Following each snap, the Panthers rushed to the ball and set up for a new play during Wednesday's annual spring football game at Panther Stadium.
Heber Springs has utilized an up-tempo offense the past few years, but if the spring game is any indication, this fall the Panthers want to force opposing teams to think even quicker.
Junior tailback Chandler Marquardt, who started in the backfield as a sophomore, led the Panthers' potent running game with 18 carries totaling 153 yards and 3 touchdowns. Marquardt, known as 'Q' to the players and coaches, also had 2 receptions for 39 yards and came up with the defensive play of the day by emerging from a scrum with a fumble, which he stripped free before taking off for a potential defensive score.
Although Heber's offense enjoyed its moments, the Panthers' defense showed a lot of promise despite replacing nearly every starter from last year. Marquardt, fellow linebacker Ian Lowe and cornerback Cooper Lawrence boast the most returning experience on the defensive unit. Plus, defensive end Cody Bernhardt, who started some aa a sophomore before sitting out last season with an irregular heart arrhythmia, gave the Panthers a boost with a sack for an 8-yard loss, drawing a big applause from the crowd.
Heber Coach Steve Janski, who has led the team to a school-record seven consecutive playoff appearances, said he was impressed with the defense. “Defensively I thought we looked really good. Our scheme is really coming along. Offensively I thought a little nerves got to us early as far as our rhythm passing goes, but you could tell the guys got better and better as they got more confidence.”
While taking the bulk of the snaps for the first and second team offenses, Kramer completed 15-of-29 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kramer also ran 5 times for 32 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“One thing you know about [quarterback] Michael Kramer is he is only going to get better. He had a great spring, our offensive line had a great spring and our receivers had a great spring so I am very happy,” said Janski.
The Panthers worked on all phases of the game during the 69-play scrimmage, starting with a period pitting the first team offense against a mix of first and second team defensive players.
The defense forced a three and out on the game's opening possession before the Panthers began to move the ball as Marquardt ripped off a 26-yard run and Kramer hit junior receiver Dillion Moore for 13 yards and a first down. But, the drive stalled out at the 32-yard line when Kramer's third down pass over the middle fell incomplete.
Heber worked on short field situations next and the offense immediately found success, using four plays to cover 30 yards for a score, which was set up by Lowe's leaping grab for 12 yards. On first and goal, Marquardt followed a big push over left tackle for a 5-yard touchdown.
Page 2 of 3 - The Panthers covered 30 yards in 4 plays for another score on their next possession as Kramer connected with Lawrence for 14 yards, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by Kramer, who found room up the middle on a draw play.
Heber concentrated on goal-line situations next, starting each series from the 6-yard line. The Panthers scored on their first 3 snaps in the goal-line period as Kramer faked a handoff and kept around left end for a 6-yard touchdown, then Marquardt ran untouched around left side for another 6-yard score. On the third snap, Kramer hooked up with Lawrence, who broke free on a flag route for a 6-yard touchdown catch.
Working with the second team offense versus the first team defense, Kramer rolled left and flipped to slot back Chandler Jones, who dodged a tackle and churned into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.
Heber went to a two-minute drill next and found more success as the first team covered 65 yards in 7 plays for a score. On third and 10, Kramer dumped a screen pass to Marquardt, who turned up field behind a barricade of blockers for 25 yards.
Kramer passed to Moore over the middle for 18 yards and Marquardt added a 12-yard run, pushing the Panthers inside the red zone. On second and 10, Marquardt capped the drive by plowing up the middle while shaking several defenders for an 11-yard touchdown.
The second team offense saw its two-minute drill come to an abrupt halt when sophomore cornerback Eddie Torres picked off a pass from sophomore Hunter Chandler, who spent most of the game playing in the secondary for the first-team defense.
Heber closed out its spring game with a third down situational drill. The Panthers converted on 7-of-10 chances, including two first down grabs by Lowe.
On third and 2, Kramer made perhaps the best offensive play of the day by spinning away from pressure and passing to Lowe, who broke a tackle and darted down the sideline for a 35-yard gain before he was bumped out-of-bounds.
Facing third and 22, Kramer threaded a needle to Moore, who made the reception while streaking down right sideline for 25 yards and a first down.
On third and 7, Heber ended the scrimmage with a first down run by Kramer, who weaved around a block and down the left sideline for 17 yards.
Heber switched from a base 3-4 to 3-3 stack defensive alignment in the postseason last year and the Panthers plan to carry over the new scheme into the fall. “We did some good things,” said Defensive Coordinator David Farr. “We had some busts, had some errors and things we've got to get corrected. As a whole I thought the guys have been receptive to the changes we've made. The tackling was pretty good today for being a spring game. All in all, I am pretty happy with the way they played today.”
Page 3 of 3 - Janski graded the scrimmage a B minus.
“We have a lot of room for improvement but the effort was there. We moved around well but we still have a long ways to go,” concluded Janski.