Three straight penalties in the second half negated big plays by the Heber Springs Junior Panthers, including a 75-yard touchdown run by eighth-grade running back Andrew Engle, as Harding Academy held on for a 16-8 win on Thursday night.
“The guys gave good effort,” said Coach Caleb Shock. “We faced a very good, very tough, very competitive Harding Academy team. It was a close game, I was proud of our boys fighting and competing all the way to the end. I never felt like we gave up.
“We just came out on the short end of it and we've got to get back tomorrow morning (Friday) and see where we made mistakes both as players and coaches. I've got to get some things corrected with myself and we are going to get those corrected and be ready for Lonoke next week,” added Shock.
Harding, which defeated Des Arc in its first game, took the opening kickoff and marched inside the Jr. Panther 10 before stalling out on fourth down.
But the Jr. Wildcats forced a three and out and got back to work, covering 44 yards in 10 plays for the game's first score. Facing a fourth and 7, quarterback Garrison Hendrix rolled right and hit Bryce Wiedower wide open over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Hendrix kept on the conversion, collided with a defender at the 1-yard line before lunging across the goal-line for two more points on the conversion as the Jr. Wildcats pushed their lead to 8-0.
Heber, which beat Pottsville 22-6 in its season opener, immediately responded on the ensuing kickoff when Caleb Lanclos found a seam up the middle and scampered 82 yards untouched to pay dirt. On the two-point conversion, Engle was initially stacked up at the line of scrimmage but amazingly kept his legs churning and broke out of the scrum and into the end zone for two more points on the conversion, tying the game at 8-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Taking over at its own 7 with 4:41 left until halftime, Heber methodically moved in Harding territory behind Engle and quarterback Pierce Mitchum.
Engle carried six times for 48 yards on the drive, including a brutal 14-yard run in which he took a sweep around right end, barreled over a defender near the sideline and turned back into the field for additional yardage.
Mitchum added three rushing attempts for 23 yards, while completing a 5-yard pass to Lanclos, but time began to become an issue as Heber crept down to the Jr. Wildcat 32.
Engle's 7-yard cutback run pushed the ball down to the Harding 18, but with time winding down, the Jr. Wildcats stuffed Mitchum, forcing a fourth and 3.
Mitchum found Jacob Blasingame over right side for 13 yards but he was sandwiched down at the 5-yard line as the buzzer sounded, leaving Heber with nothing to show for its 16-play, 88-yard drive.
Page 2 of 3 - “We thought we would be able to get down there and punch it in but we just ran out of time,” said Shock.
“I thought the kids did a good job of getting up there and running the plays as we were calling them and moving the ball down the field. That was probably our best drive … May have been our only real good drive but we just ran out of time. A little more time and I think we could have put one in there but you play under a certain amount of time and we just didn't get it done in that time,” added Shock.
On Heber's opening drive of the second half, Mitchum passed to Engle, who broke a tackle, reversed field while eluding two more defenders and carried the ball deep into Harding territory but a block in the back negated the big play.
Moments later Mitchum had a long run called back on an illegal block and two plays later Engle broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run in which he bounced to the left sideline and outran two defenders with an angle. However, another clipping penalty behind the play negated the go-ahead score, leaving Engle with 17 yards to show for his effort.
The Jr. Panthers' drive eventually stalled out at the Harding 36, where Carter Sipe blocked a punt, giving the Jr. Wildcats possession at their own 38.
“That kid [Engle] is a competitor,” said Shock. “I told the guys at halftime they are about to get a real heavy dose of Andrew Engle because we felt like that gave us the best opportunity to move the ball and get ahead in the game. He had some great runs that got called back and that is tough. We had a block behind the play and that falls back on me for not covering as many facets of the game and situations as I should have. We are going to make sure that all of his runs are counting for us in the future,” added Shock.
The Jr. Wildcats marched 62 yards in eight plays for a touchdown, starting with a 15-yard run by running back Ryan Turley, who took over at quarterback a few plays later.
Hendrix, who played quarterback the majority of the game, kept for 12 yards to push Harding deep into Jr. Panther territory, then Turley ripped off a 12-yard run around right end, setting up the Jr. Wildcats at the Heber 12.
Receiver Dalton Koch turned a tunnel screen into 11 yards as Harding came within one yard of the end zone, and Turley capped the drive on the next play. Turley, who took over at quarterback during the drive, found Peydon Harlow on a slant for two more points on the conversion, giving Harding a 16-8 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
Page 3 of 3 - Heber never penetrated Harding territory for the remainder of the game, as the Jr. Wildcats forced a three and out on consecutive drives and ran the clock out.
The Jr. Panthers (1-1) travel to Lonoke (2-0) for their 2-4A Conference opener on Thursday.