Heber Springs' Junior Panthers extended their 2-4A conference winning-streak to four games with a 42-18 thumping of Southside Batesville on Thursday night at Panther Stadium.
Southside opened the game with a 13-play scoring drive that chewed up nearly seven minutes but the Jr. Panthers' defense clamped down on the Junior Southerners for the remainder of the first half.
“I think our kids were so keyed up that we were almost playing out of control out there on that first series,” said Heber Jr. High Coach Mark Brigance. “We were running past the football and just going crazy out there. I think we settled down after that.”
After opening the season with three close losses by a touchdown or less, the Jr. Panthers (4-3, 4-1) have strung together four straight wins with two games left to play. “We knew we were never out of a ballgame. We had the lead in two of our three losses and we beat ourselves in two of those,” said Brigance. “We went to work on taking care of ourselves, we have to execute X's and O's and the rest will take care of itself.”
Heber quarterback Hunter Chandler completed 4-of-6 passes for 133 yards and three touchdowns, while running four times for 33 yards and another score.
“His arm continues to get stronger day by day and he has a lot of kids to throw to,” said Brigance. “They want to run down there and catch it. We've got them begging right and left to jump in there and be at one of those receiver spots because they know he [Chandler] can throw it deep.”
Down 6-0, Heber struck on its first offensive snap as Chandler hooked up with Eddie Mejia streaking down the left sideline for a 42-yard touchdown. Tailback Dewaun Miller ran up the middle for two more points on the conversion, giving Heber an 8-6 advantage with 54.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Jr. Panthers scored again on their second possession, this time covering 51 yards in five plays. On second and 7, Heber capped the drive when Chandler found Mejia over left side for a 15-yard touchdown with 4:56 left in the first half. Mejia was corralled inches short on the two-point conversion, leaving the Jr. Panthers' lead at 14-6.
Following a fumble recovery at midfield by defensive back Pierce Mitchum, Heber scored again, this time only using two snaps as Miller busted loose around right end and raced through the Jr. Southerners' secondary for a 50-yard touchdown. Chandler's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, leaving Heber with a 20-6 lead with 3:28 left until hafltime.
After forcing a quick three and out, Heber used a timeout with 1:31 left to regain possession with plenty of time and it paid off as Chandler hit Mitchum running wide open down the right hash for a 65-yard touchdown. With 1:02 left in the first half, running back Eddie Torres carried a sweep around right end for two more points and a 28-6 lead, which Heber carried to the locker room.
Page 2 of 2 - Heber opened the second half with a 4-play, 54-yard scoring strike capped by Chandler, who kept around left end, where he dodged a tackler on his way to a 12-yard touchdown. Torres set up the score with a 25-yard run around right side. Heber's two-point attempt failed, leaving the Jr. Panthers' lead at 34-6 with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
Southside countered with a 7-play, 81-yard scoring drive but Heber fired right back when Mejia fielded an onside kick then reversed field before cutting back against the grain and racing into the end zone for an amazing 58-yard touchdown off a kickoff return. Chandler hooked up with Mitchum on a slant route for two more points, pushing the Jr. Panthers' lead to 40-12 with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
With Heber's second team offense in the game, Southside returned a fumble 38 yards for a score to set the final at 42-18.
Heber hosts lake area rival Clinton tonight at 7 p.m.