Heber Springs whipped Southside Batesville up and down the field on Friday night, improving to 3-0 on the road and 3-2 in 2-4A conference play with a 37-8 victory over the upstart Southerners, who entered the contest hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in school history.
Instead, the Panthers (4-3, 3-2), who are back on pace to secure their seventh consecutive playoff appearance, controlled the game from the outset. “I think we finally played a full game on offense, defense and special teams,” said Heber Coach Steve Janski. “That was reflective of the scoreboard.
“You could tell Southside was fighting for their season, we were fighting for ours and now we've got to go back to work and get ready for Clinton and hopefully get this thing on a roll. We've got so much left to play for,” added Janski.
Heber frustrated Southside with its physical play at the line of scrimmage. The Southerners (4-3-1, 2-3) had two players ejected for retaliating after the whistle. “I think what stood out to me more than anything was our offensive and defensive line. Our offensive line finally stepped up and played like they are capable of playing and our defensive front did a great job against two backs that are very talented,” said Janski.
The Panthers limited vaunted Southside running backs Emprea Childress and Jordan Childress, who both transferred from Batesville High School during the off-season, to a combined 137 yards on 28 carries.
Emprea finished with nine attempts for 58 yards and Jordan added 72 yards on 19 totes while also catching a 10-yard touchdown pass that pulled Southside within a touchdown with 4:13 left until halftime.
Leading 15-8, Heber answered with a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive to create a comfortable lead at halftime. The Panthers' most critical drive of the game started with two carries by bruising running back Chandler Marquardt for a combined 11 yards, then quarterback Michael Kramer kept for 14 yards into Southside territory.
After slot back Clint Ligon ran around right end for 14 yards, shifty running back Chandler Jones picked up eight yards over left tackle.
Facing a third and 2, running back Gunner Nelson powered up the middle for seven yards and a new set of downs as the Panthers used a plethora of running backs to wear down the Southerners.
Ligon turned a middle screen pass from Kramer into nine yards and two plays later Ligon carried on a jet sweep around left end, where he used a sharp cutback to elude a defender en route to a 12-yard touchdown with 48.6 seconds left in the first half. Nelson punched in the two-point conversion on a run over right tackle, boosting Heber's lead to 23-8 at halftime.
Southside opened the second half with an onside kick and nearly recovered it but Eddie Irvin came out of the pile with the ball at the Panther 45, where Heber would use seven snaps for a touchdown.
Page 2 of 3 - The Panthers' drive began with a quick screen from Kramer to Ligon for a gain of eight yards, then Nelson sped over right tackle for 13 yards, plus two Southside penalties set up a first down at the Southerners' 19.
On third and 4, Kramer hit physical receiver Micah Dew, who turned up the left sideline for seven yards and a first down, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Nelson. With 9:03 remaining in the third quarter, Dillion Moore kicked the extra-point, pushing the Panthers' lead to 30-8.
Heber continued to frustrate the Southerners' run-oriented offense in the second half, holding Southside to only three first downs, while adding a fourth quarter score.
The Panthers' final scoring drive covered 50 yards in 12 plays while trimming 6:07 off the game clock. Jones started the drive with two carries for eight yards, then Nelson ran two straight times for a net of 12 yards, giving the Panthers a first down at the Southside 30 as the third quarter came to a close.
Marquardt opened the fourth quarter with two carries up the middle for six yards, then Nelson and Jones each picked up seven yards, plus a personal foul penalty set up first and goal from the Southside 3. On third down, Ligon jumped over the top of Southside linebacker Jordan Childress for a 1-yard touchdown with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Moore added the extra-point, setting the eventual final at 37-8.
Heber jumped on Southside early, forcing a three and out before marching 67 yards in six plays for a touchdown.
Moore and Dew caught quick screen passes from Kramer for 12 and 10 yards as the Panthers moved into Southside territory. Facing a third and 5, Kramer fired a dart to Ligon, who split two defenders and outran a third defender for a 32-yard touchdown with 7:34 left in the first quarter. Moore kicked the extra-point for a 7-0 lead.
Southside methodically drove deep into Heber territory on its second drive of the game, using 12 plays to cover 54 yards before stalling out on fourth and goal when Dew broke up a pass at the goal-line.
Starting from the Southside 11, Heber pounded away at the Southerners by marching 89 yards in 10 plays. Ligon ignited the scoring drive when he turned a middle screen into 21 yards while weaving through the Southerners' secondary.
Ligon then caught two screen passes for a total of eight yards and ran twice for a net of 21 yards as Heber reached the Southside 36 at the end of the first quarter.
Marquardt opened the second quarter with a tough 9-yard run up the gut then Southside committed a personal foul penalty on a 2-yard run by Nelson, setting up a first and goal at the 6-yard line. Nelson burst up the middle untouched for a 6-yard touchdown and found room over left tackle for two more points on the conversion as Heber built a 15-0 lead with 11:11 remaining in the second quarter.
Page 3 of 3 - Southside responded when quarterback Colby Rowlett rolled left and found Jordan Childress for a 10-yard touchdown then Rowlett scrambled around right end for two more points as the Southerners cut their deficit to seven before the Panthers closed the game with three unanswered scores.
Kramer completed 11-of-12 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Ligon, who compiled a total of 152 yards and three touchdowns, ran eight times for 78 yards and two touchdowns while catching seven passes for 74 yards and another score. Nelson carried 14 times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and Marquardt followed with 12 rushes for 58 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Ethan Bly paced Heber with 14 tackles, including nine unassisted. “He did a great job tonight,” said Janski. [Leading tackler] Josh Hudson was home tonight sick and couldn't make the trip and Ethan Bly stepped in there and did a real good job for us.” Outside linebacker Ian Lowe followed Bly with eight stops (six solo), while Dew and Ligon each contributed seven tackles.
Heber travels to lake area rival Clinton (2-6, 1-4) on Friday.