a three and out and got right back to work as Nelson broke free for 35 yards to the Newport 16. However, a third and 4 holding penalty negated a first down run by Marquardt, instead leaving Heber with a third and 11.
On third down, Kramer's screen pass was intercepted by defensive lineman Hunter Bowen and returned 22 yards as the Greyhounds took over at the 42-yard line, where they started a 10-play scoring drive.
The Greyhounds benefited from a questionable pass-interference penalty on third and 12 and capitalized when Crite darted around right end for a 23-yard touchdown with 51.9 seconds left until halftime. Senior linebacker Josh Hudson and the Panthers' defense blew up Bullard's option pitch on the two-point conversion, leaving the Greyhounds with a 24-3 lead.
Heber suddenly snatched the momentum heading into the locker room with a quick strike ignited by Nelson, who returned the ensuing kickoff 21 yards to the Panther 43. On first down, Kramer found Ligon streaking down the left seam for 53 yards, setting up first and goal from the Newport 4.
Kramer faked a handoff and kept untouched around left end for a 4-yard touchdown and Moore added the PAT as the Panthers cut their deficit to 24-10 with 19.6 seconds left until intermission.
With the aid of an offensive pass-interference penalty, which negated a 60-yard touchdown reception by Crite, Heber stopped Newport on its opening possession of the second half.
After Ligon was swarmed under at the Heber 42 on Newport's punt, the Panthers covered 58 yards in eight plays to pull within a score, beginning when Nelson carried twice for a net of 10 yards.
On second and 10, Marquardt found a big hole up the middle then used a stiff-arm to break away from one defender and dodged a second tackler for a 25-yard run. A third and short false start penalty nearly cost the Panthers, who moments later faced a fourth and 6.
Page 3 of 4 - On fourth down, Kramer scrambled left and hit senior receiver Micah Dew at the 6-yard line. Dew skirted the sideline to complete an 18-yard touchdown with 6:37 left in the third quarter. The PAT failed, leaving Newport with a 24-16 advantage.
The Greyhounds countered with a 22-play, 62-yard scoring drive that included two fourth down conversions. On fourth and 2, Turner powered up the middle for a first down by the nose of the football.
Later, on fourth and 6, Bullard, who finished 10-of-15 passing for 145 yards and three touchdowns while rushing six times for 54 yards, connected with junior receiver Markus Neal for 12 yards and a huge first down at the Panther 5 as the third quarter came to a close.
A holding penalty nullified a 1-yard touchdown run by Crite but the Greyhounds would strike on third down when Bullard lofted a pass over the left side, where a Heber defender deflected the ball, however Crite made a spectacular grab just before the ball hit the turf for an 11-yard touchdown. Turner, who Heber limited to 52 yards on 15 carries, rumbled up the middle for two more points on the conversion, giving
Newport a 32-16 lead with 9:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Heber moved deep into enemy territory on its next possession when Kramer hooked up with senior receiver Brooks Morgan near the right sideline for 31 yards and a first down at the Greyhound 15.
Following a 6-yard run by Marquardt, Newport's defense tightened, forcing a fourth and goal from the 11-yard line. Johnson's pressure forced an incomplete pass as Newport took over on downs and scored on its next snap when Crite dodged two tacklers deep in the backfield before speeding down the left sideline for an 89-yard touchdown. Turner barreled up the gut for two more points on the conversion as Newport extended its lead to 40-16 with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers refused to quit, driving 74 yards in nine plays for a score. Facing a fourth and 3, Kramer found Ligon on a crossing pattern for 30 yards, which set up a 24-yard catch and run for six by Dew, who caught a screen pass from Kramer and turned up the left sideline, where he picked up a big block from guard Nate Hills. After a false start penalty, the Panthers added two more points when Kramer scrambled around right end from eight yards out, leaving Heber with a 40-24 deficit with 5:15 left to play.
Heber held Newport to one first down and got back to work on offense. On third and 10, Kramer hooked up with Ligon, who shed a tackle and dashed up field for 48 yards to the Newport 30.
After a pass-interference penalty set up Heber with a first and goal with 34.3 seconds left, Alcorn picked off a pass in the end zone and returned it 36 yards as the Greyhounds held on down the stretch for a 40-24 victory.
Page 4 of 4 - Ligon paced Heber's offense with five receptions for 205 yards while carrying three times for 30 yards. Dew followed with four catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Nelson led the Panthers' ground attack with 55 yards on eight attempts, while Marquardt had 40 yards on four carries. Kramer ran five times for 27 yards and a score while completing 13-of-29 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Panthers (3-3, 2-2) look to bounce back at Southside Batesville (4-2-1, 2-2) on Friday night.