Heber Springs didn't need any tricks to beat 2-4A conference rival Clinton on Friday but the Panthers still snatched plenty of treats along the way.
Heber Springs didn't need any tricks to beat 2-4A conference rival Clinton on Friday but the Panthers still snatched plenty of treats along the way. Heber rolled up six first-half touchdowns en route to their sixth straight victory over the Yellow Jackets – this time a 42-20 mercy-rule drubbing that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. The Panthers (5-3, 4-2) improved to 4-0 on the road this season. “I really feel like we picked up where we left off against Southside [Batesville],” said Heber Coach Steve Janski. “We had a couple of mishaps on offense but I thought our defense played extremely well. They only scored the one touchdown against our No. 1 defense. Gunner [Nelson] was just going for a pick and missed it. He was there to make a play.” “Hopefully, they got a lot of confidence right now with two wins in a row and now we get ready for Pine Bluff Dollarway on Senior Night. This has got to be a great confidence builder,” added Janski. On the Panthers' first snap of the game, junior quarterback Michael Kramer rolled right and hooked up with senior receiver Eddie Irvin, who burned the 'Jackets defense deep down the right side for a 71-yard touchdown, setting the tone while silencing a boisterous Senior Night crowd in Clinton. Sophomore Dillion Moore added the PAT for a 7-0 lead only 13 seconds into the game. Kramer, who only played in the first half, completed 10-of-13 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns. “I think Mike is becoming more and more confident as a quarterback and starting to go through his progressions, reads and Coach [Darren] Gowen is doing a great job of calling plays and getting guys open,” said Janski. Heber pushed Clinton (2-7, 1-5) back on its opening possession as senior defensive end Harley Hooten sacked quarterback Fielder Dufrene for a 6-yard loss on third and long, forcing a punt, which rolled dead inside 'Jacket territory at the 43-yard line. Sophomore running back Chandler Marquardt, who finished with a team-high 41 yards on six attempts, rumbled over right side for eight yards and a first down. Then Kramer hit senior receiver Brooks Morgan, who eluded a defender, turning the quick hitch up the sideline for 17 yards. Kramer found Hooten at tight end for 14 yards, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Gunner Nelson, who barreled up the middle to cap a 6-play, 43-yard drive. With 8:07 left in the first quarter, Moore tacked on the PAT for a 14-0 lead. Clinton responded later in the first quarter, covering 66 yards in three plays. On first and 10 at midfield, Dufrene rolled right and fired deep down the right sideline, where wide receiver Stephen Sappington made a juggling catch and sprinted into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. Jackson Benson added the extra-point, cutting the Panthers' lead to 14-7 with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter. Heber countered with a 10-play, 65-yard scoring drive ignited by runs from Marquardt, Kramer and sophomore running back Chandler Jones, who shook a tackler over the left side and picked up 18 yards to the 'Jackets' 35. Following a false start penalty, Marquardt carried twice for a net of 16 yards, dragging tacklers along the way to a first down inside the red zone. After Nelson powered over left tackle for nine yards, Marquardt shed a tackle at the line of scrimmage and burst over right side for 10 yards. On first and goal, Kramer kept behind sophomore center Zach McCormick for a 1-yard touchdown and Moore kicked the PAT, pushing the Panthers' lead to 21-7 with 11:27 to play in the second quarter. Heber used a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, which was mishandled by Clinton and the Panthers took advantage by swarming to the football. Morgan, who came down field in a full sprint, dove on the fumble at the Clinton 22. After Clinton came up with a defensive stand, the Panthers snatched the ball back when senior outside linebacker Micah Dew pounced on a fumble at the Clinton 15, where Heber used three plays for a score. Facing third and 10, Kramer rolled left and hit senior receiver Clint Ligon, who sped up the sideline and dove across the goal-line with the ball extended over the pylon for a 15-yard touchdown. Moore kicked the PAT for a 28-7 lead with 6:48 left in the second quarter. The Panthers, who only allowed three first downs in the first half, forced a three and out on the 'Jackets' next possession and Ligon returned their punt 27 yards to the Clinton 28. On Heber's first snap, Kramer lofted a pass down the right seam, where Ligon made a leaping grab at the goal-line over Clinton's Nathan Teague for a 28-yard touchdown. Moore booted the extra-point, extending Heber's lead to 35-7 with 4:49 left until halftime. On the ensuing kickoff, Nelson stripped the ball loose from Clinton's ball carrier and Ligon recovered at the 'Jacket 40. Heber took advantage of the short field again ¬ this time scoring on second down when Kramer rolled left and found Moore streaking wide open for a 35-yard touchdown. With 4:26 left in the first half, Moore added the extra-point for a 42-7 lead. With the clock running continuously due to the mercy-rule, Heber emptied its bench in the second half, while Clinton managed to score a pair of touchdowns, including a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Robert Ferrell and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dufrene to receiver James Slack. Heber junior defensive back Dylan Bly pulled down an interception for the Panthers, killing the 'Jackets opening drive of the second half. Sophomore running back Tyler Gray helped Heber run out the clock, carrying 10 times for 37 yards. The Panthers have already clinched a fourth seed in the state playoffs but can possibly improve that seeding and assure a postseason home game with an upset of second-place Dollarway (8-1, 5-1) tonight on Senior Night at Panther Stadium. “They have good everything,” said Janski. “They have big boys up front, they have a quarterback that can roll, they have running backs and they have wide receivers. They are extremely talented. We are going to have to play well, worry about ourself. “It's Senior Night and if they play like they have the past couple of [Friday] nights I am telling you we can get after them. We can give them a great game. I am real excited about the way this team is starting to come together at the right time,” Janski emphasized.